As a young girl I often played with Barbies and baby dolls as most girls do; however unlike most children, if one of those baby dolls was smaller than the rest I naturally gravitated towards them. I would affectionately refer to it as a Preemie.
My story began before I was even born. My mother developed severe preeclampsia in her third trimester. A complication that she was assured did not happen with first-time mothers. Not long after her diagnosis her preeclampsia quickly progressed into HELLP Syndrome. This resulted in an emergency C-Section in the early morning hours of May 8th, 1985 at 36 weeks gestation. At birth, I weighed about 1360 grams or 3 lbs. This is on the smaller side for a baby born at my gestational age, but mainly due to my mother’s condition.
At the time Downey Community Hospital was not equipped to meet the needs of a baby my size. If I had any chance of not only surviving but thriving I would need to be transferred to a hospital with a NICU that provided a higher level of care. So at just a few hours old, the decision was made for me to travel via ambulance to Long Beach Memorial & Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach, California. This was an almost 20-mile drive in the opposite direction of my parents. Once arriving at the hospital my biggest challenge became nutrition and weight gain. I had a nasal feeding tube placed, was gavage fed for some time, and was in a warming isolette. I would go on to spend more than 50 days in the NICU. Two of those days included my parents’ first Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. We still have the cards the nurses made for my parents.
As I started to reach school age, I had more questions. Most notable, and still very obvious to this day, is my small stature. So playing with my smaller dolls and calling them preemies was part of my coping. It was play therapy. My dolls were small, and I was small. This is what made sense in my world. As fall rounded the corner and I began school for the first time, questions arose (as they naturally do) with my classmates and new friends. Playing with my small preemie dolls was an easy way for me to explain why I was so pint-size. It empowered me and allowed me to describe what prematurity meant to me, in my own words, on my terms, and in a playful environment.
Growing up my family always talked very openly about prematurity, and how I arrived a little early into the world. All or most of my questions were answered, and nothing was ever hidden. Most importantly… I knew I was loved, and I felt that love every day!
I recently came across this mini-episode of a beloved Disney Junior Show that my son watches called Bluey. The title is called “It’s a Boy! No wait, it’s a Girl! / Early Baby”. While watching it, these childhood memories came rushing back! I hope you take a moment and watch. It’s such a sweet way to explain to children what it means to be born and in the NICU.