Having a premature baby is heartbreaking. It's scary and hard and sad and isolating and traumatic, and something that no one deserves to experience. But preemie parents know something that others don't. They know that, even despite all the pain and struggle and tears and sleepless night, having a premature baby is still really, really wonderful.
Preemie moms know loss. The loss of the dream of a healthy pregnancy, of a big, pregnant belly and a fat, crying baby, and the experience they thought they were going to have that was going to look like everyone else's. They know fear and helplessness, wanting so desperately to help their children and take away their pain, wishing they could do anything to make sure they'd come home with them when this was all over. They know what it's like to imagine their futures and those of their children and know that maybe it will be much harder than they ever imagined.
But they also know other things.
They know what it's like to look at an impossibly tiny baby with paper-thin skin and eyes that can't yet open, attached to machines and IV lines, and still honestly feel overwhelming love, still honestly believing they are the most beautiful being that ever existed.
They know what it's like to find joy in the tiniest milestones, like little weight gains, or moving onto CPAP, or wearing clothes (finally!) for the first time.
They know what it's like to sit and cuddle their babies skin-to-skin for hours on end, hooking themselves up to hospital breast pumps no matter how much they hate it because it's one of the most important things they can do to help their children grow.
They know what it's like to love someone so much that they would give anything to see them healthy and happy.
They know what it's like to realize, finally, that it doesn't really matter if their children have learning disabilities or motor issues or vision problems, or if they take forever to learn to walk -- or even if they never learn -- because as long as their children live, they'll figure the rest out.
They know that no matter how frustrated they may get when their children cry or yell or throw things or climb on something they aren't supposed to climb on, there's still a part of them remembering the time when their children's lungs weren't strong enough to cry, and when they didn't know if they'd ever yell or throw things or climb.
They know that every milestone, whatever it looks like and whenever it's reached, is a celebration.
There is a lot of variation in preemie outcomes, and some parents have it easier or harder than others. Some will struggle more and have a more complicated road to travel. But the one thing they know for sure -- the one thing that the doctors and nurses and family and friends, and all the other moms and dads of the world can't truly ever understand -- is that when they look at their children (their perfect, gorgeous, amazing children) they see warriors, babies who have fought harder and overcome more than anyone could possibly have imagined, and that getting to be their parents is the best, most incredible thing that could have ever happened to them.
Having a premature baby might be one of the hardest things that has ever happened to them. But it might just be one of the best, too.