If there’s anything that keeps me up at night – aside from a baby crying for food – it’s worrying about what Eva’s future will be like. People have asked, “So she’s OK? She’s completely normal?” I understand what they are asking, and yet I never know quite how to answer.
The short answer is yes, she is OK. Yes, aside from a case of reflux – and obviously being much smaller in size than the average 5-month old – she is a normal baby.
Here’s the longer, more complex answer: We won’t know for awhile exactly how Eva’s prematurity will affect her in the long term, if it does at all.
Here’s where are are right now: We could not have asked for a better-case scenario for a 26-weeker. Eva is doing phenomenal, and every doctor, therapist and nurse who has come across her has said it from the time she was born, to when she left the NICU two months ago. And they are still saying it now. She has impressed everyone and continues to make big strides every day – now she has started to smile!
Developmentally, Eva is right on target – great head control, strength and movement, and tracking with her eyes. This is a great indictator that she will hit her other milestones too – like grasping at objects, sitting up and eventually crawling and walking.
To put this in perspective: There are other babies in the NICU right now who were born just as early as her – as well as a 23 weeker who still is fighting for his life as he nears 40 weeks – and each one has faced serious issues that Eva somehow managed to escape. Digestive issues. Bad infections. Severe lung problems. Brain bleeds. Surgeries. Vision or hearing problems. And so on and so forth.
I say this humbly, because I don’t know how in the world we got off so easy when so many other babies weren’t so lucky. And I thank God every day for that. At the same time, I am well aware of the fact that it’s early. We won’t have all the answers to the question of how Eva’s prematurity will affect her later in life for a few more years, at least. First, we’ll look to see if she falls behind developmentally. We’ll keep track of her growth and feeding. Then, when she starts school, we’ll continue to evaluate everything from vision and hearing to intelligence and concentration and behavior and social interaction.
The fact is that preemies – especially ones born as early as Eva – are at higher risk for everything from cerebral palsy and autism to having learning disabilites and speech delays, to being more shy and socially withdrawn, to having mental issues later in life. If you asked me to recount everything she is at higher risk for, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. It’s overwhelming and scary, to say the least.
But the good news is this: A baby’s history and their course in the NICU is usually a good indicator for the type of future they will face. Big problems a premature child could have, like cerebral palsy or blindness, for example, become evident pretty early on, or are a direct result of something that happened, like a brain bleed or ROP, respectively. Going on that, there is a good chance that Eva will turn out to be just fine, or like any other baby born full-term, in that sense, and go on to live a happy, independent and successful life.
So no doubt, there will be nights I will lay awake, wondering how this will all turn out, and knowing that we won’t have the complete picture for several years, or even longer. But I can’t worry about what may or may not happen in the future. I just have to enjoy every stage for what it is, and take enormous pride in every milestone my baby reaches.
What I do know is this: Eva is in the best place she could be right now. She is a chubby, happy, healthy baby who loves to be held by mama and fusses every night before bedtime. Just like any other baby. In the future, she will have her own strengths and weaknesses, and her own set of challenges to face, whatever they may be.
Just like everyone else.