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I was in the NICU when a nurse told me my child was different.

“You have to keep reminding yourself: preemie babies aren’t like term babies.”

I don’t know why that comment stung. Hadn’t my pregnancy already been different? The sudden week of bedrest, a cervix that wouldn’t stop dilating, a baby’s hard skull easily felt by the gloved hands of hospital staff.  My birth had been different. I was denied delayed clamping, was threaded with IVs and wires. They nearly begged me to take the epidural, but through clenched teeth I refused. I had to have something normal, something I had promised myself.

Now, the nurse was telling me nothing would be normal. This was my abnormal baby, sleeping under bulbs meant to act as artificial sunlight. My abnormal baby in a glass box. My abnormal baby—whom I couldn't even hold without permission, and had to slather my hands and arms with antibacterial soap just to touch. During our entire three week stay in the sterile nursery, I was reminded: she isn’t like the other babies.

At home, we were to be secluded. Outside germs could be deadly for preemie babies. Tobacco residue on clothing or hair, too. I lived in a cycle of pumping and struggling for her to latch. My phone scrolling Google for other moms and babies like us. We stayed in that chair, covered in milky spit-up and fat building around my thighs and middle until she grasped the plastic nipple shield with her gums—and eventually, we released the shield and she nursed. I almost told myself she was a normal baby.

But still, she wasn’t. Other moms went back to work. I tried, but my baby refused to eat. Her weight gain slowed; doctors worried, and strangers couldn't believe she wasn’t just a newborn.

“She’s a preemie,” I explained. Their sympathy created a paradox within myself—I appreciated it, but I hated it too. I lessened my shifts, changed my job status. Bought a scale and weighed her everyday, silently begging for her to be on the “normal” chart.

It worsened when we entered the age of milestones. Other babies flipping like fish. Other babies standing. Other babies walking. I returned to Google to find my sparse preemie camaraderie, but couldn't find any like us. Tallulah wasn’t a micro-preemie beating all the odds, and she wasn’t a “normal” term baby. She was somewhere in an unoccupied middle—just a little early, just enough to be different. I had to accept it; the nurse had already tried to prepare me.

We continued. Met some milestones late, some closer to time. I excused her weight and size to strangers.

“She’s a preemie.”

They nodded. They understood.

But recently, something shifted, at a random stop for vegan pizza. Tallulah raised her cut up chunks in the air and dunked them in her open mouth with an audible gusto. A man a few tables over chuckled and we turned.

“I’ve never seen anyone so happy to eat pizza,” he laughed, before telling me about his own children—adults now?

“What is she? About two?” he asked. I almost dropped my own slice to the floor. She was twenty-one months. He somehow knew that.

“Yup. In three months,” I responded, a happy, “normal” mother who didn't have to overcompensate her accomplishments. In fact, I forgot to gloat about her learning seven new words in a single week. I was too busy being a normal mom with a normal baby.  

Introducing Ann Sparling White

Introducing Ann Sparling White

Not everyone is allowed into the inner world of a child.  It is both a magical and scary place, depending on what has recently happened and how the adults around the child have reacted and prepared for that happening.

I am a Family and Children’s Professional Counselor and have worked with children for over 30 years.  It has always been both a wonder and a privilege, because if you allow it, children can be your best teachers.  If you listen carefully, they will help you understand what is helpful to them, and what is not helpful; what is comforting, and what is not comforting.

I like sharing what children and their families have taught me, and finding ways to be encouraging to the young ones I come to know, so they can grow to be their best selves.  storieChild has the same goal, so it is logical we might work together to help your child grow and flourish.

Stay tuned for a series of blog posts from guest contributor Ann Spalding White.

Mothering in the Digital Age

Mothering in the Digital Age

Moms seem divided in the world of technology. I mean, isn’t our entire society caught up in this heated debate? There are strict standards for “screen time,” especially in the babywearing/co-sleeping world in which I belong. Instagram photos are occasionally allowed, if taken in places of natural beauty—think organic gardens, hiking trails, caves, and the like. Being a present parent means avoiding your phone and the technological waves it produces.

And in the opposite spectrum of parenting? There’s the opposing side: the TV never shuts off, iPads for entertainment, moms glued to Candy Crush just to feel a part of a world outside of dirty diapers.

 C’mon. We know life is never that black and white. The crunchy moms have cell phones and the “creamy” moms do breathe fresh air and make their kids do the same. And, me? Like everyone else, I’m conflicted.

Technology allows Tallulah to talk to faraway family members through FaceTime; it allows me to communicate on storieChild’s blog. And I admit that when Tallulah wakes up earlier than I’d like, I do hand over the phone to let her take photos of her foot or the same wrinkle in the sheets over and over again. Just so I can lay there for a moment. And, guess what? I never delete those photos, because...memories.

 Technology allows us to capture memories. I was able to record Tallulah’s little voice and the subtle changes over the months, when “DA” became “that, that, yeah.” Years later, when she’s thirteen and wants me pushed from her sphere I can listen to those and smile and cry. Cell phone photos freeze moments when family members come to visit, and the internet lets me share those with other family members who can’t be there. Honestly, I feel way more connected to some family members with things like Facebook and Instagram. Before these things, it felt like family only got together for holidays and other special occasions. They missed milestones; they missed sweet memories. And, let’s face it, life is busy and we all miss phone calls.

 But it can be too much. Everywhere you look, someone has a cell phone in their lap. Go to a concert and too many people are recording the entire thing, rather than slipping their phones in their pockets and enjoying real life. Sure, I record Tallulah going down the slide so that her family can see it for themselves, but I also put it away and hold her hands and slide with her and push her on the swing. And, that thing I do in the morning with the phone? Sometimes I do it with books, those beautiful tangible items that rule our entire lives. We keep the screens out of literature, out of our bedtime stories.

 We make memories. We record some in our hands. We live balance.