Sunday, June 29, 2014

Million Dollar Baby

I almost missed AOL CEO Tim Armstrong's insensitive attempt to pin benefits cuts at his company on million-dollar "distressed babies" earlier this year, but it was impossible to overlook the cover photo for the feature article in the May 22nd issue of Time magazine, "Saving Preemies." That article, and the five-year anniversary of Bryce and Chloe's premature entry into the world, inspired me to write one more (last?) update on our own million dollar baby.

June 25, 2009: At one month old, still barely a handful

I have great empathy for parents in the crisis stage, and I spent so many hours scouring the Internet for happy endings that I would be remiss to not share our own. Five years ago, we were still in shock over the abrupt loss of our daughter, the comparatively "healthy" twin. I remember lying awake at night, eyes raw after another bout with grief, wondering if Bryce's heart was still beating. Sometimes, I would call--fortunately, the NICU is used to receiving calls at 2AM from desperate parents--and some angel in scrubs on the other end of the line would dampen my fear to a manageable level.

June 2010: A glimmer of the smile we take for granted today

One year later, our world had change dramatically. Bryce was at home, and we were celebrating a marked improvement in his respiration and a 25th percentile placement on the growth charts for his adjusted age. I was still peeking in on Bryce at night to double check his breathing monitor, and the air in our house was often rich with the smell of nebulized albuterol sulfate, but I was no longer certain that the next emergency was lurking just around the corner.

June 2014: Being a huge fan of Disney/Pixar's "Up," Bryce's favorite thing to do with Daddy is to play with his flying house

Flash forward to June 2014. It's early on a Sunday morning, and I would feel positively foolish sneaking into Bryce's room to check if he's breathing. Bryce hasn't been to the hospital since the summer of 2012 (stitches after a fall), and he hasn't had a prematurity-related emergency since late 2010. The nebulizer is collecting dust on a shelf in the closet, and most of the medication is long expired. Parenting any child is a challenge, but the added stress of incessant medical appointments and extreme germ vigilance is largely a thing of the past for us.

May 2014: A boy and his robot cake

A few days after his fifth birthday, Bryce was in the fiftieth percentile for height, and not much behind that for weight, for his actual age. In fact, he's only a smidgen shorter than his full-term big brother was at the same age. His peanut butter, cheese and ketchup sandwiches will never be widely popular, but we don't have any serious concerns about growth or feeding disorders. At his NICU follow-up exam a few months ago, the doctors were giddy over how well Bryce did on his mental aptitude tests. He is intelligent, creative and curious, with a memory that puts mine to shame. If we're honest, the main reason we're holding him back from Kindergarten until he's six is because we're not ready.

Bryce's silly face

If you've met Bryce, then you know that he is bursting at the seams with vitality. If I could bottle and sell his zeal for each day, I have no doubt that we could use the proceeds to cover the expenses of dozens of fellow micro-preemies and still have plenty left over. Yes, he has a tendency to get overwhelmed by excessive sensory stimulation (many crowded places are "too loud"). Yes, he can be easily distracted at times. And yes, he will probably always wear glasses to correct significant myopia. If we're looking for them, we can find myriad ways in which Bryce was touched by his prematurity--but only if we're looking for them.

Soaking up the California sun

Preschool graduation

And that, my friends, is the miracle. On a day-to-day basis, neither Bryce's life nor our own are defined by his prematurity. In that respect, he truly is a "million dollar baby." On the very first day, we were confronted with daunting statistics (a 50% mortality rate and a 90% rate of disability) and terrifying words like "make them comfortable," "brain hemorrhage," and "special needs." (I have a very different perspective on labels like the latter today, but that's a different story.) If you had told me five years ago that we'd be playing catch together on a summer day, or running in the ocean surf, or that he'd excel in a mainstream preschool, I would have been skeptical. If you'd have told me that he would graduate from high school, maybe even college, and that he would possibly get married and father children of his own some day, it would have struck me as insensitive to the realities of the situation. And yet, it doesn't seem far-fetched at all today.

Bryce's million dollar smile

I don't know what tomorrow or next year will bring, but I know one thing: this little guy will be smiling, and that's enough for me. Print this post


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