It's October and that means the beginning of RSV season. And for a micro-preemie mama, this is not something to take lightly. I am thankful we came home at the end of June and had a few months not to think about this as much! For us, going into this fall and winter, things really won't look that different for us as far as what we will expose Asher to. Because Asher was born waaayyy before his lungs were fully developed and because he was ventilated for 1 1/2 months and had significant lung disease while he was in the NICU, he is at a much bigger risk for getting very sick, more than the average baby. And not just getting sick, but getting sick enough to be hospitalized. Asher's airways in his lungs are more narrow than they should be. So, a cold for him could quickly turn into a severe case of RSV where he would need oxygen support in the hospital. I borrowed this picture from another micro-preemie mom's blog--it really gives a visual for what we try to explain to people. (Her blog is Life With Jack- check it out!)
You can see at the top the progression of lung development in the womb. You can see the difference between 24 week lungs and full term lungs! So, Asher's lungs had to do a lot of growing outside the womb. What's interesting is that when babies are ventilated, that actually damages their lung tissue. It's life-saving, and necessary- but every time that tube is put down into the lungs, it damages the tissue a little. What is encouraging about lungs is that they continue to grow until a child is 7 years old. So, they get stronger and healthier each day! Right after Asher's heart surgery, the big concern was his lungs. He developed P.I.E., which was essentially like emphysema in adults. The dr said that if those were adult lungs he was looking at, there wouldn't be much room for improvement. But, because he was a baby and growing new tissue everyday, we had hope for it to get better! And, because of our healing God, and the medical world...Asher's lungs improved significantly! It is amazing he did not come home with oxygen...many, many 23 weekers do.
The bottom illustration shows why an RSV infection for Asher would be so severe. You can see how blocked the airway is, which means breathing and getting oxygen around the body would be very difficult.
So, since Asher got home, we have been pretty strict about what he does and who he sees. And now that it's RSV season, we will be even more cautious. Asher won't be around any small children or babies unless we are in a very open space outside and no one is touching! So, we can go on walks, go to the park...and a few other things that are outside. But, no malls, stores, restaurants, nursery or childcare settings or anything inside for us until after RSV season and Asher is a little older. Most sicknesses are spread through touch, but being inside means air is less ventilated, and there is a chance of catching something that way too, or just being in a crowded space with many people. Also, we are very cautious about the adults that do see Asher in that there can be no hint of sickness or we'll just have to plan on another time to hang out. We ask people, even our parents, to wash their hands right when coming in the door and then apply hand sanitizer often and right before touching Asher. And that's not only for Asher's protection but mine and Bryan's as well. We don't need to be sick either! Our parents had to get their flu shots this year and a whooping cough shot since they are with him pretty often and are our FAVORITE, (and only) babysitters!
I've heard people say... "how will he build his immune system up?" Well, Asher is exposed to germs- we are by no means germ free people! Bryan goes to work each day and there are a few places I go without Asher, and so he is getting somewhat exposed. Even when he was in the hospital, he still was somewhat exposed to things because it was a hospital with lots of different doctors and nurses around. And even though they have protocol for keeping things sterile, its just impossible to guard someone from everything. So, I have no worries about our little miracle boy building an immune system. That is the LEAST of my concerns for him!
I am a little nervous going into this season...just for my own heart and sanity. But many mothers have gone before me and braved this season of their lives as well with their little ones. So, it can be done! We just have to get creative with our "outings" and what we do to stay entertained. Right now, it's about my entertainment because Asher is pretty laid back and doesn't really care where he is. So, I just have to do things like finding every drive through place there is around me, doing errands where Asher doesn't have to get out of the car, and being outside. Most people don't want a mild winter...especially after the darn west nile virus outbreak we had here...but I wouldn't mind it because it would mean we have more options of things to do! So, we can't do play dates and things like that really until next spring and summer, which again...at this age is more about me than about him! By the time he really is able to interact with other kids, we'll be able to do those things. (Until next winter!)
I have friends who have toddlers and preemies at home, and that would be much harder to balance as toddlers want to go go go! So, I'm going to do my best to embrace this season of getting lots of time with my boy. It is a loss, and hard some days not get to go to a friends house with my baby, or meet them at a mall or do anything with my friends and have Asher with me as well. Those are things I have longed to do for a while now. So, some days that is hard. But, keeping Asher healthy is our priority. So, those things will have to wait a little longer. I know there are also many moms out there who's hearts are heavy as they leave their little ones each day to go to work, and some are moms of preemies or micro preemies as well. I know they long to be able to be at home with their babies. So, I am SO very thankful and blessed to be able to stay at home with Asher and get a first row seat in watching him grow and learn. And I know...because "they say" that he won't be a baby forever. It's hard to believe because he's been a baby a lot longer than most! But, he will grow up and be a kid one day. Every time I see little boys places I go, I try to picture Asher that age. It's hard to do! But I know it's coming. So for now...we will embrace our time of little distractions and LOTS of time at home together.