My baby, Charlie, was born the day she reached twenty six weeks gestation and weighed a mere one pound eleven ounces. Where as most babies are greeted into the world amidst celebration, my baby entered the world to stunned silence. The shock and trauma of her early arrival not only stole the pure joy of what was supposed to be a jubilant event but, it (and the subsequent NICU stay) altered many of my relationships.
The relationships that existed prior to my baby’s birth were either fortified or destroyed.
I am grateful for the relationships that were strengthened. Many of my friends went above and beyond anything I could have hoped for. Their gestures ranged from things as simple as saying, “I want to help but I don’t know how” to grand expressions such as the gift of Charlie’s crib. These friends and their gestures were the reinforcement I needed when I thought I could not bear another day. My friends didn’t always know what to do but, their efforts did not go unnoticed. I will always remember each one.
Unfortunately, other relationships did not survive. The reasons for this are varied. The experience revealed to me that some of these relationships were high maintenance. I decided that they were no longer worth the effort. Other relationships were lost due to time and energy constraints. Additionally, many disappeared when the trauma created a vast disconnect between me and the other person.
In addition to these changes, Charlie’s early arrival introduced me to people I otherwise would not have met. Some are fellow NICU parents and others are from organizations in which I am active. The relationships are unlike any friendships I’ve had prior to my baby’s birth. The best way to explain these relationships is to say we are like veterans of the same war. We have a shared understanding of things other people can’t possibly fathom.
Ultimately, I think my experience with prematurity has made me a better friend. I have a better grasp of grief, loss, mourning, and life. Now, I see much more of the gray that exists in life and can appreciate experiences beyond that of my own.
Having a preemie changed many things in my life. For better or worse, my relationships were included in these changes.