This post originally appeared on the Graham’s Foundation blog on December 3, 2015

Three weeks ago, my toddler dropped out of school. My husband and I didn’t anticipate it. We started in September just like everyone else…with adorable “first day of school!” pictures on our front porch and excitement for everything my son would learn, and the new friends he would make.

It was a leap of faith for us to try out a group childcare setting in his second winter of life. My son, now 21 months old, was born at 31 weeks and 6 days in January of 2014. When he was discharged from the NICU in late February of that year, we- like all preemie parents- feared colds, flu, and RSV. We limited visitors, bought stock in hand sanitizer, and checked proof of TDAP and flu vaccinations at the front door.

With a thriving toddler interested in learning and socializing, we decided to graduate from the parent-nanny caregiver model and enroll him in a Montessori program four mornings per week. We took careful note of the advice from fellow parents about sickness in the first year of school or daycare.

“He will definitely get sick, but then his immune system will be unstoppable for the rest of his educational career,” they promised.

We thought we’d see a few bad illnesses this year, but for the most part he’d just have a chronic runny nose.

Boy – were we wrong.  

In the first 8 weeks of the program, he had at least five viruses. One of which caused him to be hospitalized, and several of which sent him into respiratory distress – specifically rapid breathing. The endless, horrific cough that accompanied these illnesses resulted in no sleep for anyone, for weeks. Without family or back-up caregivers to fill in, we decided this situation was unmanageable for our family and potentially dangerous for my son’s health.

In consultation with our pediatrician, my husband and I decided to pull our son out of school and try again when his lungs are more mature and his breathing passages are bigger.

As we struggle with the aftermath of this decision- specifically with trying to find an amazing caregiver to take the place of school so that I can continue to run my business part-time – here is what I know:

  • We 100% made the right decision. It is so important to trust your instincts. You and your physician know what is best for your child.
  • It never helps to compare your situation with others. LOTS of people told us that it was normal for him to get sick and we should just keep him in school. But preemies are different than full-term babies…for a variety of reasons. They just are.
  • The effects of prematurity will often sneak up on you as a parent…even years later. It can be a sad and overwhelming reminder that your child is still carrying the burden of prematurity, but you will get through it.
  • Reminders of your postpartum NICU journey can be sudden and traumatic for parents of preemie babies-turned-toddlers, so take good care of yourself. When my son was hospitalized last month and needed high-flow oxygen, I had a very strong reaction to seeing him with the nasal cannula on his face. I was immediately transported back 21 months to our time in the NICU. My husband had a similar reaction to the smell of the hospital hand soap in our room.
  • I am lucky to have a “village” of medical providers that care about my son. While I would never wish prematurity on anyone, the silver lining of that type of experience is that you have a bigger team of people to help with decisions like these. I am forever thankful for our incredibly compassionate and smart pediatrician and the dedicated occupational and speech therapists whom we work with through Early Intervention. My advice is to build your village and take advantage of their support and expertise for tough decisions like these! My providers have had MANY patient and helpful conversations with me about my son’s readiness for school or a group childcare setting. It’s not all about developmental readiness but also about health readiness.

And finally, here is the most important thing I know: My child is still thriving. Sometimes we preemie parents worry that the cocooning and precautions we take will hurt them in some way, or make them miss out on important life experiences. But my sweet boy (who has finally been healthy for consecutive weeks!) has spent the past three weeks on play dates, at library story hours, debuting several new words, and running around most of the playgrounds in our community.

So as with “all things preemie”, I have learned that he will enter school on his own time and in his own way. And as his mama, I just have to watch closely – he’ll tell me when he’s ready.

Questions for readers, please respond in the comments below!:

Parenting in general can be a lot of trial and error. Please share some of your own #parentingfails. What decisions did you make for your child/ren (childcare, school, health, etc.) that did not work out as you hoped? How did you know it was not working and what did you do to fix it?

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Categories: Ages + Stages, Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Toddlers + Preschoolers