I was talking the other day with a very good friend about the grief of a premature birth, after another mommy here blogged about the pain she was feeling that day. Sometimes I am able to forget about that pain – we are nearly six years away from that time – but then it will come back to haunt me at various moments, often surprising me in its strength even years later.
When Ryley was born, I went to another place. I don’t even know what that place is called. Some might call it “survival mode”. I don’t even know that we were surviving. For five days, my son was a photo by my bed, and images on a 2 x 2 screen that my husband brought to me every night. I was dealing with my own personal reality of still being in the hospital with a life-threatening infection, pumping every three hours, wanting nothing more than to get out and see my son and go home. When I did finally get “out”, I started the daily routine of spending hours at the hospital by Ryley’s isolette and eventual open crib, praying for his life, bargaining with God, pumping, crying, writing, embroidering, reading, watching, learning, and doing as much as I could to be part of my son’s care. When people commented on my “strength”, I pushed it aside. I didn’t feel strong. I don’t know what I felt. I just did. We did what we had to do. I didn’t think about it…..I guess I never even thought about it being any other way at that point.
When Ryley finally came home, I still didn’t “feel”, didn’t grieve. We were then caught up in being parents of a fragile child – follow-up care, regular pediatrician visits, home-nurse visits, exercises, still more pumping, and just getting used to having a child. VERY shortly after that, we found out we were (unexpectedly) pregnant again, and the ride started all over again. Less than a year after Grace’s blessedly full-term birth, we moved, and then moved again when our house was finished being built. And then, another pregnancy. Have you caught your breath at all? That’s kind of how I felt. Our life was on fast-forward. It’s not that I didn’t ever stop to marvel at my son, and it’s definitely not that I never thought about his early arrival, but I hadn’t had time to come up for air. We were still in that kind-of-survival mode, just going about our lives as we were given them.
Almost a year after Ethan was born (and he was done nursing and he was sleeping through the night), our lives started to settle down. I started looking back, I started thinking. We came out of our bubble, and I started to grieve. And I started to cry. I cried for what we had. I cried for the three months of pregnancy that I had lost, the 93 days Ryley had spent in the NICU instead of inside me, and all the time spent worrying, wondering, hoping, as well as all the time in dr’s offices, with the nurse, doing therapy exercises and so on. Even two full-term, healthy pregnancies did not take away what I had lost with Ryley. Two babies I brought home from the hospital with me did not take away the pain of watching my son through a plastic wall for so long. And by then, over four years had not taken away the grief, the guilt, and the pain of Ryley’s premature birth.
There is no time limit on grief. And the pain of an imperfect birth, while it does lessen in time, does not ever completely go away. I am – I don’t even know how to properly term it – I have a survivor who is thriving to no end. For that I am eternally grateful. But I still hurt, still occasionally feel guilty, for Ryley’s premature arrival and all he had to endure because of it. I logically know that I did nothing wrong. But my mother’s heart will always wonder those “what-if’s” and “maybe’s”. If your child was just recently born, you may feel yourself in that “survival mode” where you are just doing each day. You may be a few months out and wonder when you will be “through it”, or you may be years beyond that imperfect birth, but you will still need to grieve, and that process is inside out, upside down, backwards, forwards and sideways.