My girls were born in February but were due in April. We spent a total of 9 weeks and 6 days in the NICU (Daphne came home a week after Fiona) and since then I have been trying to figure out the best response when people ask how old they are. If there was only one of them, just giving the adjusted age would do (i.e. they’re 11 weeks). But people generally ask ‘oh, they were on time?’ and then I have to awkwardly walk it back for the stranger in the checkout line/shoe salesperson/other parent at the playground.
When we went to the girls’ development checkups (all good!) the doctor we saw stressed that we needed to think of the girls by their adjusted age rather than their actual age. And I said ‘oh, we know – we have a hard time thinking of them by their actual age.’
The need to go by adjusted age is pretty obvious to anyone who has given birth to babies that looked as undercooked as mine did. They were pinkish and had ears that looked like ears and eyes that opened occasionally (none of which is a given with preemies) but it was clear that they were not normal newborns. And as they were not in my uterus, they also were no longer fetuses. They were somewhere in between. It has felt natural to treat the NICU as a sort of developmental halfway house because the girls came home right around their due date and we almost immediately started acting like normal parents. Within days, we were dropping f bombs when the girls woke up at night while fumbling around to try and shove their pacifiers back in their mouths. They came home with feeding tubes and breastmilk fortifier, but they came home mostly as normal babies: no oxygen, for example.
Preemie babies can be expected to catch up somewhere between the first and (at the extreme end) third year of their life – that is the point at which medical professionals stop correcting their age. In the meantime, I have been working to perfect my response when strangers ask how old they are, and the girls are acting like perfect three month old babies: Fiona discovered her toes this morning and Daphne’s eyes light up when you blow raspberries for her. She flirted outrageously when she met er first non-familial baby this morning.
As the girls get older, its easier to avoid the question of when they were born relative to their due date (already! At three months, it happens so much less than when they were three weeks). And hopefully, by 2019, no one will even think to ask whether they were early or not.