World Prematurity Day . . . and turning thirteen

On the 18th of November, I officially become the mother of a teenager.

Which seems weird because I’m only 25.

And it’s doubly weird because in some bizarre harmonic convergence, the 17th of November is officially “World Prematurity Day,” a day devoted to heightening awareness about premature birth and to help support the various institutions that work with the families and babies dealing with the difficulties that arise when a baby comes too soon.

In another odd harmonic convergence, the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding Liam’s birth mapped onto the American “hanging chad” debacle that will live in infamy. I missed most of the details of that process because I was busy being put on bedrest, then hospitalized, and then delivered of a child who came almost two months early and weighed less than two pounds.  Being delivered of a baby slightly smaller than a loaf of bread will make a gal forget about politics for a while.

Those were scary days, those early days in November, when my blissfully uncomplicated pregnancy, which had been filled with compliments about how thin I was despite being pregnant (note to lady movie stars who never really look pregnant and then regain their bodies two minutes after giving birth: you’re killing us out here in real-people land) suddenly became something that didn’t look like my life at all. Turns out that when you’re six months pregnant, you’re not supposed to be thin.

Here’s what happens when the ob-gyn does an ultrasound and announces at the end of it, “you have a crappy placenta” and puts you on bedrest:

You will be terrified; you will think to yourself that you did everything right: you ate right and you exercised right and you didn’t have coffee and you didn’t have booze except omigod that night before you knew you were pregnant you had three martinis was it the martinis omigod it was the martinis.  You will make bargains with whatever god might be listening and when people say they’re going to pray for you, you say thank you please pray, and you hope that people are slaughtering goats and chickens on your behalf because any magic, you’ll take any magic anyone wants to send your way if only everything will be okay.

You will go to bed for ten days while the country tries to figure out who will be the next President and then, when you’re admitted to the hospital after what was supposed to be a routine check on what was supposed to be all the weight gained by this little shrimp in your belly, you will lie in the hospital bed and cry.

And you will cry and cry, but because you are mostly flat on your back, the tears will pool down the sides of your face, drip into your ears and your hair. You won’t even mind the steroids they’re shooting into you, with needles that look like they were borrowed from an elephant hospital because anything, anything to make the baby be okay.  The steroids, some well-meaning but socially awkward medical resident will tell you, are for the baby’s lungs, which are “just little smears of pink jelly right now so if he was born he would probably not be able to breathe.”  And then you will cry some more because holy crap pink smears of jelly?

My tiny ferocious child, the entire 1lb, 10oz bundle, came into the world by emergency c-section, just after dawn on 18 November. The United States still didn’t have a president but I didn’t much care because the bundle was crying—weakly, it’s true, but crying. Which meant that the smears of jelly were functioning like lungs were supposed to function.

Preemies—preemies as small as Liam was—don’t really look like babies. They don’t look particularly cute or jolly or huggable. They look fragile and terrifyingly old: wizened, their skin hanging in folds around flesh that has yet to appear.

SMP-2011--00000567

Instead of being wrapped in soft blankets, they are wrapped in wires and tubes, surrounded by monitors; they are whisked away from you and tucked into an isolette (the plastic shoebox, we called it) that’s basically a small warming tank that keeps the bundle the exact temperature it would be if it were still the proverbial bun in the proverbial oven.

SMP-2011--00000558there’s a baby in there somewhere

I don’t know how we functioned, really, in the days and weeks and months of Liam being in the hospital: we lived downtown on West 4th street, and “Babies Hospital,” as it was called, is on 168th street. Sometimes it took us more than an hour each way on the subway — not that much fun, especially with sore lady bits. But we trekked back and forth every day for our sessions of “kangaroo care:” holding our bundle against our skin so he could feel our hearts beating. I hoped always that the steady sounds of our hearts would drown out the noisy pinging and whirring and beeping that defined life in the NICU.

