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November 17, 2019

Holy shit, 28!

I know. I shouldn’t swear, because I’m a writer and lazy word choice and whatever. And I shouldn’t swear, because maybe the blog police really are a thing. You never know these days. And I shouldn’t swear, because this is about babies, for God’s sake, but frankly, watching my language around my children was a battle I lost, oh, about 28 years ago. And so I say to you now:

Holy shit, 28!

Those who know me probably think my follow-up line will be: how did this happen?


I know how it happened. I welcomed it.

Having children is a blatant exercise in masochism. It often happens right when you reach the stage in life when you think you are who you are going to be. You fix a picture of that self in your mind’s eye and that is who you are and who you will always be. And then you invite these beings into your home who both exacerbate and illustrate the aging process. You watch it happen right before your very eyes.

There’s evidence everywhere: outgrown shoes and clothes, developmental milestones, growth charts, graduations. And yet, we lie to ourselves that, yes, they are growing up, be we are somehow not growing old. It takes some nerve that these people get to prove you wrong when you have fed them, clothed them, and loved them. It’s the very definition of chutzpah.

It is human nature to want to cling to that shiny image of ourselves, to be vain, nostalgic, and even a little sad when someone holds up the mirror of truth. But today, and every November 17, I cannot bring myself to lament the passage of time. Today, I celebrate it, because Molly and Isaac are here and still the miracles they were 28 years ago.

According to recent statistics, the current survival rate for 24-week preemies is about 39%. We don’t have many statistics on very premature babies born before 1991, the year Isaac and Molly were born.

We were lucky. The use of surfactant replacement therapy was a game changer for very early preemies, and they were born at time when it had been studied and tested, and could be used. It gave them a fighting chance. It was still new enough that they were part of a study comparing bovine surfactant with synthetic surfactant.

We were lucky. They were born at Evanston Hospital, whose tertiary care ISCU (Infant Special Care Unit) treats more than 500 sick and premature babies every year. I have yet to meet a more talented, skilled, devoted group of professionals anywhere.

Isaac and Molly were generous to us. They grew slowly—didn’t rub our faces in the passage of time the way our other children’s more regular and predictable growth spurts did. We got to delude ourselves a while longer.

For a long time, we looked at every developmental issue, every milestone, every personality trait through the preemie lens. Are they not talking yet because they were preemies? Are Isaac’s short-term memory issues because he was so sick? Will they ever be ‘normal’ (whatever that means)?

I don’t know when it happened. I promise I was paying attention, but somehow I missed that particular miracle. The day when they stopped being preemies and just became who they are. If you’re wondering, they did learn to talk. In fact, Molly talks at double speed and rarely shuts up. Isaac still can’t remember the simplest things. He can talk to you with great depth and insight on a whole host of complicated topics. Just don’t give him two instructions at once and expect him to remember.

These are the things we laugh about, just as we admire Molly’s tenaciousness and Isaac’s kindness. It no longer matters whether it was because they were preemies. Or maybe, being preemies, like these other characteristics, is just part of who they are: bright, interesting, interested, gloriously flawed human beings. In other words, perfectly normal.

We are lucky. On this day, more than any other, I hold that in my heart, along with the pain of those who are not so lucky.

Tomorrow, I’ll go back to studiously avoiding the mirror and pretending that I am closer to their age than my own. But, today, I celebrate the fact that they are — holy shit! — 28 years old. Happy birthday, my babies!

Someday, I will finish writing this memoir, but today I post again because, in addition to being Isaac and Molly’s birthday, November 17 is also World Prematurity Day and November is Prematurity Awareness Month. The March of Dimes does fantastic work on behalf of preemies. If you feel like celebrating, here’s where you can give a gift.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Anderson permalink
    November 17, 2019 6:40 am

    This is beautiful. And it’s always a pleasure to see the wonderful people Ike and Molly have become.
    But 28 years? Really? Amazing.
    Love you all!

  2. Kenneth L Bearman permalink
    November 18, 2019 10:47 am

    Amazing what we (you) have done, Beautiful writing about 3 beautiful people, I am so lucky to have you 3 and the rest of our gang in my life.

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