At 25 weeks, when most pregnancies press against elastic waistbands, proclaiming "baby growing here" my amniotic sac
Col's formerly slippery, lush home became a desert, and he evacuated promptly, kicking and sneezing into life at 1
pound, 12 ounces.
Col was whisked into the hands of six neonatologists, who inched a ventilator down his throat into which they
inserted Surfactant, a medication which keeps fragile, papery lungs inflated. Lanugo - that embryonic fur babies wear
in the womb - covered his translucent skin. His eyes were not yet open.
At 25 weeks, a baby is mostly formed. Every organ is present and accounted for, except the lungs, still nubby
caricatures of their future selves. The alveoli - designed to grab oxygen from inhaled air - are winter-scarred
saplings compared to the branchy canopy of full- term lungs.
At 25 weeks, the heart thumps, the bladder empties, but the lungs are still practicing their highly skilled work.
After 5Â½ months of sharing my body, that first week after Col and I were separated (he in his plastic, climate-controlled incubator, and I, relocated to the Denver Ronald McDonald House), each reunion was a shock. Seeing
his doll-sized body - swaddled in a handkerchief - was as startling as stepping from July 4th into winter. Dan and I
wiped his saggy-skinned bottom with one cotton ball. Extracting him from his incubator took two people; I cupped his
floppy body in both hands while a nurse lifted his sprawl of tubes and wires. He'd snooze on my chest, skin to skin, while we told him stories of our beloved hometown to the southwest.
The NICU nurses were some otherworldly combination of compassionate godmother and medical wizard. In one moment
they'd thread an IV into Col's tiny bead of a belly button, the next they'd pass me a tissue to catch my tears.
They'd calmly sprint toward Col's bedside when his beeping monitor indicated a drop in heart rate, reminding him to
breathe by vigorously rubbing his back, which was no bigger than a deck of cards.
Despite the high-stakes preemie board game (Col grows one ounce overnight, jump forward three squares! Col needs a
blood transfusion, return to start), Col was inexplicably lucky. Many children born similarly premature get stamped
with frightening diagnoses: cerebral palsy, blindness, and brain bleeds; words that change a parent's life forever.
During those months in Denver, we saw children go home, shedding their hospital equipment like a brief, bad dream.
Other children never lived to feel the sun on their faces.
Though he's on the small side of petite and his secret preemie handshake may always be weak lungs, Col wears an
uncanny, cheery resilience like a second skin.
My own second skin is this stretchable cloak called "parent," my biggest joy and challenge. There are deafening
debates in the parenting world today over vaccinations, breastfeeding, cesarean births, working vs. staying at home, letting your kids eat jellybeans. My time in Denver suggests that these are simply details. What matters most is
Rachel Turiel's column runs the first and third Sunday. Reach her at "mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com.