Expecting After a Preemie: A Worrier’s Journey to Joy

May 16, 2016

Over the years, my wife has asked me many questions seconds after I fall asleep. Typically her questions cycle through the topics of shutting the garage, taking out the trash, locking the front door, or hearing a sound outside. Her timing is impeccable.

“Do you think Sloane will be a good big sister?”

This was a new one.

Despite its uniqueness, I handled the question exactly as I would any other as I drifted off to sleep:  I plugged it into my mental autopilot answer-creating algorithm. While it sounds fancy, it’s actually pretty simple. All I have to do is not think about the question, quickly generate three facts that may or may not be valid, grunt out a single word response, and resume sleeping. It is a technique I have mastered to combat my wife’s sleep depriving precision.

For this question, my brain considered the following facts:

Fact: Sloane is an only child and only grandchild.

Fact: Sloane has a great-grandmother, three grandmothers, and two grandfathers all living within ten minutes of her.

Fact: Sloane has twenty-two pairs of shoes. Sloane doesn’t wear shoes.

My subconscious formed its conclusion: In her eleven months on earth, Sloane has been the lead singer in a solo band and has enjoyed every second of it. Move over Celine, we have a new diva in the making. This was an easy one. I chose my single-word response, grunted “nope,” and drifted off to the sweet sounds of Celine singing “My Heart Will Go On.” When my wife didn’t respond, the safety feature in my mental autopilot answer-creating algorithm kicked in. I roused and uttered the word, “why.”

positive pregnancy test

Oh boy! Literally.

I haven’t slept since.

Planning for a second baby after a twenty-four week hospitalized bed rest, a thirty-week gestational delivery, and eight weeks in the NICU has been a rich emotional experience. Go back to the last sentence, strike through “rich emotional experience” and reread it with the words “scary as heck.” That’s more like it. From the very first moment I saw the heartbeat fluttering on the ultrasound, there has been an ongoing struggle between the joy of having another child and the worry of a repeated experience. I’m fairly certain my worry is on performance enhancing drugs that would make Lance Armstrong blush.

As bizarre as it sounds, I find myself endlessly thinking about the length of my wife’s cervix. While that may be the strangest sentence I have typed in my life, it is the honest truth. Is it dynamic, shortening, or in the normal range? Will the progesterone shots help this time? Will the addition of the suppository progesterone do the trick? Will the delicately placed cervical stitch act as our Gandalf-like wizard sternly shouting, “You shall not pass!” to my unborn child?

To make matters worse, the closer we get to our infamous twenty-four week ultrasound, the more I am reminded of the emotions from my first experience. These are emotions I had sorted through, neatly boxed, securely duct taped, and boldly labeled “DO NOT OPEN.” Before I even had a chance to put my sealed boxes into emotional storage, here I am again faced with the possibility of moving them right back into my present-day life. And now the recent news that we are again on the road to bed rest at week twenty-three. Move over joy, it’s time to get the U-haul.

Is there hope that joy will be able to overcome this worry? While it may seem improbable, I do believe that joy has a chance to win this battle. This hope doesn’t rest in a procedure, shot, ultrasound, a friend telling me that everything will be just fine, or news from a doctor. For joy to win, I can’t risk relying on any of these things. My hope is founded solely on a revelation uncovered during Sloane’s stay in the NICU. I remember the evening vividly. My wife and I had just received some discouraging news from the doctor. In addition to this news, we held Sloane, listened to her coo, fed her, and actually managed to take her temperature without any alarms going off. Aside from the doctor’s news, this was a high-five worthy evening. Yet, here we were, utterly consumed and pining over the doctor’s update. Joy was losing the battle with worry.

It was that instance I realized my worry was blinding me and I was overlooking very special moments with my daughter. I could choose to allow worry to consume me or I could choose to experience the joy from the gifts Sloane was giving me. It was as if Sloane herself shook me from my worry coma. In that moment, I made a purposeful effort to refocus my perspective, bringing Sloane to the foreground while allowing worry to be the fuzzy image in the back. While it was fighting a formidable opponent, joy had a chance.

expecting after preemie worry NICU hand to Hold premie babies 101Here I am again. While faced with a similar challenge, I am not the same. This time around, I go into this battle against worry better equipped. As luck would have it, the experience I am most worried about repeating is what has given me the tools to conquer my current worry. Ironic, isn’t it? I know some days will be great and joy will stand triumphant. I know other days I will be consumed by worry, eat three pieces of Tiramisu, and need a reminder that joy is not defeated. Luckily, in these times of need, I have a seven-toothed diva in my corner reminding me to choose joy everyday.

Like I said from the start, it’s been a rich emotional experience.