By Heather Barrow
My water broke when I was 24 weeks pregnant and I spent eight weeks on complete hospital bed rest until my sweet baby boy was born at 32 weeks. He spent two weeks in the NICU and is now a healthy, happy five-year-old little boy. As the mom of a NICU baby, I can say without shame that I have over celebrated every one of Hill’s milestones in the NICU and at home. His first day of school was no different but as I make it through the end of this exciting and terrifying day, I wanted to share a few survival tips for other moms (and dads) celebrating their child’s enormous accomplishment.
1. Let the teacher know about your child’s struggles and victories. When asked to “objectively” describe my son on the teacher information sheet, I quickly realized this was impossible. Rather than stress about over (or under) emphasizing Hill’s time spent in the NICU I decided the best course of action was to remove the word “objectively”. There is no way for me to objectively describe my miracle baby to anyone, especially to Mrs. Fruit, the lucky person who will be spending hours with him every day for the next year. What he has done in five short years is nothing short of amazing, and I want his teacher to know about it. I began the description with “Hill is perfect” and ended it with “He will be your favorite student”. Do I think my child is different than other children in his class? Yes, and your child is too. Every NICU graduate has faced tremendous struggles in their life from the moment of their birth and every day since. Being up front with the teacher about your child’s past will help to establish a strong partnership for the upcoming year.
2. There is no such thing as too many pictures. Take 100 photos if you need to but make sure to document every minute of this special day. Starting school is a day every NICU parent dreams of, and you have earned the right to be that parent with the camera around your neck. I saw a cute idea today where a mom wrote the grade on the chalkboard along with the sentence “I want to be a fairy,dolphin trainer, etc. when I grow up”. What an adorable way to see how your child’s answers change on the first day of school every year.
3. Take a moment to celebrate YOUR accomplishment. How many hours on bed rest, in the NICU, at specialist appointments, in therapy sessions, in surgeries, at doctors appointments and scouring the Internet have you poured into this moment? Your love and determination is a big part of the reason your child is starting school and you deserve a huge pat on the back! How you celebrate is up to you. I spent the day at High Risk Hope in meetings to plan the Calendar Baby photo shoots and had lunch with a good friend and fellow preemie mommy.
4. Have an extra special treat ready for pick-up. Today is not the day to skimp on the sugar for the after-school snack. Go to your local bakery and pick up your child’s favorite treat to celebrate this momentous occasion.
5. Realize your child may have bumps in the road ahead. Your preemie has not made it this far to let any small setback slow him down. With a new school comes new challenges with schoolwork and friends. Your preemie will not blink an eye at these minor challenges because he has faced far greater trials and is resilient and #NICUstrong!