A common misconception is that premature children are just small. They catch up right? They just need a little more time to grow right? She perfectly normal now? If only life was that simple. Of course by the time they are adults a lot of preemies have no significant differences from their peers but, unfortunately plenty of premature children live with a lifetime of challenges secondary to their prematurity.
In a way it is the dark side of prematurity. The side that people just don't like to talk about. And as a mother of a extremely premature child it is the side that everybody is very busy to tell you doesn't exist or won't exist for your child. Its the side of prematurity that is publicized but typically not as much as the premature child that goes on to be genius or the star athlete.
Being born early leaves significant changes to the brain, nervous system and immune development of the child. Furthermore, the trauma of trying to survive in the world when one should not be there (i.e. breathing air when you should be breathing amniotic fluid, and laying with gravity when you should be floating in a belly) can also result in further injuries and changes to their body (CPD, IVH, etc). The smaller the infant is at birth, and the more premature they are at birth the more significant the risk for long standing handicaps. These range for ROP or blindness, cerebral palsy, to ADHD and other developmental delays.
We have one of the smallest of the smalls. The hospital where we gave birth does not consider anything below 25 weeks viable for surviving. Our child was born at 25 weeks and 1 day. She was 800 grams at birth. Only 1% of all births are at gestation of under 28 weeks. The doctors told us she had a 50% of survival and of those that survive 50% will have significant life long handicaps.
The other day somebody asked me when our daughter was going to just be like a normal kid. At first I didn't know how to respond. A year ago I would have just started to cry. I looked at them and said, "I finally stopped thinking about that. Kate is who she is and I love her for that.". She might adjust out at 2 years, or maybe not until she is in school. But the reality is that she may never be like her peers either. For a type "A", perfectionist like myself this hasn't been an easy thing to come to terms with. I realize though now and accept that being born premature was not a choice that any of us made for Kate but it happened. We being her parents will love her and accept her no matter who she develops into. Of course we are going to provide her with love and support all the way and hope that she reaches all the goals she every hopes to dream.
I just want to remind you to think outside of your normal, because there are a lot of beautiful people on the other side of normal. And know that premature children are not just small. Please also support the March of Dimes, to research ways to prevent and treat premature birth.