When we were kids, I remember my brother, Thayran, and I would love to go into my parents room and open the top center drawer of my mom’s dresser and pull out a diaper and a hat from when he was born. The tiny diaper was more like several flattened cotton balls melded into a diaper shape . It was slightly discolored, I believe, because it was one of the few possessions saved from when our home burned down when I was 10 months old. The hat was so small, we couldn’t imagine a baby small enough to fit it. Then we’d go downstairs and I’d ask, “Dad, show us your finger that’s the same size as Thayran’s leg when he was born” and then, with awe, we’d eye up his hand, “and his whole body fit in the palm of your hand?”
As a kid, I was fascinated by this story of my brother born two years before me at 31 weeks gestation, weighing 3 lbs, 2 oz. In talking with NICU doctors today, they’ve all agreed that a 31 weeker in 1974 would have been a lot like a 23 weeker today, in other words, the cusp of viability. When Thayran was born, there weren’t steroid injections to help prime the baby’s lungs; there were not pediatric sized ventilators, so the ventilators were even more damaging on the lungs than what we know today; and the synthetic form of surfactant, a substance that makes the air sacs in the lungs less likely to collapse and does not naturally develop until closer to a baby’s due date, had not yet been developed.
In all of my efforts to comprehend this brother who I outgrew by the time we were 3 and 5, I never imagined, 36 years later, my own baby would be just over half his size. For my parents, it was one of their worst nightmares. They lived it. They too have heard horrible odds of survival. They have watched their child fight to live and faced the lack of the control and even, like me, they had a 27 month old at home. It’s a journey they wouldn’t have wished on their worst enemy and then they had to watch their daughter, with their grandchild, go through it too.
I remember my dad first walking into the NICU after Owen was born and commenting on how much more equipment there is today than when Thayran was born. Seeing all the technological advancements made him feel better. Even still, I can only imagine the flashbacks and flood of emotions they had when they first lay eyes on their tiny grandson. While no one knew the outcome, they understood the emotions of having a baby born too soon.
It was really interesting for me to see Thayran’s response when he first saw Owen. Before he even got to Owen’s isolette, you could see him take in the surroundings and become instantly emotional. I don’t know how to describe it, but there was a visceral response. Clearly, he has no memories of his time in the NICU, but there was a deeper response from him than anyone else. It seemed somewhat subconscious and you could tell he just wanted to protect the baby in front of him.
For me, now having my own children whose stories are so much like my brother’s – both of my brothers’ really – I feel like I am starting to understand the family I grew up in a little better. I feel like I understand some of the relationship dynamics better and I think my brother’s too, are understanding their own childhoods as they watch Kellen and Owen. I’m realizing that coming after Thayran, my life was very charmed in comparison. The rest of my family lived it; to me, it was an intriguing story.
I’m not sure if the cause of premature delivery is genetic, or coincidence, in our family. My mom and I are the only women in our family who have had preemies and her first was full term – two weeks late, even. After Thayran, she went into labor with me at 31 weeks, but drugs stopped the labor and she was able to stay pregnant through bed rest. For both her and me, there was never a clear reason for early labor, so we don’t know much. But I do know this, I’m glad my kids are boys, because if this is genetic, I’m happy to know it won’t be passed on to the next generation.
© Copyright Tatum, All rights Reserved. Written For: Ain't No Roller Coaster