Today is World Prematurity Day. Obviously, I’m acutely aware of prematurity, and chances are, if you follow this blog at all, you’re aware of prematurity, too.
I have to be honest. I always have a bit of a squeamish reaction to prematurity awareness. That’s because one of the main goals of the day is to reduce prematurity. Now obviously, I’m all for reducing, nay, eliminating, prematurity! But to suggest that it can be done feels like suggesting that Das Big Boy’s premature birth was somehow preventable if I had done something differently. Prematurity prevention often talks about getting mothers prenatal care, and of stopping pregnant women from smoking and/or using cocaine. I’m here to tell you that I had topflight prenatal care, and that I didn’t have so much as an Advil before I was admitted to the hospital with PPROM. I took my bedrest extremely seriously, both at home and in the hospital. I only ate pasteurized cheese. I didn’t touch soft serve or smoothies. Or penne a la vodka. I didn’t clean a litterbox between 2010 and 2014. I was ridiculously, overly careful. And I still had a preemie and a baby who I managed to get to 36 weeks and 3 days which felt like an elephantine effort for not only me, Herr Husband, and Das Big Boy, but also my parents and Nanny Sunshine, not to mention a cadre of talented medical personnel. So preventing prematurity isn’t always possible, no matter how hard we try. And sometimes suggesting that it is fires up that tiny voice that wonders if I could have done something differently.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t love the March of Dimes and give them money in Das Big Boy’s honor. Please feel free! They’re the ones who helped get the surfactant developed which enabled him to breathe. They conducted the research into the betamethasone that grew him the paltry lungs he had at birth so he could survive. And they fund research into PPROM’s causes, and many other issues associated with prematurity that could have helped me, Das Big Boy, and our many preemie pals.
But rather than talking about preventing prematurity, I want to think about how we can respond to it. The doctors and the organizations like MoD have the medical research and stuff covered. So we can think about the personal responses. And this is really my advice for how to support anyone going though a stressful situation: preemie, sick kid, sick parent, illness, what-have-you:
Be present. Give presents.
Call to check in even if you think the person wants some space. Send texts. Emails. Leave voicemails. Don’t expect to hear back, but be there. If you talk to the person, listen. Offer empathy. Hope, but not false hope. Support. Tell the person how awesome they’re doing (but don’t say you don’t know how they do it. They don’t have a choice. They just do), and ask what you can do. We loved when people visited the NICU (as long as they were healthy!). Our people treated Das Big Boy like a person who mattered to them, which helped him feel like part of our lives even when he was stuck in the hospital. Finally, don’t hide from even the scariest or saddest situations. I know my friends who’ve lost children love the opportunity to talk about those children, to be reminded that they existed for everyone, not just for their families.
And send something, if you can. I’ve written about this before, but people sent us stuff for Das Big Boy even before we knew if he would survive until birth. That meant more than I can express to this day. That people believed in him enough to send him a little outfit (Thank you still, A and M!) still brings tears to my eyes. When something is so uncertain, tiny tangible things mean so much. It’s why we took multiple photos of him every day that he was in the NICU. It was, I think, our way of proving that he was there, that he existed.
Friends also sent stuff to support us and keep our spirits up. Cupcakes delivered to the NICU. Gift cards for grocery delivery. A couples massage. Having our team care for us enabled us to care for our little dude. And it reminded us that we were part of a larger world that loved us.
Prematurity isn’t all tragedy. We loved Das Big Boy more than we thought possible. We celebrated his milestones (His first ccs of breastmilk! The first time we held him! His attempts at nursing! When we had to change his incubator because he had such an explosive poop!). We held him, cuddled him, read to him, and sang to him for up to fourteen hours a day. We befriended our nurses, doctors, and staffers, and of course the other families (and we celebrated their babies’ milestones, too!). The NICU became our community. Our home.
And during our 114 days in the NICU, Herr Husband and I also had a lot of laughs. We wrote songs like “Could be Gas, Could be Sepsis” (ok, it was a whole musical called NICU, the Musical), perfected our imitations of some of the NICUs characters and acted out scenes with them, and played a weird version of “chuck, fuck, marry,” in which we had to select a staff member to hurl from the window, one to bring to Boston, and one to leave at CHONY. We imagined setting up nurses with our friends and decided whom we would want to go for a drink with or invite to a party. Even when you’re miserable, misery doesn’t define you. You be you.
The last thing I think we can all do for World Prematurity Day is something to thank the best humans on the planet, NICU nurses. If you’re a NICU parent, you can do something to thank those nurses. Send them a treat. Donate something to the NICU that they can share with their patients. Write them a letter with a picture of your kid. And if you’re not a NICU alum, and you want to do something, you can still donate something to your local NICU. Or to the next best people: teachers or therapists or doctors who work with NICU alums. Looking for a new charity? You can give money to the Center for Healthy Infant Lung Development (CHILD) Clinic, or the Home Oxygen Parent Exchange (HOPE) program, both at Children’s Hospital Boston. These are the places in which Dr. Larry Rhein works his magic, helping preemies learn to breathe, and even more sweetly, to play. The HOPE Program is Larry’s passion project, where babies who are on germ isolation can take a music class safely without worrying about the common colds that could send them to the hospital. And where their parents can make pals with other folks who’ve had this strange introduction to parenting: (blue babies, plugged in babies, boob-to-pump-to-pump-to-belly, etc.)
