by Ali Dunn
There were 5 or 6 of us huddled on the sidewalk that circles the park. It was 50 degrees and sunny, and we had all decided to meet at the playground as this kind of weather in the middle of January is too good to let pass without some time outside. I had met these other mothers before, but we were all just beginning to learn about each other.
No one knew my story, because I hadn’t shared it yet. The conversation turned to childbirth, and I began to feel a little anxious. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone…and then it happened. Someone asked me if I had an epidural when my twins were born. In my mind, I quickly weighed the options. Tell the truth and risk taking the conversation down a depressing road, or tell a lie.
These types of questions just make me uneasy. I understand that the person asking them is just trying to include me in the conversation, but I always feel like I’m put in an awkward place. I decide to go for the truth. I responded that I actually had a spinal block because I needed an emergency c-section at 28 weeks. The laughter and chatter of the group paused, someone said I’m sorry and then the topic of conversation changed.
Several days later, I was sitting in the designated parents’ area, waiting to retrieve my kids from their daily activities. A small group of moms were standing around a woman who was clearly very pregnant. She was describing her discomfort and commiserating with the other ladies gathered there. As I approached I heard them comparing end of pregnancy symptoms and I almost turned around and headed the other way. But it was too late and I had already been brought into the conversation.
In my head, I was thinking that I would have loved to have made it to the uncomfortable phase of pregnancy. That no physical discomfort can compare to the emotional anguish that having a baby in the NICU brings. But I won’t say anything, not today.
It can be very hard to share your story with people that haven’t lived through the NICU. I want to be brave and open up about what my family went through, because I know it helps others. But my experiences are often met with sadness and pity. It can change the mood of a conversation from humorous and fun, to depressing with a simple mention of the NICU. And while that is understandable, that is not how I view the birth of my preemie twins at all.
From the outside, it’s often difficult to imagine the beauty and wonder that watching a tiny baby fight for their lives can bring. A journey that has provided me with the invaluable gift of perspective and gratefulness. My story and all NICU stories are the ultimate tales of hope and triumph over adversity. And these stories make a difference to new preemie parents everywhere, who are entering NICUs for the first time. So while it might be difficult to share please remember that the messenger matters, and your story can only be told by you.
Ali Dunn is the founder of Me Two Books, an organization that creates children’s books that celebrate what makes each child wonderfully unique. She is also the author of children’s books: I Was a Preemie Just Like You, One of Two, A Twin Story about Individuality, I Needed the NICU Just Like You and The Career Explorer. To learn more and buy her great books, check our her website: www.metwobooks.com.