Raising a Premature Baby: Five Life Lessons
Our baby was 39 cm tall at birth and weighed 1.25 kg. On the growth chart published by WHO, he was well below the 3rd percentile. A year later, he is 77.5 cm tall and weighs 10.7 kg. On the growth chart, he is at the 53rd percentile in height and the 74th percentile in weight.
Over the last year and three months, my wife and I have focussed all our energies on raising a premature kid to good health. Good health can mean different things to different people. I will narrow it down to some measurable metrics. Our baby was 39 cm (15.35 inches) tall at birth and weighed 1.25 kg (2.75 lbs). On the growth chart published by WHO, he was well below the 3rd percentile. Roughly a year later, he is 77.5 cm (30.5 inches) tall and weighs 10.7 kg (23.5 lbs). On the growth chart, he is at the 53rd percentile in height and the 74th percentile in weight. Is that good? Our pediatrician thinks he is doing great, and we agree. Is it all hunky dory? The journey has been reasonably pleasant. We do have our challenges, and we continue to figure them out. I hope and wish nobody goes through our journey. But if you do, here are some things that might come in handy. For the general reader, these lessons might be insightful in the face of any adversity. Here are our five life lessons in raising a premature kid without further ado.
Accept the reality. Adapt!
During my wife's pregnancy, the doctor raised small alarms now and then. Be it the size of the fetus or the amniotic sac, there were minor concerns in between. I soon realized that it was going to be a bumpy ride. And when the baby was born, I was mentally prepared for the challenge ahead.
We adapted to the new reality by doing two things together as a couple. Firstly, we never spent time wondering, 'Why us, God?'. It's an endless trap that does more harm than good. Instead, we spent time discussing how to approach the entire situation.
Secondly, we resolved to take each day as it comes. We go into the NICU, care for the baby, sing to him, pray for him, learn about his health, and do what nurses tell us. We were grateful for having one more day with him. It made the entire journey a genuinely positive and peaceful experience.
Cut out the noise. Value expertise.
As soon as we realized the baby was coming out sooner than expected, we informed our families about the situation to prepare them.
While some of our family pondered on the 'Why us, God?' question, some others were genuinely concerned for us. Some even mildly questioned our lifestyle choices. Once the baby was born, they had more questions to ask and advice to offer. It became overbearing at times and left us more worried than ever. We decided to cut out the noise.
We dealt with the situation in three steps. At first, we stopped calling family to update every tiny detail. I remember sending out one message at the end of the day to everyone concerning the baby's development. It always ended on a positive note.
Second, we focussed on the advice given by doctors and nurses regarding his care. We read books to educate ourselves about pregnancy, labor, and premature birth. Heidi Murkoff's book What to Expect When You're Expecting is a pleasant read for anyone interested. We strongly recommend the book to everyone.
Finally, we maintained careful records of milk intake, daily diaper changes, breastfeeding duration, and sleep cycles. The pediatrician found it helpful to give us pointed feedback.
It takes a village to raise a kid. Ask for help.
It's incredibly challenging to do it all yourself. Don't let pride come in the way. We asked for help and my in-laws happily obliged.
My cousins flew in at a moment's notice to help us during the NICU days. They ran the house. They took care of laundry, cooking, and cleaning but never invaded our privacy. They waited for us to share and kept us in good spirits.
When I shared my situation with my boss, he was readily accommodating. Consequently, I had no trouble accompanying my wife on doctor visits, developmental follow-ups, and other baby duties.
Finally, being around the wife and the baby in the first few months keeps us connected. It helped us share responsibilities. While this is the norm in the US, the situation is slightly different in India. It is common for new moms to move into their parents' homes during postpartum. I think this makes husbands disconnected and lazy. It is sensible to hire help when the work piles on.
There is always more to do. Prioritize!
Regarding goals and growth milestones for the baby, we realize there is always more to do. There is much to do, be it rolling over, sitting, crawling, walking, or talking. Premature kids tend to lag behind normal kids in some of these areas.
We haven't let it overwhelm us. There is never an end to doing it well. We prioritized good health over learning goals. We will focus more on learning goals now that our baby is healthy.
It's not all rosy and cozy! We are figuring it out!
The whole journey has taken a toll on our relationship. We have had several misunderstandings, arguments, fights, and disappointments. At times it has caused us to question our love for each other. We don't have all the answers yet. But we are determined to find one.
Two major health scares took a toll on the family. When the baby came home after spending six weeks in NICU, he immediately contracted the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Multiple doctor visits, sleepless nights, and spending a night at the emergency care were stressful. Several months later, we all, including the baby, contracted COVID (we dropped the ball). They did change the atmosphere of the house a bit. Negativity crept in, and I am unsure if it entirely left us.
At the end of the day, how you approach anything matters. We never allowed it to become a sob story. We were happy each day. I have met my share of people who find solace if they are not alone in battling problems. They find relief if they have friends or family facing the same difficulty. I believe this can harm relationships and make us bitter about life. Instead, being happy, positive, and cheerful towards friends and family who don't share a similar journey can be uplifting.
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