High school graduation is an emotional experience for parents. Possibly even more so when the child was born preterm or with special health care needs. But unlike a lot of my friends who are expressing how sad they are that their child will soon leave for college and life will never be quite the same, I am overjoyed that my son is about to take flight. Not because he is a difficult kid with a smart mouth and a messy room, but because there was a long period of time that I did not know if he would live or go to school or live on his own.
The night of his birth, the neonatologist explained to me and my husband that Jackson had less than a 50 percent chance of survival. At 24 weeks gestation weighing just a pound and a half, we were told if he did survive, he may have cerebral palsy, mental retardation, loss of hearing and sight. The list was long and overwhelming, and I questioned if the loving thing to do would be to let him go.
It was a long journey. There have been years of surgeries, medications and occupational, speech and physical therapy. But our amazing one-pound wonder is graduating with honors and heading off to a bright future at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee to follow his passion for movie making.
The day before Jackson’s high school graduation commencement, we returned to the NICU for a very special reunion with the doctors and nurses who worked tirelessly to care for him during his four-month NICU stay. When Jackson embraced the neonatologist that saved his life on his most difficult day in the NICU, I felt like we had truly graduated from our NICU journey. To me, that reunion, that hug, completed the circle. Maybe we can move forward now. A fresh start.
Those memories will always be there, just like the beloved kindergarten Super Turkey Thanksgiving play, the short stint on the middle school football team and getting his driver’s license. But maybe I can let go of the memories of fear and loss and sadness. Maybe now I can let go of the pain associated with having a child so early and so sick. Of watching him be resuscitated. Of begging God to let him breathe. Maybe now I can hold onto the memories of Jackson in his cap and gown surrounded by the doctors and nurses responsible for giving him his future.
As we celebrate this amazing milestone, I want to thank all the NICU professionals who work so hard every day to ensure babies like Jackson not only live, but that they thrive!