I was born premature. Now, I was born in the 90s, so premature as a medical term was a little different. Legend goes as far as I was concerned that I was about 2-3 weeks premature. With modern medicine, that’s pretty acceptable and fine but in 1990, that was apparently “well, don’t get too attached to your kid.” That mythology of being a preemie and surviving was a huge part of my childhood. My father was always very protective of me, which was really quite the sight, this mountain of a man protecting his small child ( I didn’t hit 5’0’’ until I was 12-13 and my father at the time of his death was 6’3’’) and my mother…well, we had a complicated relationship.
I was a somewhat sickly kid, born with asthma and allergies, I have vivid memories of summers spent inside due to high ozone days and being attached to nebulizers and having to take pill after pill to combat the tyranny of my own shallow lungs. 4 lbs and 6 ozs at birth, I heard that all the time as a kid.
I was a spoiled kid, really. There was one birthday when I woke up and there was an outdoor play castle with a slide INSIDE my bedroom because my parents loved me very much and of course I needed to be able to slide into my bed like a television show rich kid. But in hindsight, my parents wanted me to be comfortable. I never really felt held back by asthma as a child but I had a GameBoy and a computer and books and CDs. It’s easy to spend an hour attached to a nebulizer when you have Pokemon Red. It’s easy to be bribed into another chewable Singulair tablet when being showered with Beanie Babies. I never really saw my childhood as being that full of things or even my life being that charmed until I got older and discovered that not all children got limo rides on their birthday.
My parents’ pageantry over my birthday was something I just knew and accepted as canon. I accepted that my life was that of a small Roman emperor and that the entire month was a celebration and that for this one day, the Sun shone upon me and only me. It was an easy enough fact to accept as a child.
As an adult, though, I have learned some things that have elucidated just why my parents were so lavish with their love.
I was not meant to be an only child. I didn’t know about my mother’s infertility until I was in my teens. I was not even really meant to survive and my parents’ insistence that I was a miracle, a blessing, a pearl, a gem, were not just the ramblings of two people who loved their child but the desperate prayer of two people doing their best to show their gratitude and appreciation and love for their child that lived.
I was instilled with a very strict respect and reverence for my first name: Amanda. It was never shortened, never abbreviated, never made light of. My name was a prayer and knowing the meaning of my name mattered a great deal to me. Amanda as a name means worthy of love in Latin and my father would always translate it as most beloved or most loved. I always respected that sanctity and even though I never gave much thought to its meaning, it made so much more sense as I got older.
My parents spoiled me. My parents lavished me with attention and time and love and concern. They did their best because like Harry Potter, I was the one that lived. But that air of fragility, that air of being that small palm-sized infant stayed with me for years. As my aunts raised me, my status of being a preemie and a survivor preceded me. My aunt would speak of this grand promise she made to me while I was still in the NICU that she would do her best to ensure that I was happy and healthy and the photos I have of my mother during that time were the most adoring I think she ever looked at me.
And knowing that those feelings I had as a child of being special and spoiled were not just the rampant entitlement that Baby Boomers insist all Millennials have but a genuine deserve to show how cherished and appreciated this little demon that my parents raised.
I survived, I did okay. I always thought my preemie-ness was sort of overblown as a youth. I wasn’t horribly preemie, I was born with all the proper fingers and toes and sure I couldn’t run quickly but I rarely felt I missed out. When asked now in my yearly physical if my asthma has held me back I’m quick to say the only time my asthma has held me back was that I could not climb Mount Vesuvius and I could not climb a mountain in Bavaria. And sure I have allergies and that just means I can’t enjoy peanut butter but I will cheat for the sake of Nutella. Sure, I have other health issues but I’ve never blamed a lack of time in the womb for that.
But my family always did. Even my mother who was apparently a somewhat sickly child got a pass for most of her less than kind traits. My great-grandmother used it as a very common rationale for my mother’s behavior that she was poorly and that made it okay for her to be obese, sometimes cruel and oftentimes dismissive.
There’s a need to protect children, especially to protect children who had a rough start in life. And I feel weird saying that I was a preemie because in hindsight, I was pretty okay. I wasn’t hooked up to tubes for long. I was allowed to go home relatively quickly. I was lucky.
My childhood was not spent in a bubble and even the times when I was not allowed to see the horrors of the Texas sun, I did not care. I was fine with being told to stay inside and play video games. But the legacy of specialness, of over-protection, of fragility and unwavering reverence and support has been far more difficult to deal with than just the fact that I cannot run very far…oh, and I cannot not climb up a mountain or an active volcano.