So Happy World Prematurity Day, or something like that. Thanks, as always, for following our journey. Prematurity doesn’t define it anymore, but I do appreciate the opportunity to remember and reflect. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so.
Remember how I was all smugsby about how delightful my life was? Like, immediately after I posted that I got sick. I’m also one of those people who never really gets sick (I like to come down with major health issues instead, then have them seemingly go into remission. Ask me about my thyroid and my colon some other time). But I was fever-chills-unable-to-get-off-the-couch-sick for three days (thankfully it was Saturday, Sunday, Monday, so I was able to pull it off with some big assists from Herr Husband and my parents). Then I was sort of half-assed sick with a disgusting chest cough and general malaise for an additional week. Oddly, and thankfully, it appears HH brought this illness home from a trip to Mobile, and bestowed it upon me but not the Kinder, which is good given DBB’s pulmonary history and all. Anyway, I felt craptastic and looked worse. I finally started feeling better yesterday, and good thing, too, because today Little Liebchen and I had PEANUT CHALLENGE!
Yes, this sounds like a cage match for cute small children like LL (who, btw, is completely full-blown walking. It’s how she locomotes now, and has been for several weeks). But, no. It’s what you have to endure if the first peanut product you feed to your baby-led-weaning baby is spicy peanut noodles, and she goes just a bit blotchy around the mouth. Then you mention this offhandedly to your pediatrician, hoping he’ll encourage you to fish a peanut butter cup out of your purse (come on, don’t even pretend there isn’t one in there) so you can feed it to her, prove she’s fine, and be on your merry way. Instead, he sends you to an allergist, who does a skin test, which the baby passes, then a blood test, which she passes, then still insists she do a PEANUT CHALLENGE, wherein the doctor thinks you will feed your baby what your baby considers to be ungodly amounts of peanut butter (but which you, ESA, Mo, or several other folks wouldn’t blink twice at eating off a spoon).
So here’s how that goes: They take LL’s vital signs, then bring me a spoon with 1/4 teaspoon of peanut butter on it, tell me to feed it to her, and leave the room. I coo and offer it to LL. She pushes spoon away. Repeat. I manage to wipe some in LL’s mouth, and she acts as if I have fed her fish paste or an old sock (except she loves the latter). She won’t let spoon near her mouth again. I hand her spoon. She throws it on the floor, and begins to chant, “Boob, boob, boob,” in her adorable little fratty spring break 1999 way. I summon the nurse. The doctor tells me, “Don’t hand her the spoon. You hold it.” Does this woman have children? Did she baby led wean them in my tried and true (if by true you mean failed): “You eat broccoli while I eat fries and your brother eats Goldfish method?” I didn’t think so.
They go to get me more peanut butter.
“I’m going to wipe it on my boob.” I tell the nurse.
“Do you want me to just leave it on the knife then?” she asks. This strikes me as odd, but hey, I’m the one about to slather peanut butter on my boobs in a doctor’s office. She gives me peanut butter and leaves.
I pop out the preferred boob, and wipe peanut butter on my nipple. (Come on pervs, come and find me!). “Boo-oob,” I tell LL in my most tempting voice. She latches, then gives me a filthy look, and we undergo an epic battle where I manage to get her to eat some of the peanut butter and she manages to terrify the entire office with her screams, then pull peanut butter off of my nipple with her fingers to wipe it on my shirt.
The doctor comes in to check her vitals. “Try to keep the peanut butter on the paper on the table,” she suggests. Now I have friends with peanut allergic kids and the last thing I want to do is kill someone. I’m very allergy sensitive (it goes with my having expected people to be germ sensitive). But seriously. Does the doctor understand the battle of wills going on in here? Has she met a baby?
So we wait fifteen minutes, and they bring in a half-teaspoon of peanut butter. More of the same ensues, with peanut butter winding up all over my outfit, once she figures out she can pull it out of her mouth with her hands and still swallow breast milk.
Same vitals, etc. The good news is she’s doing fine and showing no signs of allergy. The bad news is we and the room have become peanut butter death bombs. The worse news is that the nurse returns with two TABLESPOONS of peanut butter. “Last dose!” she chirps.
I laugh. I really like the doctor and nurses in this practice, and I think they’re great. Warm, responsive, knowledgable. But not realistic. “There is no WAY she’s going to eat that,” I tell her. “If you guys want to tie her to the table and force feed her, you can try. But I don’t think she’s going to eat it.”
