Throughout the existence of this blog, I have tried with the utmost restraint to avoid weighing in on the “a preemie is a preemie” discussion. (It is the idea that having a 35 weeker is similar to having a 25 weeker.)
While I find the “a preemie is a preemie” discussion irritating, it occurred to me that maybe there is some sort of misunderstanding. I want to believe the reason it exists is due to miscommunication. Here is my attempt to clarify:
When I use the term micropreemie or talk about our three months in the NICU, I am not competing or trying to “one up” other parents. I am simply searching for understanding.
Whether others wish to recognize it or not, having a micropreemie (or baby with a long NICU stay) is a different experience than having a later preemie (or short NICU stay). This realization became clear to me very early in my preemie journey.
Sometime in the first week after Charlie’s birth, I attended my first NICU class. Other NICU mothers were seated around the conference table talking. I quietly chose a seat and observed the other moms. I listened as they discussed nursery design, baby clothes, and plans for when they got home. These were all things that I was afraid to think about. I didn’t know if my baby was going to come home. It was impossible for me to think beyond that evening.
As I watched, I wondered what was wrong with me. Why was I so scared? Why was I so saddened by my baby’s birth? Why did I feel like my heart was breaking? These other moms could pull it together… why couldn’t I?
It did not take long for me to figure it out.
The instructor had asked each of the moms at the table to state their baby’s gestational age at birth. With the way things were ordered, I was last in line. The mom before me announced loudly, “My baby is the smallest baby here! My baby was born at 32 weeks.” I cringed. I wanted to crawl under the table and wished I could disappear. This was a contest I did not want to win. I must have been thinking about that for some time because the instructor had to prompt me. I whispered, “26 weeks” as I exhaled and possibly whimpered.
There was a moment of stunned silence. Suddenly, I was bombarded with questions such as “How big is your baby?”, “What does your baby look like?”, and “How do they put in IVs?”
At that moment, I knew I was in a very different world than they were. Even between NICU parents, there are varied experiences. Many are making plans of WHEN they will take their baby home while others are wondering IF their baby will go home.
There are some parents that have one of those super preemies that everyone alludes to when they meet someone with a preemie. On the other hand, there are babies that seem to struggle with everything. Each NICU baby’s journey is different. I do not see any harm in recognizing that or attempting to find those with similar journeys.
When I use the term micropreemie or discuss the length of Charlie’s NICU stay, it is not out of a competitive spirit. It is twisted to compete about such things. Any NICU experience is terrible.
Choosing to use micropreemie is an attempt to relate to other parents whom have had similar journeys. Interestingly enough, one of the NICU moms that I found to be most helpful was not a preemie mom.
When someone says, “A preemie is a preemie” to me, I find it to be dismissive of how hard my baby has fought. It ignores the struggles that we, as a family, have had to face. Overall, what is being conveyed to me is how they do not understand my world at all.
Another beautiful picture taken by Monica DeMariano