As my son Bryce’s birthday neared, my dad, half accusingly and half curiously, asked, “Hey, what’s going on with Bryce’s birthday party? Aren’t you planning anything?”
I hadn’t. And I still wasn’t sure I could. The truth was, I was avoiding it with everything I had.
Birthdays have always been a big deal in our family and with Bryce’s rocky start I had always seen the celebration as more than a kid’s birthday party – it was a chance to say, “Look here world, he’s doing so many things no one thought he ever would!” And what better reason is there than that for a big, ol’ birthday celebration. You know the kind, you’ve seen them on Pinterest with the theme, custom invitations, coordinating decorations and organic snacks.
In hindsight, maybe I used this busy work as a way to avoid thinking of the upcoming day. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it this time. Eleven seemed like it was just too much to process. It felt like an opportunity to assess if we had seen enough doctors, consulted enough specialists, tried enough out of the box approaches, done enough therapy.
But it was also an opportunity to reflect on the past 11 years and take stock of everything I’ve learned in raising a micro preemie.
1. It doesn’t all get fixed. The trauma lives on, and often the effects of the trauma live on in your child indefinitely.
2. Things are just as difficult and uncertain now as they were 11 years ago, just in different ways.
3. His birthday will always be a hard day.
4. I still need therapy. (Will I ever not?)
5. A group of mamas who “get it” is the only way to get through this life.
6. Comparison will get you nowhere in a hurry. Avoid focusing on what he can’t or won’t do, and start focusing on what makes your child happy, what challenges they willingly take. Not all parenting journeys are the same. Not all preemie journeys are the same.
7. Even if your child can’t verbally say, “I love you,” they will tell you, and you will know.
8. A sibling is the best therapist you can’t afford.
9. Trust your intuition. This is what I tell everyone who will listen. You’d think it would be hard-wired after a traumatic birth that I’ve never been able to forgive myself for, but it’s also the lesson I have to keep learning over and over again.
10. Every doctor is also a human. They are not all-knowing or without error or your best friend. Don’t go looking for one that always agrees with you, but don’t be afraid to go find a better one if yours isn’t listening to you.
11. Sometimes coasting along is just what you need to do to survive. And that’s okay. And sometimes you just have to shake things up, load your kids in the car, and drive across the country to seek out just what they need.
After all of the avoidance tactics, the day came and went just as they always do. I threw together one heck of a birthday bash, and we celebrated with the people that get us. Bryce blew out the candles. I cried, and I survived. And once it was past, I breathed an immense sigh of relief and went on about my day-to-day endeavor to help Bryce be the best Bryce he can be.
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