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I have a lot of very ugly pictures of my son. He was born much too early. And even though you love him, he wasn’t looking his best.

Eitan was born in week 27 of an otherwise normal pregnancy. My water broke one afternoon while I was sitting on my couch. The doctors managed to keep my baby in for 5 days, but he had other plans. So with a quick emergency surgery (with details you will thank me for glossing over here), he entered the world weighing just over 2 pounds.

It was nine days before I could hold Eitan. Until then doctors liked saying scary words to me like, “blood on the brain” and (well, I’m sure they said other things but my mind stopped listening after the whole blood on the brain thing). Finally, we could hold our baby. He was so damn small. But I held on (some may say I am still holding on). Every day in the NIC-U, I read Lord of the Rings to Eitan while he snuggled into me. I loved the idea of how much a little person could do (did I dream of Eitan becoming a hobbit? I don’t think so but I definitely wasn’t functioning as a fully rational parent). I taped a picture of his older brother and sister in his crib so he’d recognize them when they were finally allowed to visit.

We made friends in the NIC-U with other parents who had the same hopes and fears as we did. We learned a lot of new words. We learned to obsess over every gram gained or lost, every breath taken on his own, every advance and every set back.

We got to take our kid home. Not everyone did. One day Eitan’s baby neighbor in the next crib over was progressing well and the next day, she was gone. The little girl’s mom and I had been planning their first birthday party together. We allowed hope to take over for a few moments and to settle into the fantasy that it would all work out.

For years, we would bring Eitan back to the hospital on his birthday to see the nurses and doctors who were instrumental in the first months of his life. As we walked in, I would see the other bleary-eyed parents sitting by those little cribs filled with hopes and dreams and fears. And I would cry because the most I could offer them were my prayers.

Today is World Prematurity Day. For me, it is a day of being thankful and grateful for what I have – for great doctors, a great husband, great friends and most importantly for a great great kid.