Friday, May 23, 2008
More Courage Through Sharing
For the monthly blog carnival, Finding Courage Through Sharing, the carnival host Michelle gave a topic of sharing something that you wish other people understood about your life with a child or children facing medical challenges. Well as a parent to two former premature babies who also happen to have a liver genetic disorder called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, I could go on and on about this subject. Nonetheless, I decided to focus on their former prematurity for this entry.
Prematurity does not end when a baby is discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Preemies do not catch up by the time they are 2 or 3…perhaps in size, but not in the way their brains have been shaped. Prematurity is life long. Premature babies have brains which are wired differently that full term children. This is because they have to deal with sensory input long before their brains are ready to deal with the information they are processing after birth. You may have heard about NICUs that keep the lights down low, encourage a quiet tone of voice, and do such things as placing bags of IV saline next to the babies to make it feel like they are in the womb. While I applaud these efforts, they aren’t the same as a good, old fashioned womb.
There are many sources of misinformation to contend with as a parent of two former preemies such as urban legends, media, or your neighbor down the street. Former preemies are not the same or “just like” their full term counterparts.
Both Grace and Meghan contend with the invisible scars left from prematurity. As their mommy, my job is to help them with learning coping strategies for their preemie battle scars.
Grace’s early birth brought on sensory processing disorder. While some of her sensory seeking behaviors may be very appropriate for her age group, Grace’s go further. How many six year olds do you know that actively still seek out exploring the world using their mouths? Poor dear husband, Charlie, was on the receiving end of a juicy lick to the upper arm the other day. She also is a bit like Dino from the Flintstones. When she runs up to you, she doesn’t slow on her approach. She comes on in ramming speed motion, and has knocked me over several different times. Then, there is the ever-so-fun need to approach you to say something, and then without warning, jump head first into your mother’s or father’s chin. Ouch!
Grace needs a very active sensory diet through which she can subdue her need to touch, feel, and experience things through her senses. My husband should have gotten the “husband of the year” award last year when he brought home a swing set complete with a slide. Grace needs to swing, run, jump, and play like an addict needs his/her next fix. This activity calms and soothes her brain’s needs for sensory input. Yes, I do know that this sounds like an average case of attention deficit disorder, but it is not. Grace can pay attention for hours if she wants.
Meghan’s early birth provided her with general low tone throughout her body. For many years, we were in the “watch and wait” dance to determine if Meghan had a mild case of cerebral palsy. The left side of her body actively “drooped” compared to her right side. Many, many sessions of physical therapy later, her strength has improved. Hallelujah! We were even told that the cerebral palsy issue was resolved. It is another reason for us to rejoice. In any case, I do pay homage to Grace’s contribution to Meghan’s low muscle tone and poor reflexes. Since Grace is so sensory seeking, Meghan now has lightning fast reflexes. She has to. Grace will literally bowl Meghan over otherwise.
Prematurity has consequences that can’t be erased or ignored. Many individuals do not understand this. Now that I’ve said this, I want to make it crystal clear that I do consider my children to be miracles, and I wouldn’t change them. They are my heart. They are my pride and joy. They have boundless love, and I return that to them everyday.
Yes, preemies are medical miracles, but you should not expect any preemie to come away from their early birth unscathed. Prematurity leaves battles scars. Some that can be seen, and many others that are unseen. My daughters have some physical scars, but the majority are unseen scars.
I’ll leave you with a final picture of my beauties.