The first day of kindergarten is monumental for any child. It's not only a rite of passage; it's also the first formal step to learning to read and write, a prelude to educational success. It was only two years ago when I took my oldest son to kindergarten where, as for any young child, it was a milestone. Now it's time for my 5-year-old micro-preemie son, who defied all odds after being born at just 24 weeks, to start his kindergarten year.
While it's a milestone for my son, it's truly a milestone in my life, too. I made it. I made it five years, seven months and 17 days to get my son and myself to this point (not that I'm counting).
As I leave him with his new teachers and classmates, I'll not only be teary-eyed and proud of my son, but I will also proud of myself and proud that we both made it. Proud that we overcame a 117-day stay in the NICU followed by loads of challenges once we finally got home. From the dozens of doctors' appointments and almost daily therapists to the relationship and financial strains, I can only describe it as tough.
No one can prepare you for those first five years after your preemie arrives. Even when the NICU doctors and nurses say it gets easier as your child gets older, it's impossible to comprehend what that entails, particularly since you can't even comprehend the situation to begin with.
Every preemie birth is unique. Whether your child is a few weeks or a few months early, there is a thread of commonality. As moms, we're strong and fierce and we'll do anything for our children to survive and succeed.
A few years ago I wrote an essay about my son's premature birth. I referred to that snowy January night when he was born as one of the worst days of my life. Since then, on deeper reflection, I realize that single day changed my life in the best way possible.
For years I could not understand why God would give me a son weighing a mere 900 grams at birth, and a son who could possibly have a lifetime of medical challenges ahead. I wrestled with the guilt of what I did wrong during my short pregnancy. I negotiated with God like anyone in this situation would, praying for my child to live and to have a viable future.
At some point during these past five years, I realized I could indeed handle a micro-preemie. Perhaps this wasn't the best of circumstances, but I had the strength and will to do it and I was certain of it!
We gave our son a name that means "brave warrior" and there's no doubt he's just that. While we were not prepared with a name so early on, once we read the definition of it, we realized it was the perfect choice. He would need to be brave to get through the tough times ahead and indeed he has been the epitome of a brave little warrior.
I was given the name "Mom" when my first son was born; my second pushed me to earn my own Brave Warrior title. I recently explained to my youngest that being a warrior can be a huge load to handle for even the strongest. The good news is that warriors are not alone. Challenges will lie ahead, but even warriors take breaks. You don't have to constantly be in battle.
Preemie moms are members of a very special club. Not a club we wanted to join, but one we had no choice but to. We do, however, have a choices on how we let a premature birth affect us. It's hard to have a pregnancy end early and impossible to understand all the implications this prematurity will bring you and your child.
From my experience, I can tell you when you're in the midst of it, you don't realize you're capable of so much strength, endurance, courage and commitment. Regardless, you are. One day, someone will look at you and say, "I don't know how you do it," and you will think or maybe even say, "In my shoes, you'd be a warrior, too.
While I know my son isn't completely out of the woods medically and developmentally, I can say that we both made it the past five years. We made it to this first day of kindergarten and we are now both in a better place.
It took a village of other committed strong warriors to help get us here and though the struggle is real, I can promise you it gets easier. The therapy, medical check-ups and appointments and hospital visits may not be over, but you can cope.
That post-traumatic stress you likely suffered for months if not years after your preemie child was born hopefully has dissipated, or eventually will. Those tears that were never-ending at one time are a bit more in check.
I know that feelings will resurface and challenges increase, but we preemie moms (and truly, all moms) can stand tall as "brave warriors" — a title well deserved and well earned.
This article was previously published here.