Dear Parents of Preemies,
We all started the same way -- with double lines on a pregnancy test. For me, that first extra line was so faint that I took five more tests over the next couple of days, just to make sure.
Ah! I was pregnant!
At the first appointment, when you saw the heart pulsing in and out, in and out... is that when it became real for you, too? Did you feel that elation, mixed with a little worry of being a Mommy and Daddy for the first time, or maybe for the second or third time? I remember being so excited with my info bag and my congratulations from the OB/GYN staff. I was ready for kicks and ultrasounds and maternity clothes and a sweet-smelling baby resting on my chest at the end of the day. I memorized my due date of February 23, 2012, and couldn't wait to explain to the new big brother when the baby was coming.
Did you argue with your spouse about names like my husband and I did? I must've gotten 25 no's to every maybe from my husband. Eventually, when we found out it was a girl, we settled on the most beautiful name for our little girl: Harper Ashley. "Harper" because we loved it. "Ashley" after my sister.
When did things go off course for you? I knew around 20 weeks that things weren't going to end well. I hadn't been feeling well for weeks.
I've heard stories from some of you. Ultrasounds with unsettling news. Genetics tests that came back positive. Water breaking at 19 weeks. Placenta problems. High blood pressure. Blood flow issues. Sometimes, the baby just wasn't growing. Sometimes, labor just started way too soon.
I remember how it felt when I knew my daughter was coming early. Nothing felt the same anymore about this pregnancy. Even her name no longer fit. Harper Ashley was due at the end of February. In November, at 24 weeks, who was this baby coming?
Did you feel disconnected, too?
There was that question I didn't want to utter whispering in the back of my mind: Would she even live?
Parents of preemies, you've felt such highs and lows. First there's the excitement of a baby, but then an even stronger memory of the exact moment it turned to dread.
You reached down deep for your bravery. You know what it feels like to have a baby and leave the hospital without them. And no date in sight of bringing them home.
You've sat by incubators and ventilators, even before you yourself were medically supposed to, because you wanted to take care of your baby. You've learned a new type of alphabet soup (IVH, TPN, CPAP, NEC, ROP) from doctors and nurses. You've learned to change diapers holding legs that are only bone and skin. You've pumped hundreds, thousands, of ounces of breastmilk for your baby, every three hours for months, because it's considered medicine in the NICU.
Instead of holding your newborn in the comfort of your own home, you hold them when they're stable. Skin to skin. With tubes and lines and beeps. You've felt every single mechanical breath as it fell on your chest. You soaked it in and pushed out the thought that this might be the last time. Because you weren't going to let that happen.
I always give the credit to my daughter, Abigail Leigh. It was Abby's guts, her bravery... therefore her glory. It was Abby, not Harper, who taught me that preemies have more tenacity in their teeny, tiny toes than some adults do in their whole lifetimes.
Let's throw modesty out for a moment, parents of preemies. Our tenacity is pretty spectacular, too. We grew these babies for as long as we could inside our bodies, and the rest in really tough circumstances. They counted on us and we stepped up in ways we didn't know we could. We didn't break and we didn't let premature birth break our children.
It was our guts, our bravery and our glory, together. We made a tiny little team, imperfect to our first expectations, but perfect to God's plan. Parents of preemies, you are, and have been, everything your child needs.