"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.