-by fiona mylchreest
Fiona is the mother of five children, all born prematurely. She shares how “Milestones” are different for children born premature.
“Sometimes, the later the better.“
We’ve just celebrated a big milestone in our house; my daughter has gone to university. Celebrated might be the wrong word: we are so proud of her achievements and her journey, but missing her greatly and struggling to let go. Eighteen years of knowing where she was, what she was wearing, who she was with and even what she was eating; a few weeks of floundering around with results and clearing and student loans and trying to work out what size of sheets to buy; one day of driving , carrying boxes, and building a food stash and she’s gone. She has texted and phoned and she will come back, but it feels massive. And she’s the first, so it feels very strange.
“Sometimes, as the mother of premature babies, I felt a bit isolated in those discussions. We were different.“
Talking to my friends, I realise this is one of the first “normal” milestones we’ve had. There are lots we haven’t reached yet and some we probably never will. Some have been momentous, others less exciting. Every child is different and every experience of motherhood is different, but there are some milestones that are part of the parenthood conversation, in coffee shops, at play groups, at the school gates. Sometimes, as the mother of premature babies, I felt a bit isolated in those discussions. We were different.
The good thing as that we were outside of all the parent rivalry. The world where people boasted that their child walked at 9 months was so far from mine that I didn’t worry, as I know some parents do, that my children were so far behind. We were in a different league, the ex-prem league, where only a select handful of family, friends and health professionals knew the magnitude of our achievements.
“Most families don’t get to celebrate breathing.“
When Finn was about six months old, he breathed air, all by himself. His little face had still all the marks from where the oxygen tubes were stuck, but it was beautiful. Most families don’t get to celebrate breathing. Cormack walked when he was about three and a half. He’s endured gaiters, serial casting of his little legs and two operations; he had splints with pink butterflies (chosen because they had butterflies in his nursery school) and trainers with pink butterflies and flashing pink lights. He took his first steps and the world changed; he saw it from standing. We saw his joyous face looking up at us, not looking down where he was crawling.
Getting out of nappies was a watershed of milestones. It’s much more comfortable for the child at any age. It feels grown up. But when you’re older, it makes much more difference. Kids’ clothes aren’t designed for nappies much beyond toddlerhood. Changing tables are for little, liftable children. Nappies aren’t welcome at school. And they smell. Getting out of nappies was for us a milestone of comfort and fitting in but it changed so many other things in our lives; the shopping; the washing; the storage in the bathroom, the rubbish!
Some milestones, I remember, we evaded. I hated putting everyone’s socks and shoes on – for years, I did five sets, every day. (Perhaps that’s why I wear Birkenstocks until it freezes). Tying a bow was just impossible, so we bought Velcro trainers and Velcro shoes…and we still do. This summer I taught my son to tie a knot, so he could put the rubbish out without waiting for me to tie it up. He’d never needed to tie anything else. His sister has gone to university without being able to tie a knot. Perhaps some skills are over-rated.
“Finn is still largely no verbal, but every new word is an achievement. “
Talking is another competitive milestone, but I think we appreciate words more when they are few. Finn is still largely no verbal, but every new word is an achievement. His latest is “ofcourse” (said as one word) and he uses it with relish.
Blowing one’s own nose is, developmentally, very difficult. If you think about it, you have to teach your brain to use the muscles in your mouth and nose in reverse. I may forever suffer the frustrations of wiping runny noses. But there is hope. This year, aged 23, Finn blew out the candles on his birthday cake for the first time. It was epic, in every sense.
The later you meet these milestones, the more there is to celebrate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fiona Mylchreest is mother to five children, all of whom were born prematurely. She has written a number of pieces for Borne where she shares her experience and reflects on the implications and lifelong challenges caused by prematurity.