Born early, at 23 weeks. IUGR. Chorio. The size of one of those adorable chipmunks in my backyard. Only as heavy as one of the pair of ankle weights I use during pilates. And yet perfectly formed. Her eyelids might still be fused. His skin may be transparent. She probably depends on a ventilator to keep her lungs functioning. But give him some love, protect him, support him, and if all goes well he’ll sail past two-pounds. Stay vigilant, protect her from infection, keep her gut healthy, and before long she’ll be reaching for your finger. Turning her head to the sound of your voice.
Yes, there are a million set-backs that could mean the difference between life and death for this magical little being. We know them all by their acronyms – NEC, ROP, VAP, CLABSI, IVH, PPHN, the list goes on. As nurses we fear them, we do our utmost to protect our little miracles from them. And sometimes, despite our best efforts, our magical little ones succumb. It breaks our hearts.
But each day brings new opportunities for these kids. Will we try a few drops of milk? Maybe lower the ventilator settings and give this baby a chance to show us how amazing she is? Each day we enter his space at least half a dozen times. We change his tiny diaper. We prick his skin to check blood levels. We turn him. We replace the fluids we remove. We pump air into his lungs, monitor his temperature, breathing, oxygen saturation, arterial pressure, and more. We follow dozens of numbers indicating how he’s handling his environment and the demands we put on him.
And each day as we invade her artificial womb, we gaze in awe that she takes all we throw at her. She communicates with us the only way she can – through her vital signs. She tells us when she needs her alone time. She reinforces that skin-to-skin time with mom and dad is her favorite part of the day. She defies the odds, causing us to wonder where these statistics came from.
Your 23-week baby, your IUGR baby, your SGA baby, even your 22-week baby. He is incredible. She is our one-pound wonder. That baby is our reminder daily that size doesn’t matter. Even a tiny person can be as tough as nails, fighting to survive, defying the odds.