Two weeks before my preemie’s second birthday, I was chatting with a mom after story time, and I noticed her baby pulling up to stand and cruising around the library’s furniture. “Wow, look at him go!” I remarked. “How old is he?” I couldn’t help but ask. “Nine months. All my kids started walking at that age.” she marveled. I almost said, “my son just started pulling to stand too!” But I did not. I could not.
So many of you preemie moms tell me not to compare, but, I do! I can’t help myself. I am around other kids all the time. I work as a children’s librarian, and to see so many little ones who are half my son’s age and doing all the things I so badly wished he were doing is disheartening to say the least. It makes me want to go back in time and give that annoyingly perky developmental specialist we talked to in the NICU what for. She is the one who gave my husband and I the “they usually catch up by age 2” spiel. Maybe because our preemie was born at 29-weeks she assumed he would, but he has not.
He is not walking yet, which is his most obvious delay. He has been struggling with a gross-motor delay the most, but is still behind in his fine-motor development. He has a speech delay, but that is complicated by his cleft lip and palate. He also was recently given a cognitive evaluation by our early intervention program and he scored in the average/below average range. In addition to evaluations done by his physical, occupational, and speech therapists, he has been evaluated by a developmental pediatric specialist and neurologist. After an MRI showed nothing wrong – thank God – all of these specialists are now left scratching their heads as to why Ben has such significant developmental delays.
I am not scratching my head anymore, however. For the past two years, I did live with the hope that my preemie would be all caught up by his second birthday. Even when he was not rolling over or grabbing his feet by 6-months adjusted age or sitting independently by 16-months adjusted age, I thought the catching up would just happen all of the sudden. Guess what? It doesn’t. Will it ever? Maybe, but I will not allow myself to worry about it anymore. Nor should you if your preemie has not caught up yet! Ben has always done things in his own time and as every preemie parent comes to accept eventually: every child is different.
Recently, after receiving a kind comment from an expectant mom on one of my blog posts, I finally began to accept that Benjamin will be who he is meant to be. She had written how she believes her baby will be who he is meant to be. That really hit home with me. But it was not until I was driving home after picking up cupcakes to bring to Ben’s daycare the next day to celebrate his birthday that this acceptance fully hit me. Out of nowhere, tears just started streaming down my face, mainly because I felt such thankfulness to God that I was able to do something so normal for my preemie. Something that I never dreamed I’d be doing those early days in the NICU when he was fighting so hard just to stay in this world. And mixing with countless tears of gratitude were also a few tears of regret. Regret for the time I wasted dwelling on all the things Ben was not doing yet when I should have been enjoying all that he was, and is, doing. I mean, my preemie is 2 now! And as promised by every parent I know, the time has gone by so fast!
While all these doctors and therapists want to know why Ben’s developing so slow, I want to yell, “Time, slow the heck down, please!” Oh, and also assure them, my son will be who is meant to be. Just as your preemie will also be who he or she is meant to be, too.