Do you want to know what it is? Prematurity, I mean.
This blog is, in large part, my attempt to tell you just that. And this week, the week that will conclude with World Prematurity Day on November 17th, I want to do that more than ever. I want to tell you what prematurity is.
I don’t mean technically. You probably know that prematurity is clinically defined as birth before 37 weeks gestation. You may also know that 15 million children are born too soon every year, 60,000 of which are born in the UK alone. But parents of premature babies (though, in my experience, they frequently cling to statistics) know that facts and figures don’t mean all that much when it’s your child who has been delivered in a pre-term birth. If you are quoted an 80-90 per cent survival rate for your child (as we were) and, unimaginably, they are one of the 10-20 per cent who die, or if you are given a 70-80 per cent chance that your child would outgrow their prematurity (as we were) and they don’t (as Boo can’t), well let’s just say that statistics don’t mean a thing.
They are not prematurity.
Prematurity is despair that runs so deep that you feel you can plunge no further. Prematurity is hope that makes you fly so high that you can barely breathe with the excitement it generates. Prematurity is pain and joy. It is death and it is life. It brings into focus what it’s all about. What really matters. And once you have experienced this, nothing will ever be the same again.
You see, prematutiry is like The Matrix. I never thought I would be the one this happened to. And there are moments – who am I kidding, I mean days – when I wish Morpheus would enter my life with his funky shades and offer me a blue pill so that I could forget about it all. So that I could go back to my happy, pre-NICU existence, where I just got on with the job of looking after my kids and going to work and socialising.
This life tastes bad sometimes. There have been days that have felt stiflingly grey, when I have longed to breathe fresh air and taste the pleasures of my former life. Days when I have been scared out of my wits by things I hadn’t ever known about before: about long lines and lumbar punctures; about brain bleeds and cerebral palsy. I rather liked the normal world that was pulled over my eyes for the first 35 years of my existence. But of course, I had no idea how bloody lucky I was at the time.
I can’t go back. This is my new reality, a reality that is structured as much by prematurity as it is by the passing of the seasons and the days of the week. It is everywhere in my family’s life, even though we left the NICU well over a year ago.
But this is only part of our story. This is only part of what prematurity is. Because prematurity is also jaw-droppingly revelatory. It opens your eyes to a world that was always there, but (in my case) you never really knew existed. And it’s a challenging world, to be sure. It’s a difficult world. Yet it is also an astonishingly beautiful place in which the truth about life, about why it is so very precious, is revealed. How could you ever appreciate a finely cooked steak if you haven’t tried to digest the indigestible? Ignorance is not bliss. It’s only when everything you hold dear is on the line that can you appreciate it. I mean really appreciate it.
There is no blue pill for me. But if I were offered it, I wouldn’t take it even if I would give my soul for my son not to have cerebral palsy.
You see, prematurity is the scales falling from your eyes. It’s seeing what makes the world turn on its axis. And once you’ve had a glimpse of this reality and seen it for what it is, you see everything differently and you bat away all the trivial stuff that preoccupied you before the NICU like a fly to the swat.
Because none of that is real in the same way. I can see that now.
Prematurity affects the lives of millions of families across the world every year. On World Prematurity Day, please consider giving a donation, or volunteering some of your time, to one of the leading charities (such as Bliss, Tommy’s or Bounty) that fund research into pre-term birth or who offer invaluable support and care for families affected by this life-changing event.