Wheelchairs, glasses, feeding tubes, leg braces... all are outward signs of prematurity . If you need services at school, you'll get them. If you go to the doctor, they listen to what you have to say. Neighbors understand why you are tired. Family offers to help.
Advances in medicine and interventions have lowered the number of children who need those devices. For this I am thankful. My daughter does not (currently) need any of the above (although she did wear leg braces for a few years).
But, there is another side to prematurity... Invisible issues. They are clear as day to us parents and the preemies that experience them but invisible to the outside world and largely ignored by the medical community.
sensory integration issues
fine motor delays
weight and growth issues
autism spectrum disorders
Over the years I have heard many parents say that they were blamed for the above issues.
I am also one of those parents who was blamed. For a brief moment I believed it. (I must not be feeding her enough, I must be babying her, I am not strict enough, etc) But, as I started talking to other parents I realized that other preemies were suffering with the same issues.
If you are thinking, "these issues are not that bad" then you have never lived with a very young child who stabbed herself because her "thoughts" told her to. You have never lived with a child who has such severe constipation that, despite adult doses of Miralax, can still tear herself bloody when she has a bowel movement. You have never lived with a child who will drop to the floor and scream when hearing a voice on the loudspeaker. You have never lived with a child who will cry because she is so tired that she cannot run with the other children.
These invisible issues are what make me continue to fight to get the word out. Why should any parent feel responsible, like I did, when the above issues are actually common to preemies? Why should I stay quiet and let the doctors feel that preemies are fine after age 2? How will conditions improve? How do we expect the doctors to know?
I've been told that my posts sound angry. Since true emotion can be misunderstood, I want to be very clear. I am not angry. I was the one who chose to have the doctors save my daughter. As it stands right now, I cannot look at my daughter and honestly say that I would choose differently.
Frustration is the emotion that I feel. Frustration that misinformation is still the norm when it comes to preemies. I feel an incredible sense of duty to be a voice for future preemies and their parents. I am thankful that I am not alone in this passion.