Saturday 27 November 2010

A New Story

"How old is he?" I've always struggled with this question. I am not sure how I am meant to answer it. Joseph's birthday is the 8th May, but it should have been the 7th August. 3 months. That's a long time to a 1 and a half year old!

When you have a premature baby there are three ways to refer to their age. When they are little the doctors use "gestational age", and refer to the baby in weeks, from their date of conception. For example, he's 34 weeks now. Later on the term is "actual" so at the moment Joseph's actual age is 18 months.

The final term is "corrected", where the months or weeks of prematurity are taken off. So Joseph is 18 months, but 15 months corrected. Whenever I give someone Joseph's corrected age someone usually rumbles me! Like at baby group! (Its often easier with fellow parents to give Joseph's corrected age). Or the little voice in my head squeaks "liar liar". For what its worth the paediatrician and the outreach worker at special care think I should use his corrected age. My Health Visitor thinks I should use his actual, which causes a lot of confusion and annoyance on my part.

It's a really pertinent question for me, and I wonder if other mums of premature babies, particularly premature older babies feel the same?

I try not to read development books or lists of what an 18 month old should be doing, as it is quite depressing. I looked at one just now for this blog entry, and I it makes it even more pertinent to me that I need to answer this question about age, for myself. The very first thing on the list, that thing that for now eludes my child.... the dreaded W word.

Is able to walk regularly and stop safely, without sitting down quickly

Yeah, well, is not able to walk at all, thanks list. But moving down the list, Joseph does a lot of things on this list, and more. His language skills are very good, his other physical skills are excellent, he can climb on to a chair and sit down like a grown up, he can (if he really really really wants to) use a spoon. He recognises himself in a mirror, so in lots of ways Joseph demonstrates abilities that reflect his actual age. Providing he is sitting down!

Perhaps a good thing, but I haven't found a nice neat 15 month old developmental list. I did find a depressing video, which really highlights why I don't do this. The only similarity with this little boy is the hair its so similar to Joseph's the way it sticks up like he's communicating with the mother ship! However this child is confidentally doing that walking thing!

Which brings me to the point I think that I'm making here, is that even if I do correct the 3 months off his age, its not really helping me, as a 15 month old (well a normal full term one that is) is expected to walk. So its not really going to help with the conversations I find difficult, that is, with acquaintances and mummies at baby group.

I have grown tired of our old story. Its a good one, and its an interesting one in many ways, but to me now, its becoming old, tired, and we need a new story now. The prematurity story is a bit like the dark period of Australian history. Deeply relevant, in lots of ways, and not all bad, it's shaped how Australia is today, but there is a new story that is emerging and growing over time.

And that's what we need, a new story that tells of Joseph how he is right now. That supports him, and celebrates him, that concentrates on all that he is, and all that he does and does not make excuses or gives reasons.

And I need increased confidence to tell that story as it is now, not as it was.


  1. I can see why this would be confusing. But you should tell people the age of which You think of him to be. HV's and medical staff might think they're the experts, but really, it's we mums who know best!! However old the little sweetheart is, he's your pride and joy and that's all that matters.

    CJ xx

  2. I normally go for actual first, but I am a drama queen and like the look of puzzlement, and then I explain how early they were. Both my girls are still noticeably small for their age, they're 3 and 1. It's a conversation starter if nothing else, and it means I've met so many other people who have had premature babies themselves, but it wouldn't ordinarily have come up in conversation!
    Try not to worry about the milestones too much, Violet was 23 months before she walked, and then it was out of the blue, her talking is still very, very behind, but it doesn't stop her enjoying and getting a lot out of nursery. She may need a bit of extra help, but she doesn't know different, she thinks its fabulous, and thats the most important thing to me anyway :)
    Hope you and Joseph are well x

  3. Like you i never read the development books, , I had a faverat saying, which i said to people when they said is he doing.............. I use to tell them that hes not read the books you know so he does not know what he is ment to do and when !!!

  4. Samantha Wallace23 October 2011 at 20:07

    Gemma is 17 months, so 14 corrected but still has an NG tube. I feel my story is getting old and my answer gets shorter and shorter. Usually, she's "X" months but born early so still small and try and move on! I don't want her to always have a "premature" label but feel if I just give her corrected age then I will get caught in a "lie" if I meet the other mums again. She is now crawling which helps with the funny looks that say "are you sure she is that old!" or the comments of, watch the baby, she is small but no longer a baby and is more likely to be the one stealing toys and poking other children than the big boys. She has definitely got an attitude of "I am small but don't underestimate me!"

  5. I love the feistiness of prems, and they are so resilient and tough in lots of ways. Joseph STILL gets called a baby "look at that baby" and it drives me nuts, he's 2 and a flipping half, I am allowed to call him baby no one else!