Saturday, January 10, 2015

If, Not When

Dear Ellie,

It's hard to understate the lingering tension we've felt this past year, even after you were released from the hospital.  Most parents can look forward fondly to the development of their baby's inevitable milestones.  Any day now, she'll be crawling, they might think, or: Soon enough, we should hear her first word.

But for your mother and I, these milestones are a matter of if, not when.  There's no guarantee that you'll hit a certain milestone on time and, in some cases, if you ever will at all.  So as you can imagine, when we do see you hold your head up for the first time or babble a string of syllables, its twice as exciting to witness them than if they were merely taken for granted.  And in the past month or two, there has been a lot of excitement.  It first started at the Pumonologist's office when you sat up on your own for the first time.  You were on your back as I was changing your diaper when you glanced up and saw a most appealing sight: an unused electrical socket.  An irresistible, unused electrical socket.  An irresistible, unused electrical socket that was worth sitting up to reach.  And so just like that, as though you'd done it a thousand times before, you sat up on your own in order to get closer to that yummy, yummy hazard.  I wasn't expecting that you'd sit up, because that milestone wasn't on average due for another month!  Fortunately for you, I snagged you before you could get to your prize and I was in the awkward position of trying to figure out whether I should praise you or scold you.

Here you are sitting it out in Baby Jail 
with Oliver the Eel.

And here you are enjoying your newfound
sense of autonomy.

And from there, as though excited that you had discovered the notion of independence, you began conquering ever more locomotion skills.  Just a few days later, you began to use the skill of sitting up to actually get places.  You'd sit up, turn, plop in the direction you wanted to move.  Sit up, turn, plot in the direction you wanted to move.  And just a few days after that, you were on all fours, putting one hand before the other.  "She still has a month or two before she should be crawling," your mother and I said to one another, but just a day or two before Christmas, you were already crawling 3-4 steps at a time (even if one or two of those steps involved you using your face as a substitute hand).  Then, before we could even take the Christmas tree down, you were off crawling to wherever you pleased... and since we weren't expecting you to be crawling before 8 months adjusted age, we hadn't yet completely baby proofed the house!  

Chicken the Cat was actually a very large motivating 
factor in your desire to crawl.

But it looks like your stint with crawling might not last so long.  You've already got it in your head that you should be walking.

One of your physical therapists was actually a little bit alarmed.  "You should probably discourage her from walking too quickly," she said.  Why?  Because having a few more months on all fours is actually helpful for language development.

And that, actually, is where we're a bit more concerned.  At this point, its pretty clear that most of your motor skills are destined to arrive on time.  It's your social skill and intellectual skill that are still uncertain.  Yes, you happen to be a smiley baby that loves looking people in the eye at this particular moment, but because of your extreme prematurity and that oxygen deprivation episode, you have a disconcertingly high chance of regressing between the age of 1 and 2.  Babies that once exhibited plenty of social aptitude just like you do now have been known to suddenly begin losing those skills just as quickly as they had gained them or become stunted in their intellectual development.  Your mother can't help but see these signs around every corner, and at times, I find myself smiling like a madman to get you to smile back or calling your name repeatedly to see if you turn your head toward me.

Right now, we're both so very happy with how well you've done and how bright the future appears, but sometimes late at night, before I fall asleep, I wonder whether these are the happy times.  Happy times because we can imagine the future free of care.  A times when we are blissfully ignorant of the things to come.  I think back to your mother's 21st week of pregnancy and remember how we thought we were finally in the clear after years of struggling to have you.  It felt a little bit like we were sailors, lost at sea and yearning for shore, and when we'd finally come to land and climbed the first ridge-line, instead of seeing a vast, verdant continent, we instead saw steep cliffs leading back to the turbulent ocean.  I remember the feeling of contentment I had just 30 seconds before your mother started bleeding.  That was the moment just before I peaked over the mountaintop and discovered that our happy moment was just a tiny little island.  A happy month in a decade of sadness and worry.  A pleasant little lie.  It's been almost a year since things first went wrong, and again, we've found our way to dry land.  But what is beyond this lush hillside?  I don't know.  But I can't let the "mights" and "maybes" of the future ruin the beautiful moments that we have now.


  1. I struggle with these feelings everyday. I constantly think about if there's a genetic issue we don't know about (but could if choose to do more testing). We made the decision not to do in depth genetic testing so we could enjoy Ella as a "normal baby", but I don't know if I can ever do truly do that.
    Ultimately, no child is perfect and those with seemingly perfect pregnancies can have unforeseen issues. There are no guarantees (I know it's a cliche) and we must enjoy the little treasures we were given. I try to remember that we got the daughter we were supposed to have and what comes may be difficult, but we are blessed to be her parents.
    I'm glad that your Ellie is hitting milestones and you can enjoy first crawl and steps.

    1. Thanks Linda. Regardless of the circumstances, I always try to find happiness in some way. If she did turn out to have some form of neurodevelopmental impairment, it would be hard at first, but I would adjust my expectations. It's sort of a good and a bad thing, but I'm the kind of person that always needs to *know.* If someone offered to tell me the day that I died, I'm the kind of person that would accept. I've never quite determined whether that trait is a good thing or not.