Liam_Mom_Kanga_week2

The bundle became Liam, became a “feeder and grower” rather than anything more dire, although the NICU was filled with other babies who weren’t so lucky.  I never knew what to say on those days when I would come in and one or another isolette would be empty.  Having a preemie, I realized, is a bit like having a miscarriage: initially you think you’re the only one ever to suffer such a loss and then you realize, sadly, how many people share a version of your feelings.

And now the bundle will be thirteen. I’ve wondered if his formidable character – confident, tenacious, focused – was shaped by spending his earliest months in such inhospitable circumstances.  Or maybe character is a fluke, just like what happened to him was a fluke. No doctor could ever explain why Liam was IUGR (intra-uterine growth restriction, which I think is medical-speak for “the baby didn’t grow”) or why none of the dire predictions came true (no oxygen tanks, no developmental delays, no blindness, no physical impediments…the list went on and on).

Who really can say: maybe all the prayers and burning sage and chanting and whatever else people were doing on Liam’s behalf while he was in the hospital worked; I have no way of knowing.

What I do know? I know that my son is creative and athletic; he loves math and he loves writing; he is funny and beautiful and aggravating, all in equal measure. Liam’s preemie story ends happily; we were lucky in our doctors, our hospital, and in the baby who came into the world so tiny and so strong.

Happy birthday, teenager. The last thirteen years have been amazing; I can’t wait to see what happens next.

liam_minionThis summer Liam decided he’d learn to make stuffed toys: so he made minions. No pattern, just made ’em.

IMG_0552standing on the dividing mark between the Mara, in Kenya, and the Serengeti, in Tanzania

liam_birth_feet-thumb-450x326his feet at birth: actual size

 

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13 Responses to World Prematurity Day . . . and turning thirteen

  1. susan w November 18, 2013 at 4:05 am #

    Just beautiful. And amazing.

  2. Jennifer Burden @WorldMomsBlog November 18, 2013 at 6:22 am #

    Gorgeous post. How scary. I get a warm, happy feeling seeing him all grown up after reading this!

    Jen 🙂
    Jennifer Burden @WorldMomsBlog recently posted..ISRAEL: Part II of IV: Living with Metastatic Breast CancerMy Profile

  3. Dede November 18, 2013 at 8:26 am #

    My preemie was not nearly as small as Liam but they share the same birthday. She will be 15 tomorrow…

    • Deborah Quinn November 22, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

      How lovely! A shared birthday! Love that. And love to your preemie too!

  4. ssw November 18, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    oh deb, this is a lovely birthday post. xx

  5. Robbie November 19, 2013 at 12:19 am #

    Wow! What a beautiful post and a handsome son! Thank you for sharing your story today.
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  6. Lynda November 19, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    Beautiful post.
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  7. Susan November 19, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    Lovely one Deb. I had forgotten that we were all focused on hanging chads as you were focused on keeping Liam alive. And what a gorgeous fellow he is now. Happy birthday, to all of you. (BTW, I know about that being 25 with a 13 year old. I’m trying to figure out how my oldest child is now my age. (47)

    • Deborah Quinn November 22, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

      Thanks Soolen! You know, it wasn’t till I watched “recount” that I realized how much of that nightmare I’d missed by virtue of being in the NICU. Weird. Like a kind of fugue state. Wish the country had done as well as Liam did…

  8. Doting Mom November 20, 2013 at 6:58 am #

    What an incredible story that ends so happily! Many many wishes to your son on turning thirteen 🙂

    Hope he thrives and grows in body, mind and spirit.

    • Deborah Quinn November 22, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

      Aw, thanks. He’s mostly a good kid, and I swear, sometimes remembering his rocky start in life helps me not lose my temper when he gets all pre-teen on me!

  9. David Ryan November 23, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    I bet when he grows up, he’ll be mistaken as your younger brother…:)
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  10. Michelle Longo December 29, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    Beautiful post.
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