Whenever someone tells me they’re expecting a baby, I have to bite my tongue, and be careful not to say, “I hope you make it to term.” No, I tell myself, the appropriate response is, “Congratulations!” This is one of those things about being a preemie parent – when someone is giving updates and looking to commiserate about their experience so far, you must not terrify them.
I wish I had some “normal” memories to draw on from my son’s birth. Not getting to have the joyous birth experience you wanted is one of the losses preemie parents endure. I sometimes fantasize I could go back and edit the experience the way that movie directors will use computer animation to edit their old movies and re-release a special edition DVD set. (George Lucas did this twice with his original three Star Wars movies.)
Here’s how I might revise some scenes for the special edition:
The Drive – Let’s still have Dad driving Mom to the hospital, but just one hospital this time. That’s better than going to the small suburban hospital first to discover the problem, then going to the big hospital downtown that can try to stop pre-term labor. Edit out their terrified expressions and reduce them to just concerned faces. Dad can say, “Just three more miles to the hospital, dear, and then it’s smooth sailing until he graduates college.”
Resting in Hospital – Mom and Dad are watching the animated movie “Fantasia 2000,” and Dad is crying during the part with the animals getting on to Noah’s ark because it would be the perfect thing to watch with a 2-year-old, and he thinks it will never happen. It’s April and the foliage out the window is full of bright greens, yellows and pink. Let’s make it August with more subdued greens outside and a little bit of brown, and Mom is in bed, watching the 2012 Olympics in London and getting to see all of the gymnastics events she wants.
Active Labor – The contractions are getting harder, and Dad is sitting next to the bed, holding a prayer book, reading it aloud and sniffing back tears. A junior nurse they don’t know has taken over the role of birth coach and is saying things like, “Miriam, you can do this.” This is necessary because Mom and Dad never went to the class where they teach Dads how to be a coach. Let’s edit out the junior nurse, and put a small pom-pom in Dad’s hand, and he’s shaking it, chanting, “Chocolate, chocolate, flowers, flowers FLOWERS! I will rub your back for HOURS!”
Relatives – Baby’s grandparents are in the NICU’s waiting room with Dad, and the March of Dimes educator is there with pizza she’s ordered for the NICU families. Grandma is very tense, talking the ear off of the March of Dimes lady, and Dad is getting annoyed, unable to get a word in edgewise, unable to ask the questions he wants to ask. Finally, Dad sighs and sinks in to his chair, realizing that if the March of Dimes lady doesn’t answer all these intense questions, he will have to do it, and he’s too exhausted. Instead, let’s have Dad and Grandpa taking a wheeled bassinet with an 8-pound baby in it for a drive down the hall, making racecar noises with their mouths, looking for other dads to challenge to a race, while Mom and Grandma roll their eyes. Meanwhile, the floor’s nursing supervisor is watching these buffoons, wondering if she needs to put the kibosh on this game.
Visiting with the baby – Dad asks the nurse about the baby’s blood type, and she says, “O-Positive.” Mom says, “Ha, ha, I win.” Ok, we can leave that part alone.
If George Lucas did this, he would charge $34.99 per DVD for the special edition. We, however, know that not even The Force could make such a thing possible. If we had a “normal” child, we would not have him. Children do not normally survive when born at 22 weeks and 6 days of gestation. Even though the tubes and wires are gone, they can never be forgotten. This sometimes leads us to think in terms of another George Lucas creation – “Darth Baby and the Quest for an Easier Sequel,” was the first title of the book we wrote about our experiences, but Miri said that was too silly. The memories remain, making us awkward and thankful parents.