Aside

A prematurity post

Today’s blog is a guest post all about having a child prematurely, by Ruth Walker. Thanks to Ruth for her honesty, and down-to-earth writing about this emotional subject.

“Imagine the scene. You’re 27 weeks pregnant with your first child. You pack your car for a week at a church youth camp, where you’re going to be responsible adult helpers. You get to the site, pitch your tent, spend the first evening ironing out a few minor problems (forgetting the camp cutlery box, the marquee having a rip in the roof) and working on ‘getting to know you games’. You’re glad when you finally get to bed on your already deflating airbed. You haven’t had much time to think. You register your baby might not be moving quite so much as usual, but you shrug it off to ‘I’ve been too busy to notice’. You wake in the middle of the night. Not much movement. You read your maternity notes, do the whole cold drink and lay on your side thing. Still not much movement. The night goes by. By the time morning comes, you’re rather worried that something is wrong so you make the call, then trot off to your home hospital – all the way back home again. You spend the day having various tests with the result looks more worrying as the hours pass. Then the consultant says ‘right, we’re off to theatre – your baby is much too poorly’. You’re a bit dazed. You’re more than a little scared (not helped by the difficult conversation you have with the doctors along the lines of ‘how hard would you like us to try and save the baby’). Your precious firstborn son is born fighting hard for life, weighing 2lb 3oz at 27 weeks. That’s 13 weeks too early. You had no notice of the looming catastrophe. You have no idea that the complication he suffered even existed. You caught a brief glimpse of your son being whisked away to NICU, end up on the post-natal ward in the early hours of the morning, your husband is sent home and when the consultant visits the next day they give you the mind-bending news that if you had come earlier they might not have picked up on the problem, but if you had come any later the baby would have died. The son that you’ve still not met. The son that you won’t get to hold for a week. The son that you don’t do the first nappy change on, the first feed, the first dressing in clothes – pretty much the first anything. The son you spend ten weeks in Neo-natal with before taking him home at still sub-5lb.

About two years ago, I was asked to write a blog post on prematurity and how it has affected me as a Christian. I started to write it many, many times. Each time it would have been different. There could have been the “why me, Lord?” post, or the “jealous of other people’s normal” post. There could have been a “practical tips for surviving ten weeks in NICU” post or “bringing home a very small baby and keeping them disease free while sharing them with a church community desperate to meet them” post, or a “how to identify genuine concern from just plain nosy people” post, or a “I’m so thankful to never have to go to a Paediatric appointment again” post.

Since then, I have watched from afar or very close by a friend nearly dying in childbirth; a friend welcoming their longed-for child after gruelling years of infertility (aside: how do we manage that in a family focused church community?). I’ve watched a friend lose her baby shortly after birth. And I’ve had hard conversations with two other mothers who lost babies at the same gestation as mine in NICU. I was already aware that not every baby on the unit at the same time as us made it home at all, and that some had years of close medical watch and extensive operations. I’ve talked with a friend about being on the outside in a family where there are babies with severe medical needs, and how that takes up the time and energy of the extended family to the detriment of existing relationships. And I watched our little boy grow, and be healthy, and develop perfectly normally beyond all first expectations.

How do I feel? Thankful. Joyful. Humble. Hopefully I’ve developed beyond the self-centred person I used to be. Hopefully I’ve learned empathy. Hopefully I’ve developed my listening ear. And I know for sure I’ve developed a faith in the power of prayer – not necessarily for miracles, but for the compassion and love I can try to bring to others in difficult situations, and for their strength to deal with those situations.

And honestly – how did it affect me? Well, now we’ve welcomed our second child safely, I have come to understand what I missed. The simplicity of a more normal pregnancy and delivery. The rush of love everybody raves about. The sheer joy of a newborn you can touch and love straight away with no machines or incubator barriers. And while I am hugely blessed in this, I’m wistful that my precious boy and I did not experience this; that our love has been a more refined-by-fiery-trial bond and that our relationship is defined by worry and over-protectiveness. I feel guilty about the less obvious emotional attachment I feel to him sometimes in comparison. I struggle with the thought that maybe I did have PND after all, but just chose to ignore it and struggle on regardless. I wrestle now with scriptures such as ‘Lo, children are the heritage of the Lord and the fruit of the womb his reward’ and how that applies to the childless, or those in difficult circumstances.

