Today is World Prematurity Day and as the mother of a preemie and an Ambassador Mom for the March of Dimes, there is no better day to share a personal story with you.
My second son, Brendan, arrived two months premature and spent 6 weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The experience of having a premature baby who had to fight for his life, and whom we nearly lost, was a life altering experience that I will never forget. It has brought the topic of preemies and their care extremely close to my heart. Bringing a preemie home is a far different experience than bringing home a full term, healthy baby. I am sure many of you know what I’m talking about.
With my first son, Royce, everything was happy, easy and as it should be. Milestones came naturally and when it was time to start on solids, at 5 months, we just did with no worries. With Brendan, we were overwhelmed with worry, doctor’s appointments, mixing breast milk with special formula, and handling him with such extra care that the thought of starting on solids seemed a million years away. It wasn’t until an appointment with one of Brendan’s primary doctors when he was 5 months old (from his birth date, not due date) that my eyes were opened.
The doctor asked me when I planned to start Brendan on solids. I told him I hadn’t even thought about it. He told me that it was time. I looked at him cross-eyed and said I was scared to change our routine-what if something happened? He said that Brendan was stable, putting on weight, and, while he still had a lot of catching up to do, he was otherwise healthy. He told me not to be afraid. He said that most preemies have such an intense start to their lives that the simple pleasure of a homemade meal can do wonders. I was sold. As soon as we got home, I mashed a banana and mixed it with some warm breast milk. The doctor was right. Not only did Brendan take to swallowing solid food immediately, he ate the entire 4 ounce meal! I was completely shocked. He was so happy eating and turned out to have quite an appetite for such a little guy. That was a real turning point for both of us. The best part is that Brendan began to thrive in a way I hadn’t seen before.
As parents of preemies, we are all part of a special extended family, one that supports, encourages and gains strength from one another. During our toughest, darkest days we found tremendous strength sharing our story and listening to the stories of the other parents in the NICU, who have now become lifelong friends. We take incredible joy in seeing each other's children thrive and overcome challenges, it is a vital support system that I could not and cannot live without.
I can't say that everything is perfect and I can't say that I don't think about all the "why's" surrounding Brendan's prematurity, but I can say that we are extremely lucky. Brendan is a fighter, I call him my little tiger, and we are beyond blessed to have this bright, fiery redhead in our lives!
We are eternally grateful to the doctors and nurses at Winthrop University Hospital on Long Island who saved his life.
*Every preemie is different, not only developmentally, but medically as well. It is of the utmost importance that you consult your preemie’s doctor(s) before starting him on solids or straying from his normal routine in any way.