In 2006, my twins, Reece and Graham, were born over three months early. Extreme prematurity is complex and scary—survival rates for babies born as early as our twins are steadily improving but despite medical advancements we lost Graham after 45 days. Losing him made it abundantly clear that we were facing an uncertain future for Reece. There was a time when we didn't know if we would bring her home, much less what her quality of life would be like if we did.
An experience like mine changes your outlook on parenthood forever. As a parent, you usually have expectations. Maybe you're great at sports or math, and in your vision of your kid's future, they're hitting home runs or proving the Goldbach Conjecture. Even when your son or daughter is a baby, you look through the lens of what you're good at and where your parents and grandparents excelled. But for me, there were no expectations. Reece's future was trumped by her present. All I had was my own commitment—first to her survival, then her health, and as she grew, to her happiness and providing as much support as possible for her long-term development and well-being.
When children don't meet the expectations we invent as parents, because they can't or because they have their own abilities and interests, it's so easy to be disappointed. I wouldn't call my children's prematurity a blessing, but it did give me the wisdom to circumvent the expectations that go hand in hand with fatherhood. To this day I still have no definite idea how Reece's early birth will impact her abilities, talents, and passions. For me, there are no expectations. I appreciate the opportunity to be with Reece, here in this moment, and look forward to watching the future unfold for Reece.
I'm not alone in what I experienced and not the only parent (of a preemie or otherwise) who has had to mentally and emotionally shift gears. However, I certainly felt alone in the commitment that kept me going after I had to leave my expectations by the wayside. I was doing everything I could to be there for Reece, being with her in every way I could, but it never felt like enough. Years later, I was inspired to create Parents of Preemies Day, a global day recognizing the courage and commitment it takes to stay strong and resilient when premature birth turns a family's world upside down. Now the energy I might once have channeled into expectations is devoted to honoring the strength of moms and dads who, like me, have experienced the roller coaster of prematurity and let go of expectations to discover what really matters.
Only a small percentage of parents will share my experiences with prematurity, but every parent can benefit from the lessons it taught me. Let go of expectations—they limit what's possible for our kids—and replace expectations with commitment. It's a subtle difference. You can still nurture hopes and worry and wonder about the future. Replacing expectations with commitment just means that when they inevitably turn into their own people, you can appreciate all that they have become.
Parents of Preemies Day is a global day to recognize the courage and commitment it takes to stay strong and resilient when premature birth turns a family's world upside down. It was created because Moms and Dads of preemies display amazing courage and strength every day and their commitment to their babies often goes unrecognized. Join us in recognizing these special parents on May 4, 2014.