Let’s pretend you are a premature baby, living the hard NICU life. You have immature lungs, brain, digestive tract, immune system. You are expected to breathe air before you’re ready, to regulate your body temperature outside Mommy’s womb, digest food when you should still be drinking amniotic fluid, and to make matters worse, you have very large people handling you all the time. They poke, measure, place annoying tubes in your mouth, nose, veins, and they expect you to rest and grow in a very loud place. We can all agree you are having a rough start, but you are a strong baby, and you can get through very hard things.
Let’s pretend you hit the NICU jackpot and you were able to do all the things doctors wanted you to do, without complications (sorry to tell you, baby, but this is very unlikely, especially if you were very early). You are able to go home with your family around your due date, or even a little earlier. Good for you, baby! You look like a tiny newborn, but you have all this life experience, maybe you are three, four months old. You have been cooped up in the hospital a long, long time, and now you get to go outside and see the world.
Not so fast, baby. Remember those immature lungs and immune system? You may have reached your due date, but developing in an incubator is not the same as growing inside Mommy until 39, 40 weeks. There are little, bad germs out and about. RSV is one of them. If you catch it, your lungs may have a really hard time, and you could end up back in the hospital. Doctors will tell your parents that you have to stay home for now, without many visitors. Your family will be so glad to have you home, but sometimes they may get a little frustrated and bored because keeping you in isolation is not so fun for them. They may also get concerned about visitors bringing bugs in to you, and other people may have a hard time understanding why they can’t visit, or hold you. People around you will wash their hands a lot, use stinky alcohol gel, avoid crowded places. You may even miss out on big family gatherings or holiday celebrations.
You may not notice any of this, because, after all, you are a baby. Your baby days are happy because you are fed, your diapers are changed, people hold you, love you, and cuddle you. You don’t care about going to restaurants, or flying in a plane. Your family is taking care of you while you grow, inside and out. For now, you are happy to be home, getting stronger every day. Tell Mommy and Daddy to hang in there. They will be able to join the world again soon, but you still need a little more time. You are a strong baby, and you and your family can get through this together.