“Call anytime. We speak fluent preemie.” That was a FaceTime message I wrote last week to a friend and colleague in Japan who had just had her son five weeks early due to placental complications. Thankfully, mom and baby are well, but at the moment she, like all other preemie parents, is newly navigating the realm of the NICU in the land of the teeniest of the teeny.
My husband and I have offered our support over the last several years, anytime we encounter someone in our sphere who has been touched by prematurity, and every year we participate in some way in World Prematurity Day. This year, though, the event just happens to fall on our ten-year wedding anniversary, and as I think about that fact, I realize that this is less coincidence and more a celebration of a steady flow of the amazing over the last decade.
My husband is a fair bit older than I am, and so once we were hitched, we wasted no time in trying to start our family. When we realized things weren’t happening spontaneously, it was off to the endocrinologist, an endeavor that resulted in the mind-blowing amazement of seeing a photo of our child at the age of six cells. I toasted our first anniversary with a single sip of wine, not at all tempted to put any risk on the two tiny embryos inside me.
By the time our second anniversary rolled around, we had returned to our home in Pittsburgh from a round trip to Hell. Cervical insufficiency. A month lying in a labor & delivery ward hospital bed with my feet higher than my head. The piercing loss of one of our twins. 105 days of emotional roller-coastering in a Florida Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, watching our one pound, ten ounce 24-week preemie literally fight for his life. At the other end of that experience we bore matching colors to mark our journey–the joined tattoos of the grieving parent and the preemie parent–and wielded a redoubled faith in Something Greater, as reflected in the eyes of our now-smiling, healthy baby boy. We were together, we were all better, and we now spoke fluent preemie.
As each year passed, however, the immediacy of that experience lessened, and the language of the NICU began to fade like unused high school Spanish. The alphabet soup of PDA, ROP, IVH and the other myriad NICU acronyms began to float away into the wind; terms that I had been able to rattle off with the suavity of a neonatologist, like “apnea-bradycardia” and “umbilical hernia,” were now tough to call up from the depths of my brain. I marveled that I no longer remembered the order of events during hands-on or the frequency of my son’s blood transfusions. And all the while, our little flower grew and grew. Thrived. Excelled. Giggled. Played. Even developed what his second-grade teacher referred to as a “well-developed sense of sarcasm.” Every year has been even grander than the one before it, life continuing to blossom as he continues to bloom.
But even if the words no longer have use, ten years from now, and the ten after that, and after that, and after that, and even after that, we’ll continue to hold in our mental stores the rudiments of the NICU language and the education provided by our prematurity experience. We’ll forever carry our deep respect for those nurses who played counselor while expertly threading an IV through a vein no wider than a thread, will recall the strength and resolve of those tiny babies when we ourselves need some extra oomph. We’ll actively support the cause of maternal-fetal health in both the developed and developing world, helping to ensure that all moms and babies have access to the same excellent care as did we. And one of the most beautiful parts is that we can do all of this together, hand in hand with our own little miracle, whose particular dialect of the preemie language, for him a native tongue, will be a powerful force for communication with those who would benefit from listening.
–Will Daniel Chief Bloggist (and wife, and proud mom)