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Challenge: NICU Parenting

How This Is Us Brought Back Memories Of My Preemie

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It was the first “normal” dinner we had eaten in weeks. We took an hour for ourselves and sat in a restaurant and ate like regular people.

We were finally feeling good after a month long nightmare. Weeks earlier, during the 29th week of my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with preeclampsia and was admitted to the hospital on strict bed rest. After laying there for four weeks, our daughter was delivered by emergency c-section seven weeks premature. She weighed 3.3 lbs and went straight into an isolette in the NICU. She needed to stay there until well after I was released from the hospital. We went to visit her every day and every night. When we weren’t at the hospital, all we did was worry.

But that night we felt pretty good. When we had left the hospital that afternoon, she was doing well. Her health was good, she was gaining weight, and should soon be able to reach the 4 lb goal needed to go home.

So we sat and ate and talked for 60 minutes. Then happily went back to the hospital for our nightly visit. When we entered the NICU, her isolette was not in the “non-urgent” room where it normally was.

Where was she? In a panic, we questioned the nurses and they ran to get the doctor, who ushered us into his office. Our tiny baby had a setback. She was having trouble breathing and had been moved to the “urgent” room and was hooked up to a respirator. After a lengthy explanation, which I barely understood, he took us to see her.

I froze when I saw my tiny daughter hooked up to tons of tubes. I couldn’t do anything but sit in a chair and cry while I stared at her. After a while, the doctor practically forced my husband to take me home and get some rest. My crying was not helping anything.

This was the scene that went through my mind as I watched a recent This is Us episode. The night the episode ran just happened to be my once premature daughter’s 20th birthday. I still cannot believe that 20 years have gone by since I stared at her in that isolette.

The episode was titled “The Waiting Room”. In it, Kate had gone into premature labor and the family sat and waited to hear news about her and the baby. That last scene where Kate and Toby stared at their tiny son in the isolette brought me back in time.

This Is Us does that to me sometimes. I seem to identify with the characters often. It usually happens with Rebecca because I lost my husband at a young age, just like she did. Her navigation of life as a widowed mom always strikes a chord with me.

This time it was Kate. I remembered that terrified feeling of seeing my too tiny child laying there helpless while there was nothing I could do.

It’s not the way it is supposed to be. A baby should be delivered on time, healthy, happy, and beautiful. We should all take our babies home in a pink or blue blanket while taking tons of smiling pictures and videos. Watching our babies hooked up to machines and barely breathing is so wrong and heart-wrenching.

Luckily, my daughter’s setback was short-lived. Within 48 hours she was once again breathing on her own and back in the “non-urgent” room. Two weeks later she reached her goal-weight of 4 lbs. and was able to come home.

She is now a happy college sophomore, but it has not always been an easy road. Through the years she has been diagnosed with ADD and a horrible anxiety disorder. She is extremely sensitive and truly seems to feel pain slightly worse than most of us. She also has always had separation issues (yes even at 20 years old).

Are these issues related to being born premature? I have never received a definitive answer to that question but my instinct says yes. I believe that coming into the world before she was ready and spending her first few weeks of life in an isolette, and not with her parents, must have had some affect on her long-term.

I feel for the characters on my favorite TV show, as well as anyone else beginning their journey with a preemie. It is a scary time.

I am grateful and happy that my daughter is doing well. I know that there are much worse scenarios than ours. Although it was a very rocky start, her future is bright.

If I could talk to Kate and Toby, that is what I would tell them.

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