My message to those going through trying times in pregnancy and birth and early childhood? Keep going. It’s impossible to work out during our trials why the Lord is testing us in this particular way. It’s entirely possible we’ll never know. But we do know He won’t test us more than we’re able to bear. Just take each hour at a time. It’s okay to feel like you’re not coping. Ask for help – it comes from unlikely sources sometimes. And to those of you watching from the side-lines? Make the effort to help in whatever way you can (like supermarket gift cards to spend on ready meals to eat at the hospital, or cleaning the house while they’re at the hospital, or even picking the gazillion apples from the tree and freezing them). If there’s nothing practical you can offer, just letting somebody know you are thinking of, and praying with and for them is helpful enough – and don’t expect a reply: sometimes there’s only headspace to register such thoughts. But be sure they are very much valued. And be understanding of the fact that when a poorly child leaves hospital it can still be very vulnerable – as can its parents. Genuine concern is always welcome, but nosiness isn’t. And sometimes we all have a habit of asking personal questions when they might not be welcome. Talking about traumatic experiences is a very useful therapy, but not always right away. Hence the delay in this blog post!”

Aside

Parenthood house group

 

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Our church recently had an interesting and useful house group discussion about parenting. Here are my husband Jon’s memories of the evening…

“Perspectives on parenting

 Becoming a parent is one of the most challenging phases in life – your fairly established lifestyle is turned on its head. At a recent home group on parenting, we talked about some fundamentals of godly parenting. As is often the case, this raised more questions than answers, but I got a lot of interesting ideas out of it specifically around: leading by example and the power of imitation, the best way to discipline children, introducing a spiritual diet in the home, and seeing myself (to a degree) as a fellow-child with my children.

Kate T put us onto this short video by Gary Thomas and prepared this handy crib sheet (including a useful list of resources) to prime our discussions.

Faith is more easily caught than taught

 When children get to a certain age, they start to imitate you – alarmingly accurately. I like to ride my bike, and our eldest son Joey recently got out some tape to strap his water bottle to his bike, just like mine! It perhaps goes without saying that children will imitate the good and bad in their parents, so having young children is one of the hardest times to keep faith strong, but it is also one of the most important. ‘Our faith is more easily caught than taught. It is what our children see that will impact them most.’ (The Parenting Book, Nicky and Sila Lee.) This idea goes beyond raising children – if we want to share the light of God’s gospel, the best way we can do this is to live it, so that those around us (at home, at work…in the supermarket) see our lives and say “yes, there’s something attractive about that”.

Spare the rod…

 We spent much of the time talking about discipline. All agreed that the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ idea taken from Prov 13:24 need not be taken literally. However, we do need to find effective ways to discipline our children – after all, God disciplines us, his children, so that we can grow to be more like him (Heb 12:6). A couple of useful principles seemed to emerge from the discussions: discipline should be positively slanted (more sticker chart than naughty step), it must be delivered with a clarity of mind not clouded by anger, consistency is hugely important – and probably more important than where you choose to set your boundaries, and what will work for one child may not work for another (e.g. some are more bribable than others)! Tim W notes here, “I would only emphasis the need for the parent to be a consistent parent in discipline and also as a role model – we cannot expect our children to do what we ourselves don’t do…..plenty of food for thought”

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Milk of the word

 Every Christian parent is keen to introduce some sort of spiritual diet into their household at the earliest opportunity. However, one of the parents shared an experience that was similar to ours: they introduced a simple Bible story at a set time in the day. This worked well at first, but the child soon got restless and disruptive making the whole thing counterproductive. We have recently changed tack here, and introduced some bible-based stories that we know our boys like that we read together before they go their separate ways for age-appropriate stories; the older one gets an extra story, and the younger one gets a story with the older one, so they are both happy!

Become like little children

 We have as much – if not more – to learn from our children as we have to teach them! There are some important Christian qualities that children have in spades: faith, trust, hope, inquisitiveness, resilience, obedience (well, sometimes), love. And these qualities are why we need to ‘become like little children’ (Matt 18:3). My children have also brought new insight on patience, love, and forgiveness. But how does this change our perspective on parenting? It is quite helpful for me to think of myself as continually learning to parent. This leaves more space to make mistakes and learn from them than a more ‘authoritarian’ view of parenting. Chris P notes here that, “children are resilient and the odd mistake will not detract from a normally consistent and loving approach to their care.”

Summary

 I left the home group feeling reflective. Do I need to make any major changes to my parenting style? Have I got my priorities right? And, perhaps most importantly, would my children vouch for my Christian character? “