During my baby’s three month NICU stay, I quickly learned the many adages that are passed around the NICU. Some were aggravating such as “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” Others, like “Never trust a preemie,” were daunting. In addition to these, there were two unwritten rules engrained on my psyche that I unknowingly did not understand at the time. I would have been spared the sadness that came with losing yet another dream if I did. These rules were “Every baby is different,” and “Don’t compare babies.”
Essentially, they possess the same significance. I suppose the message is important enough to justify the need for two sayings. Nevertheless, the intended meanings were lost on me. This is how:
My baby arrived into the world the day she reached 26 weeks gestation. She weighed 790 grams and was 33 centimeters long. In addition to many other complex emotions, I was terrified.
I can not count how many times well-meaning people shared narratives of other micropreemies that “caught up” quickly and easily. Doctors often weighed in on the matter with stories of their past successes with similar babies. I had met parents of a 26-weeker from the same hospital that “caught up” in her first year.
Despite a handful of scares and terrifying discussions, my baby had a rather uneventful three month NICU stay. She did not come home on monitors, oxygen, or with a g-tube. I thought she would be another baby to escape prematurity unscathed just like every other 26-weeker I had been told about. I believed the preemie experience would quickly become part of our past once she came home from the NICU. I had no reason not to.
A year later, I feel stupid for thinking that.
My baby’s first year was full of surprises. There were new diagnoses, demoralizing readmissions to the hospital, and countless appointments with specialists. It was far different from what I was led to believe it would be and it caught me by surprise. I went through the grieving process again over the loss of regaining the “normal” baby experience.
However bumpy the ride, it is our story.
I wish I understood “Every baby is different” earlier. To me it means an issue that is devastating for one baby may be minor for another baby and vice versa. Furthermore, countless medical concerns lie on a spectrum. The severity can fluctuate from baby to baby. Every baby, even those with identical diagnoses, has their own unique journey.
As for “Don’t compare babies,” I understand it to reinforce the futility of comparison. Progress is personal. A major accomplishment for my baby may be trivial to another parent. Everyone’s story unfolds differently. Sometimes, I find my own story confusing. Therefore, I can’t pretend to understand someone else’s nor compare ours to it.
Rather than dispense cliches like sanitizer, it would have been more helpful for someone to have a realistic discussion with me in the NICU. I wish I would have been prepared to deal with more than the best case scenario. I’ve come to realize everyone’s future is somewhat unknown but it is even more so with NICU babies.