Though they weighed only a little over a pound each and though they arrived 16 weeks too early, they had some pretty important life lessons to teach me. Life lessons were not on my mind as I spent countless hours in the NICU with my micro-preemie twins. Nor was it on my mind when I was juggling their endless appointments the first year. But now that my former micro-preemies are three years old, I can reflect on their journey and what it has taught me.
These two have taught me the meaning of:
- Community – Having preemies taught me that sometimes we are on the giving side and sometimes we are on the receiving side. And being on the receiving side is not a bad thing. It blesses others to be able to give, so receive with a thankful heart.
- Patience – In the NICU, you hear the term “wait and see” often. You are told you will have to “wait and see” what the brain scan shows. You will have to “wait and see” the results of the eye exam and the hearing test. “Wait and see” is not easy to accept. We want answers now. In life, sometimes “wait and see” is all we can do, and we have to learn to accept that.
- Perseverance – If you have ever seen a premature baby learn to breathe, you know the meaning of perseverance. Breathing is an involuntary reflex unless you are a preemie. Many times they repeatedly try to wean from the ventilator. They may have many trials before successfully moving on to lower oxygen support. Preemies don’t know the phrase “I can’t”; they just keep on trying. It’s a beautiful thing.
- Trust – You learn to trust your child’s doctors, nurses, and therapists. Most importantly though, you learn to trust yourself. I learned to make decisions on who I trusted to care for my babies. I learned to trust my own instincts.
- Hope – When you are given impossible statistics yet still believe it is possible, you have learned what it means to hope.
- Resilience – The surgeries, the tests, the tubes, the scars – it is amazing what these premature babies overcome. Most of these babies have had more medical tests and surgeries in their months in the NICU than the rest of us have had in our lifetimes. They show us what it means to be resilient.
- Gratitude – I never understood the depth of gratitude until I had my preemies. In the NICU, parents are grateful when their baby gains an ounce, drinks a few milliliters, breathes on their own, and even pees or poos! It’s the little things in life. My preemies have taught me to be grateful for everything!
- Strength – My twins were so fragile and weak on the outside. Their tiny lungs were too weak to function on their own. They needed ventilators and steroids and too many other drugs to name to survive, and yet, their spirits were so strong. They taught me to be strong when I felt broken. I knew I had to be strong for them. I had to believe in them.
- Empathy – Before I had my twins, I felt I was a compassionate person. After our NICU journey, I feel I am a much more empathetic person. Compassion is defined as the consciousness of others’ distress; whereas, empathy is defined as the ability to share someone else’s feelings. While everyone’s journey in life is different, I now can relate to the feelings of fear and hope and joy on a different level than before.
- Perspective – The biggest lesson of all I learned from my preemies is perspective. If it’s not a “life or death” decision, it’s probably not that big of a deal.