Year One

So here we are. Eva has officially made it through her first year of life.

It’s been awhile since we updated this blog. Let me start by saying that’s a good thing. In a lot of ways, this blog began (at least for me, Jim) as a an outlet for a lot of fear-based emotions involving Eva’s future. This first year with her has erased all those fears. There’s not a day that goes by now that Eva doesn’t take another stride toward closing that gap that her early entry into the world created.

As of now, she is crawling, pulling herself up to standing and taking full advantage of that mobility to explore her surroundings and get into trouble. I fully expect she will take her first steps by the end of the summer.

But tonight, just hours before her first birthday, I’m thinking about the ride that got us here. The first time I held Eva, I was visiting her in her incubator after a late night at work. I was by myself. She was still very tiny. You almost wouldn’t even know you were holding her if your eyes weren’t staring in awe and trepidation of the small package of life in your arms.

When Amy’s water broke in the hospital, we were eating hospital-food dinner and watching “The Help.” Remembering that, I whispered to Eva these words:

“You are smart. You are strong. You are healthy.”

I started saying that to her at the end of every hospital visit with her. It was as much for her benefit as mine. I wanted to believe all of those whispers would be true so bad. And I wanted her to believe it, too.

A year later, I still find myself whispering those three sentences to her every now and then. But it’s different now. Now I can see all three of those whispered wishes have come true. There is nothing any other wish made on her birthday candle that could be better.

So happy birthday to my smart, strong, healthy baby girl. I love you.

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Life is so busy!

Wow, it’s been  long time! Life has been so crazy since I returned to work (in such a great way) that I don’t know where to start.

The transition back to work was easier than I expected. I was getting a little stir crazy and looking forward to returning. My bosses have been so great and even offered me a more flexible schedule where I can be closer to home a few days a week. (My regular commute is an hour each way). It has been such an incredible blessing, and I am thankful every day for that.

We’ve gotten into a routine now, and things have been going pretty smoothly. Jim works night shifts most Mondays; otherwise my mom or dad watches the baby. Then my in-laws stay with us from Monday night till Wednesday night and watch the baby all day Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s fun having them around, and I love that Eva will grow up close to her grandparents. And our nanny on Thursdays and Fridays has turned out to be a blessing well; she is great with Eva, and we really like her.  

Eva is doing so, so great. We had her 6-month appt. a few weeks ago, and the doctor said had he not known her history, he’d have no idea she faced any challenges so early on. We have started to wean her off her caffeine, and soon she will only be on her reflux medication. And even her reflux seems to be improving.

The main thing about Eva that’s been a challenge is her feeding and eating schedule – it’s so unpredictable, and just when I think I’ve got it figured it out, it changes. Like any baby, I suppose! Her general patterns are that she is eating more overall, and sleeping in longer stretches. Both of which are fantastic! In recent weeks, she has gone a few times sleeping for eight hours straight (sleeping through the night techincally, though it’s from 7 p.m.-3 a.m.) and taking longer naps during the day (three hours yesterday!) So that’s been great to see! She’s also less fussy than she used to be.

Developmentally, Eva is smiling a LOT. She has rolled over a few times from her stomach to her side, though not in the last week. she can lift her head up pretty high when she’s on her stomach. She’s right on target with her developmental age, which is about 3.5 months now.

We’ve started to feel more comfortable taking her out of the house. She even went to Thanksgiving at our friend’s house, and did great! She seems to like being outside the house and around new people, too. Though we’re still being cautious around big groups of kids, we’re starting to feel more comfortable bringing her out.

I don’t know how much Eva weighs now, though it’s somewhere over 11 pounds. She’s in 3 month clothes! We’re headed to the doctor next week for a weight check, so I’ll have more to report then!

Eva’s future

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.