Sometimes, the spirit of thanksgiving almost topples me over. I am the proud preemie mom of a 24 weeker miracle, and like most “PMs”, I once spent months of my life staring at my heart through an incubator. Before my child had the chance to experience the world, he had the task of fighting like heck to stay in it. It was hard to watch, and hurt me to the core of my soul. Prematurity is a pathway into parenthood that no mother or father ever expects to travel. I only experienced 24 weeks of my first pregnancy, and I longed for the other 16. In the first few days after he was born, it was impossible to see the good in any of it. I fought to get up and out each morning, in spite of my sadness. It was the lowest point of my life.
After five long months, mountains of sickness and a few surgeries, my son Jharid finally came home in September of 2012. Those first two Thanksgivings and Christmases after he came home were difficult holidays; he was in isolation for RSV season and therefore so were his dad and I. Honestly, between his early birth and where we are now, 2 and a half years later, there are a plethora of things I could be bitter about. I am sure most preemie parents can make a list longer than Santa’s. The last thing a parent wants to do is see their child struggle. But that is not the way to properly raise a miracle.
As I look back on the NICU, I know that it challenged me, but it also taught me a thing or two. It made me a better mom, and a better human being. I am left with a deeper understanding of my place in the world and the importance of being grateful for the journey, Grateful for EVERY LITTLE THING. So I made a list, of the seven things I am most thankful for this holiday season, one for every letter in PREEMIE.
- I am thankful for Hope. Without hope, my son did not stand a chance. Everything about his birth told me not to believe. All of the signs said he would die. He was only one pound and while most preemies had a couple of issues, he had them all. In the NICU Jharid developed grade 3 brain bleeds, retinopathy of prematurity, chronic lung disease, a PDA and necrotizing enterocolitis. He was sick and small and the odds were not on his side. I hoped anyway. I refused to relinquish my right to hope. And it has made the difference. He is still here.
- I am thankful for the Power of Prayer: The walls of NICUs have definitely heard more prayers than churches. I spent 20 out of 24 hours praying for him to live. The first Sunday after my son was born, I went to church (not my church, but a church) and fell down at the altar. A prayer circle engulfed me. My spirit moved. I prayed until my eyes burned. I prayed and cried and bargained with God. Praying gave me a role in the journey that seemed so out of my control. The opportunity to pray gave me power. I needed that.
- I am thankful that Doctors Believe in Miracles: Two weeks into this NICU stay, the doctor told me if he came out of it okay, it would be a miracle. That statement meant the world to me. It meant that a miracle was possible, and that even science could not explain some healing. Even though the medical opinion was negative, there was still room for divine intervention. I held on to that statement. It fueled me. And it still does.
- I am thankful that I Now Know How to Love: Even when I was in the NICU and felt most alone, I was surrounded by people who were rooting for me and Jharid. They sent good vibes our way. His grandparents were by our side, each and every moment. The nurses and doctors handled him with great care and concern. Our family, friends and co-workers gave us nothing but well wishes. Our son was loved in a special way, and so were we. Their love taught me that the way to show people you care is by being there. Making a way to lessen their load. I am grateful for all of those who held our hand through the NICU. You are amazing.
- I am thankful for My Journal. When my son was born, I started writing. My dreams for him, biggest fears and most heartfelt prayers are there. I turned them into a book, Stronger than We Thought: Poetry for the Preemie Mom’s journey. Writing that book allowed me to give my son a tribute that will last forever, and it will help mothers currently going through the NICU feel understood. They won’t feel so alone.
- I am thankful for Purell. Purell is a life saver, literally. Enough said.
- I am thankful for the Preemie Spirit that Lives in My Son: Of all the days of his life, my baby has been happy. He has been pleasant and truly knows no suffering. He gives the warmest hugs and biggest smiles. Everyone who has watched him grow holds a special place for him. He is a magnet for possibilities; a reminder that God is present. I love that about him. And it helps me to hold thanksgiving throughout my day. So much, that it almost topples me over. I am grateful for the goodness that lives within him. It remind me that no matter the delay, he is truly OK.
What preemie parents know that most parents do not is that as long as your child is okay, anything else can be overcome. It can be handled. We are thankful for the small challenges because we know how it felt to almost lose the most important person in our lives before having a chance to show them how wonderful they are. And for those whose preemies become miracle angels, we learn to be grateful for every minute of our child’s life. No moment is promised, and each one is a gift. I am thankful for all I now know. I hope my fellow preemie parents can find all there is to be thankful for in their preemie miracles.