So the doctor releases us, deciding they’ve done enough. But releases us actually means we have to sit in the office for an hour. Thankfully, there was a sixteen-month-old boy there waiting for an appointment, so we got an unplanned playdate out of the deal (and we didn’t even kill him!). And the verdict was that she’s good to eat peanuts, ramping up slowly (which doesn’t seem like a problem, except now she’s allowed to have peanut butter cups and peanut butter crackers so she’ll want to eat 9 million tablespoons of the stuff).
And I left looking like this.
The good news is that the poop-dome is over. The better news is that we leave for St. Thomas on Thursday (and are staying at a Boston airport hotel tomorrow night, so in a way vacation starts tomorrow).
As Das Big Boy began feeling better, he started intoning a phrase he almost never utters: I’m hungry. Saturday morning he asked for donuts, and because we were happy to see him willing to eat (by which I mean because we wanted donuts), we obliged. So he had donuts for breakfast. Our pediatrician had suggested following the BRAT diet (Banana, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) to help the kiddos’ GI tracts. But Das Big Boy doesn’t really believe in those foods (he’ll eat applesauce and a few bites of toast). He seemed more keen on the DA-BRAT diet (Donuts, Abstaining from Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast).
Sunday I received the following texts from Herr Husband:
And then, come dinnertime, Das Big Boy began whining that he didn’t want dinner. “I don’t want a hot dog!” he hooted, “I hate hot dogs.” (Hot dogs are among his favorite foods. Also, he’s really into hating these days. A lot of parents might not be into that, but I love that he’s expressing himself!)
“I want donuts! Please!” He shouted.
“Sweet pea, eat hot dog and then you can have donut,” I started to say from the dining room where I was setting the table. I walked back into the kitchen to see Das Big Boy munching on a chocolate donut.
“Sorry,” said Herr Husband, “I’m just so glad he’s eating.”
“You are a terrible father,” I laughed. “He’s had donuts for three meals today.”
“Reminds me of someone else I know,” said Herr Husband.
It’s true. We may never know whether nurture (Herr Husband’s permissiveness) or nature (my own terrible eating habits) are to blame for Das Big Boy’s donutfest.
That’s all. Except that Das Big Boy woke up at four this morning because he was hungry. And never went back to sleep. So we taught him a lesson by buying more donuts. And I ate two of them.
Finally, there is this cuteness. Please excuse my bragging. And my singing.
Ten things you need to know about our new pets:
1) They were praying mantises, not grasshoppers.
2) They are all dead.
3) I am a bonehead, because I’m pretty sure identifying bugs in your home is one of the reasons the gods invented the Internet. But you, dear readers, are either not entomologists or are very polite or are lazy blog commenters. Or maybe my photos were blurry.
4) Praying mantises do not eat lettuce.
5) Praying mantises eat other bugs. The nymphs love fruit flies. In summer, our house is a fruit fly aviary. But this time of year, nary a drosophilid can be found.
6) Praying mantises will cannibalize their siblings, which means putting them in a box together was a mistake. I did think they seemed young to be humping each other… But eating their siblings is even worse. This is not a moral statement on incest vs. cannibalism in humans. Only in bugs. Also, apparently ours were squeamish about the whole cannibalism thing, too, because it didn’t seem to work (see item 2).
7) When Das Big Boy was shaking the box, which we had labeled grasshoppers at his we request, we told him to be kind to the praying mantises. “Don’t punch them,” he nodded. Glad our lessons on kindness are getting through. So instead we starved them. Pretty sure we went off message.
8. When they started dying off, I thought the cardboard box in which they’d initially been housed was desiccating their fragile forms. It seemed logical because the boxed insects were dying while the free range ones we found around the house were still alive. Let this be a lesson to you on the values of free range livestock. Herr Husband and Ms. Inkling thought I was wrong (and nuts). They were right. But anyway, I tried a Glasslock because it seems logical that the pinnacle of food storage safety would also make for a good insect habitat. (Das Big Boy knows the word habitat from this Sesame Street segment. Worth watching, I swear…)
9. Herr Husband conducted some basic research and discovered that they were praying mantises. We thought for a while about how we could save the survivors. We planned to go to Petco to see about getting fruit flies (sold there as lizard food, apparently; also, this is a sign of how invested we were in these bugs). It was too late. All of the mantises were dead. Long live the mantises. Except there are no mantises.
10. I’m bummed. Had they lived, we could have released them into the yard where they would have demonstrated their loyalty to us by eating all of the mosquitoes. Now I’m going to have to continue with my organic spraying program, Simply Safer Premium Lawn Care (which is actually a good deal–$270 for the five-month season–and very effective. But still. Homegrown praying mantises would have been so much cooler).
We have apprised Das Big Boy neither of the fact that we totally biffed the insect identification or that said insects are dead. He does know that they “didn’t like the first box” and he seems to believe that “the grasshoppers are back in the grass” and “the grass is under the snow.” This seems like a lovely metaphor and like it will suffice for now.
Sidenote: we have promised Das Big Boy a fish tank for when he stops using diapers. Let’s hope Herr Husband and I up our game for that one.