This article first appeared in Preemie Babies 101 - Hand to Hold in September 2013.
Raising a premature child is very similar to climbing a mountain. I have done both.
In 2009, I experienced several challenges during what should have been a low-risk pregnancy. I developed an enchondroma bone tumor on my right pinky causing it to fracture. One hypothesis is the trauma of the fracture caused me to lose my son’s identical twin and invited in pre-eclampsia. During my pregnancy I also experienced a major career change, we had a flood in our home, I was called in for jury duty and I got the Swine Flu.
My Son’s Birth
On December 8, 2009, the reconstructive hand surgery to repair my hand fracture brought to light the fact my unborn son was starving as my body fought undiagnosed pre-eclampsia. I was airlifted in critical condition 100 miles away to a Children’s Miracle Network hospital with a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). And, I was given a betamethasone shot to develop my baby’s lungs. Days later on December 12, 2009, our son Giovanni was born 2-1/2 months premature at 2-1/2 pounds.
Giovanni and I spent 56 days in the NICU, and he quickly became a “feeder/grower” without additional complications. After discharge, we spent three years in Early Intervention therapy. On Giovanni’s 3rd birthday, he was in the 85th percentile as if he were full term (weighing 36 lbs and 39″ long). This year, Giovanni started preschool without delays.
Graduate School and Resiliency
In 2012, after ensuring Giovanni overcame his micro-prematurity, I debated whether to return to work or continue my education. Through exploration and opportunity, I decided on Gonzaga University’s Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership. A Master’s degree allowed me to extend my time at home with Giovanni while retraining for the workforce. Further, this degree offered me an opportunity to pursue my new passion for prematurity awareness, fundraising and management while remaining general enough for me to retrain for any new industry.
One of the elective courses in my program called “Leadership & Hardiness” caught my eye, and I inquired with Dr. Adrian Popa about what that would entail. As the parent of a preemie, the course content focusing on hardiness and resiliency intrigued me. This course reviewed such classics as Viktor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning and Salvatore Maddi’s 3 C’s principles of commitment, control and challenge as a way of building hardiness and resiliency in difficult times.
As interested and enthusiastic as I was to learn about hardiness and resiliency, this course required a three-day residency climbing Mt. Adams in Washington State (12,276 feet elevation). As Giovanni’s primary parent the last 3 ½ years, the three-day separation appeared to be my greatest challenge, at first. Luckily, the dates of this mountain climb coincided with my family reunion where my husband, my parents and 20 family members agreed to care for Giovanni in my absence.
See Mom Climb
Training for Mt. Adams, I realized that while Giovanni had overcome his micro-prematurity, I had not. I spent 3 ½ years focusing completely on his well being and forgot that I, too, still suffered post traumatic stress disorder. Through the five months of training, blogging and eventually climbing Mt. Adams, I discovered myself as a unique individual separate from Giovanni. I rediscovered my value as a human, my desire for building authentic relationships and an ability to serve through greater awareness of my own journey through Giovanni’s prematurity. The end result of this amazing challenge has been that my energy level has increased exponentially allowing me to better keep up with Giovanni. I feel more connected to my son and take great comfort in his growing independence. I’ve watched him become an even more secure preschooler who knows that when I leave, I always come back.
I discovered that climbing a mountain is very similar to raising a preemie. It is very methodical; every step is slow, intentional and with the goal of reaching only a few feet ahead.
On Mt. Adams I hit the proverbial “wall” at 7,800 feet and could not go any further. Two mentors came up alongside me and began the counting process: 1, 2, 3…8, 9, 10 and we kept repeating this pattern to 9,000 feet.
The most transformative moments in my journey as a preemie parent and climbing a mountain have been the social support along the way. In the NICU, neonatologists, nurses, social workers, friends and family ensured I kept on fighting for my son. On Mt. Adams, my mentors and teammates kept me focused on the goal of one foot in front of the other. In both epic journeys, I learned to seek social support.
At 9,000 feet, I ended my bid for the summit of Mt. Adams (12,276). Going to summit would be too risky. I re-evaluated my own strength and motivation for this climb and redefined what success meant by accepting my own strengths and limitations. Success is not always reaching the summit. It is the journey along the way.
Katie Reginato Cascamo is a mother of a preemie son who was born at 30 weeks gestation weighing just 2-1/2 pounds. Her son, now age 3, recently entered preschool and is doing well. Katie is currently pursuing her Master of Arts degree in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Read more about her journey on her blog See Mom Climb.