Note: I talked to N extensively about whether this was okay to post. We both agreed that, in keeping with what we’ve done online so far, this post is more about my feelings about Ben’s health than it is about Ben’s health specifically. When he was in the NICU I did not go extensively into his medical situation (in order to respect his privacy) and mostly shared the experience from my point of view and how I felt about it. I hope to do the same here today and I also hope that someday Ben feels I was respectful of how I shared him on the internet. We all do our best, right?
A few weeks ago, I took Ben to his 9-month appointment.
I’m proud that I’m still breastfeeding (more on our breastfeeding journey here) and I was so excited that he’d finally made his way to the “normal” height and weight for his age. Not his adjusted age (based on his due date, as they do for preemies). His actual age! He eats well and I knew he was caught up. It felt like such a milestone for our preemie boy.
But then. The doctor asked if he was crawling. No. Does he put weight on his hands as he sits, rocking? No. Does he drag himself across the floor by his arms? No.
Ben doesn’t crawl. He shows no signs of wanting to crawl. He lies on his back or sits up and plays with his toys. He observes things carefully. He plays deliberately with each toy. But he doesn’t seem to want to move.
Is he happy and healthy and perfect? Absolutely. He is the happiest, chillest baby. We’re so grateful.
But he isn’t crawling or moving and probably should be at this point.
When the doctor told me this, I was completely blindsided. I had been working so hard to get his size to where it should be. I read to him, play with him, engage with him. I try hard and I’m present and I adore this boy. I’m a good Mom. He babbles and knows his name. He is thrilled to see N when he gets home from work and reacts accordingly. He’s a sweet kid who only really cries when something is actually wrong and has been a true joy to parent. I just assumed that kids often do things at their own speeds. N and I even joked that it was just his laid back personality. Why crawl? I’d rather just chill here on my back and play with my toy.
So how had this one slipped by me?
For several days after Ben’s appointment, I was a little bummed. I felt guilty and disappointed in myself. It’s so easy to place the blame on yourself for these kinds of things. Had we not done enough tummy time? I’m sure we didn’t.
Ben has hated tummy time from the get-go. After watching them stick him with IV’s and check his sugar by pricking his foot so many times in the NICU, I just wanted comfort for him.
I’ll never forget the one morning when I came in after getting about 2 hours of sleep in my dorm room outside of the NICU. Ben’s nurse told me he’d blown his IV and “Every nurse in here has tried to find another vein but we haven’t been able to. We’re going to talk to the docs but we might need to start a central line. We’ll see how he does.”
My heart broke as I looked around the NICU and saw at least 6 other nurses. They’d all stuck my baby with a needle, looking for a vein. This brand new, perfect little human who just days before had been all cozied up inside my body and was now out in the world getting stuck with needles over and over again. I can’t imagine how confusing and terrifying it must have been to him. I think of this exact moment often.
So when we got home, we weren’t as diligent about tummy time as we should have been. We hated to make him uncomfortable willingly because it broke our hearts that he’d already had so much discomfort in his life. Once he could easily roll over, every time we put him on his tummy he just rolled straight to his back.
Is that the reason why he’s behind now? The pediatrician says it’s probably not. This made me feel a little better that it wasn’t our actions, but just that he was born at 34 weeks:
“Compared with those children born full-term, those born between 32 and 36 weeks’ gestation were three times more likely to have delays in their language development, three times more likely to have delays in the development of motor skills, twice as likely to have delays in cognitive development such as ability to perform tasks and follow directions, and were more likely to have difficulty coping in different social settings.” Source
Chances are, it’s not our fault. But there’s a guilty feeling there either way.
Because even if it’s not anything we did or didn’t do after he was born, he was born early and in some ways that still feels like my body betrayed me or failed to do its job.
I often joke that all the best cookies are a little undercooked. I try to make light of it or make myself less self-conscious about my seemingly healthy body letting me down. Then sometimes a little voice in my head (that sounds a lot like Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye) says “Your Placenta? She’s like, so rude.” She was rude, peacing out before she was done her job and all (more on that here).
So the doctor suggested early intervention services in Philadelphia. She requested an in-home evaluation to assess Ben. We had both the intake visit and the evaluation and they determined that his gross motor skills are a bit behind. His fine motor skills are, well, fine.
During the evaluation portion, a speech therapist (I don’t know why it was a speech therapist, we’d already determined that his verbal skills are excellent) sat on the floor of our living room with us. She asked tons of questions and observed as I played and interacted with Ben.
I’m pretty confident in my mothering. In fact, I think becoming a Mom has made me more confident as a person. I don’t question our parenting decisions. I feel like my gut instinct is pretty good and Ben is a happy kid. But having someone “official” sit in your home and (kind of) judge your parenting is odd and challenging. She was not trying to be judgmental but it’s hard to hear questions like “So when a toy is out of reach, do you always hand it to him?” Um, maybe?
When they left I was a little emotionally drained. A little self-conscious. It took me by surprise. I failed to realize that my son was behind until the doctor told me so and it just felt like speech therapist perhaps thought I should have realized it or maybe that I was enabling him. She was very nice and was definitely just doing her job but it was harder than I thought it would be on me, as I analyzed nearly everything I did the whole time she was here.
This whole experience has mostly been me internalizing all of this and doing my typical cycle of feel guilty – worry – try to be positive – feel guilty again – keep worrying – try to be positive….etc. It’s really healthy (lol).
The good news is that Ben is getting the care he needs. He qualified for physical therapy once a week for the next year. A physical therapist will come to our house. I’m grateful that the services are available and that my flexible schedule will allow this to not be a logistical challenge for our family.
Most of all, I’m grateful that this is a minor issue. He’ll probably catch up and soon enough he’ll be running around. I’m happy that he’s tested well within the normal range for cognitive and language development. I hope one day we look back on this when he’s a talented athlete (ha with my genes, maybe not) and say, “Remember when he couldn’t even crawl?”
And even if we have to carry him to college, oh man do we freaking adore this kid.