Babies born prematurely are amazing. Besides my beautiful son Hugo, born at just 24 weeks, I have heard many other stories of preemies' huge character that belies their tiny size.
These preemies demonstrate a strength and bravery to put grown-ups to shame. They fight with every scrap of their being to stay alive.
Many premature babies do eventually go home with their proud and grateful parents. These babies are inspiring, as many stories outline. The proliferation of success stories can give the impression that all preemie babies get to go home and live happily ever after. Sadly, that is not the case.
I get particularly irked by quotes that say things like "The harder you have to fight for something, the more priceless it will be when you achieve it." Or, "The more pain you endure on your journey, the sweeter the arrival at your destination."
There seems to be an implication that the parents whose babies did not go home did not fight hard enough, or that they did not endure enough pain. That notion is nonsense, of course: all parents fight hard for their babies, as do the babies themselves for their own survival. And the pain of going home empty-handed? Indescribable.
I am sure such stories do not intend to offend bereaved parents. These stories give hope, and celebrate the happy outcomes that all NICU parents dream of. Raising awareness of the battles premature babies and their parents face is a good thing.
But we need to reflect that not all stories end happily ever after. Bereaved parents suffer enough without also feeling that their baby was not amazing because they did not go home.
So, here are my five reasons why ALL premature babies are completely inspiring - with focus towards those who do not make it home:
1. They can show a sense of character that can show adults what determination means
Many of these preemies are tiny - Hugo weighed only 420 grams at birth. These babies are strong, they cling on, they fight. They find ways of telling you what they want and what they do not want. They are determined.
Yes, it is a Mummy's pride, but I was in constant awe of Hugo's ('the Boss', as he was nicknamed by his nurses) physical strength, such as shaking off his arm splints, and by his determination to be in the position where he was most comfy - his tummy.
2. They recognise their parents' voices
Research has shown that preemies do better when their parents read and sing to them. Babies recognise their parents' voices, which helps calm them and aids their brain development.
We sang and read to Hugo daily; how he responded to our voices was amazing. Our voices - mine in particular, being his Mummy, helped calm him when he was distressed. I particularly enjoyed watching him boogy to my singing - it offered beautiful moments for us to bond.
3. They show us the value of the simplest things
Hugo showed us that the simplest things were the best: him gripping our fingers, feeling his skin against our skin during a kangaroo cuddle; changing his nappy, giving him his milk, helping wash him, seeing him open his eyes to peek out at the world.
Even just watching Hugo in his incubator was a great pleasure, marvelling at the miracle of the perfect little being I had helped make. Even at that early gestation Hugo was a flawless, immaculate baby - complete with a full head of dark hair.
4. They know when enough is enough
Towards the end, and knowing difficult decisions would soon have to be made, one of Hugo's nurses told us that our son would tell us when he had had enough.
Sure enough, he did. His morphine dosage had increased, and his oxygen was maxed out. Hugo was clearly in discomfort, and for the first time he was pulling at his ventilator tube.
The end was heartbreaking - I did not want to admit to myself that Hugo's fight was over, but I had to do my best to be a good parent and attend to my son's needs.
Like many preemies, Hugo hated being handled. Hugo showing us that enough was enough meant he could spend his last moments with the people who loved him most - his Mummy and Daddy. Hugo breathed his last snuggled between my breasts listening not only to me telling him how much I love him, but to my heartbeat too. The first sound he would have heard in my womb was also the last.
5. They continue to inspire others after they have gone
So many premature babies like Hugo continue to inspire long after their journey has ended. Not only do they show their parents what true love really means, they inspire friends, family and strangers with their strength.
We want to make sure that our babies have an impact on the world. That their lives mattered.
The many parents who fundraise in their babies' names, and set up organisations in their memory ensure that their legacy lives on.
This is an edited version of a post that originally featured on the author's blog, Headspace Perspective.