Dear Preemie Mom:
I see you. I see you, scared and confused, as you have to leave your baby behind in the hospital because he was early and he needs a lot of help. I see you taking notes as the doctor explains all the machines and sounds that surround your tiny, sweet baby. I see you trying your hardest to take it all in - all the medical jargon, all the dates and times and schedules - but your eyes keep wandering back to your baby in her isolette as you wonder when you will be able to hold her.
I see you driving to the hospital day after day, determined not to miss a second with your little one. I see your shoulders slump as you prepare yourself for another long day of visiting your baby and then leaving him behind once again.
I see you as you get to take your baby home - a time filled with such joy and excitement, and also a little bit of fear. You wonder if you will be able to take care of her like the doctors could. You wonder if you will be enough.
I see you a couple months down the line, rejoicing over having your baby with you at all times but becoming frustrated that your baby needs so much attention all the time. Doctors, specialists, therapists - it seems like your life now revolves around when the next appointment is and how long it will take you get there. You try to remind yourself that you should be grateful, because your baby has had to fight harder than most to even make it this far. But that doesn't always help your frustration. Sometimes it even adds to it. Why did your baby have to fight so hard? Why did this happen to your family? You ask yourself these questions every day but no answer seems right.
I see you at the birthday party for the child of a friend, a child who was born around the same time your own child was due, before they came so early. I see your smile, which is genuine, but it isn't the same smile it used to be. Because while you are happy for your friend and her child, it hurts to see how behind your own child is, and what a long way he has to go.
I see you crying late at night, wracked with guilt and worry and anger. If only you had been able to keep your baby inside a little longer...if only you had insisted the doctors take a second look at the scan... if only you hadn't had so much caffeine or sugar or whatever else you think could have contributed to your baby's prematurity. I see you blaming yourself, wondering what you can do to right this terrible wrong.
I see you decline invitations to playgrounds, to lunch, to so many places that first year. You're so afraid of your little boy getting sick. The doctors told you that this first winter was crucial, that you should not go out unless you absolutely had to. So you sit alone with your baby, knowing that it will all be worth it in the spring.
I see you carefully pack your diaper bag - yours isn't always like other people's diaper bags. You need a lot of hand sanitizer, extra oxygen tanks, some masks that keep germs away. You venture into the grocery store like a soldier approaching a battlefield - assessing risk, wondering how quickly you can finish your task, praying that when you leave, everyone will still be healthy.
I see you stammer and flounder when someone asks you how old your baby is. You know if you give the real answer that there will be so many questions, and you are tired of questions. But to you, giving any other answer feels like a disservice to your child, like you aren't acknowledging all of the hard work she put into coming into this world. So you split the difference - sometimes you tell people the real age, and sometimes you don't. It changes every time you are asked.
I see you wondering if you are the kind of mother your baby really needs. You think that someone else would be much better suited for all of this. All of the therapy and special arrangements that have to be made - you think you aren't cut out for this. You don't know how you will make it through. You look back to the life you had before - maybe you used to work and now you have to stay home. Maybe you want to stay home but you have to work. Either way, it is not the life you planned for yourself. It is not how you imagined having a baby would be.
I don't have answers for you. I wish I did. I want answers for me, too. But I want you to know that I see you. I see you, and you are not alone.
A Preemie Mom