“Ethan*, Ethan, Ethan.” With my hand pressed against the little plastic box he was enclosed in, I couldn’t help but whisper his name over and over again.
I remember being in complete disbelief as I rushed Angela*, my wife, to the hospital. In just 25 weeks, my little boy was already here, barely weighing one pound. I’ve never seen something so small in my entire life.
As machines circled him, beeping and chiming, I couldn’t help but feel anxious and terrified for this new, little baby we had just welcomed into the world.
“He’s going to be okay, right?” my wife said as she leaned against my shoulder.
“Of course he is,” I said with confidence, even though inside, I was so afraid.
There were several things the doctor told us we should be cautious of with Ethan: immature lung development, difficulty regulating body temperature, poor feeding and slow weight gain were a few possible outcomes for a baby born prematurely.
This was all so new to Angela and me. We had two boys before Ethan; both born at full-term. So we were truly operating in uncharted territory. “There could be some developmental effects as well,” the doctor said. “Effects like physical development and communication. But these are things we won’t know until Ethan grows and becomes a little older.”
“I could feel my eyes swelling with tears. I didn’t want life to be difficult for my little boy. After all, he had just arrived on this earth a few days ago.”
But Ethan is a fighter. In his first few years, he learned how to walk, could verbalize fairly well and was taking all the steps needed to be prepared for preschool. There were some lingering health complications…he did have trouble gaining weight and ensuring he kept a nutritious diet required him to wear a feeding tube.
A few months after Ethan was born, I actually quit my job to stay home with him. Proper childcare was far too costly while Angela and I were both at work. So, it just made sense for one of us to be at home.
Every day we worked on mobility, reading and counting. But, whenever our other two boys would come home with friends, I would find Ethan standing behind me, latched on to one of my legs. I soon realized that I, a middle-aged father, was the predominant individual Ethan was socializing with. I of course knew about playgroups for kids, but, didn’t really know which would be the best for Ethan and his needs.
Through word-of-mouth, I heard about a great program here in Bowling Green called “Help Me Grow”, specifically designed for infants and toddlers with developmental delay. Their team is staffed with specialists who really focus on giving your child individualized care, through engaging activities.
“The first day Ethan and I went, I could tell he was super nervous. Was it weird that I was really nervous too?”
We were meeting at a park in town and my initial thoughts were, “What if he gets hurt while playing? What if another kid pulls on his feeding tube?” I anxiously looked around for someone to talk to.
“Hi! Welcome to our play group,” said one of the program coordinators. I immediately felt those little hands on my leg – Ethan was peeking at this new person from behind me.
“And what’s your name?” she said, now crouched down, eye-to-eye with Ethan.
All he did was stare. “Go on, tell her your name,” I said. And quietly, I heard a whisper…“Ethan”.
“Well, hello Ethan, I’m glad you’re here with us today. We’re going to go play with a few other kids. Would you like that?”
He looked at me, not knowing what to say. “Don’t worry, your dad will be right over there with all the other parents,” she said reassuringly.
Watching from a distance, I could see him cautiously moving around the playground – never too far from the program coordinator. But, as our very first session progressed, I could see him slowly breaking out of his shell as they completed activities and exercises.
I couldn’t believe how much he changed with every class – even the comfortability in his own movement seemed more effortless. He was also much more verbal than I ever knew he could be, and now, he’s pushing me out the door to get to playgroup.
Ethan has made some great friends, and so have I.
“Knowing other parents who have to overcome some of the same obstacles has been really helpful. It shows you that you’re not alone.”
Now, playgroup has become my favorite part of the week, because it allows me to reflect on how far our family has come. I see this little boy, laughing as he rides down the slide and running around with other kiddos his age. It reminds me of that same little baby I could literally hold in the palm of my hand a few years ago.
I can still feel the plastic pressed against my palm, something I would do every day at the hospital as Angela and I paced the room, waiting for the next test results. I remember the sleepless nights, asking myself if he’d be okay? And for a few hours every other morning, I’m reminded that Ethan is going to be just fine.
*This blog post is fictional but based on a real success story submitted by Help Me Grow. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the individual’s personal successes and struggles.