Eliza Grace was born on March 15, 2006, at 26 weeks, 4 days, weighing 1 pound 4 ounces and measuring just 11.5 inches long. She is the light of my soul and this is the story of our life in the big city.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Can They Remember?

Eliza knows that she was born early because I got sick and she needed to stay in the hospital to grow bigger. Although I've been talked with Eliza about being born early, I've not gone into any further detail than that.  Eliza will tell people that first she was a "tiny baby" and had to stay in the hospital to grow and that she was a "baby" when she came home.  Occasionally she'll ask something like was it winter when she was a "tiny baby and summer when she was a 'baby" but has never asked for much more than that.  She has visited the NICU many times and has seen an isolette and knows that is where she stayed when she was a "tiny baby."

A few weeks back Eliza and I were driving to see a friend and out of the blue she asked me "why did the doctor have to fix me?" So I told her no one ever had to fix her (and it is not something I've ever said). She persisted and very insistently said that she was "broken" when she a "tiny baby" and that she had to be fixed. I told her she had never been "broken" and never needed to be "fixed."  But, persistent child that she is, said she told me she "was broken and had to be fixed with lots and lots of needles and the doctor hurt her." We talked for a bit and I told her that needles were for vaccinations to keep germs away, but she said those were the "big" needles and not the "little" needles she needed to get "fixed." So we talked a bit more and she described the doctor that she had given her the "little" needles.  The really odd, and almost disturbing thing, is that there is only one out of all of her doctors (about 8 of them) that remotely fits the description she gave, and it was a pretty accurate description.  The doctor she described was one of her neonatologists. Eliza has seen this doctor maybe a dozen times post NICU but never in a medical setting nor has he ever treated her outside of the NICU.

My rational brain says there is no way she could remember any of the NICU, but the irrational side is saying "huh?" I wouldn't have thought too much more about this, but then Eliza started waking up periodically in the middle of the night crying saying that the needles hurt her. I've asked her again if she meant the needles that her pediatrician gives her and explained that these are vaccinations to keep us healthy, but she insists those are the "big" needles and that the "little needles" are the ones that hurt and which she needed when she was broken.

So of course this sent me to "the Google" (as my mother calls it) to see what I could find about retained infant memories.  Some interesting things show up.  There are a lot of happy little articles about infants remembering music, voices and flavors they were exposed to while in utero and in infancy. Then there are a handful of articles about men who seemingly remember pain from circumcision. And last but not least are the articles that are a bit more scholarly which talk about implicit and explicit memories and the development of each. Traumatic and painful events in the first two years of life are dismissed on the assumption that children don't remember anything before the age of two.  This is partly true since explicit memory (conscious memory, the ability to verbalize the event) apparently is developed up until about age 3. But the implicit memory is there from birth (or arguably earlier if you want to give credence to the idea that children can remember sounds and flavors they were exposed to in utero). These articles suggest that the more traumatic the event in the early years of life, the more likely the memory of that event will, for lack of a better description, cross over into some form of explicit memory. Some articles also discuss the effects of traumatic early implicit memories on brain development. I wasn't able to locate any articles specifically studying infants with long term, invasive NICU stays, but would be interested in reading anything that anyone comes across.

If Eliza does remember something from the NICU, I hope that all of the good memories she has formed since then outweigh those painful memories.


Bridie Sellers said...

Oh goodness. I hope they don't remember! There is so much still unknown about how the brain works though. Gavin doesn't really know much about the NICU either, besides that he was a "tiny baby" also and had to stay there for 3 months.

Megan said...

This is scary! Yikes! These kids are so going to be in therapy as adults! ;)

Jean said...

I believe that memories do remain from the trauma of the NICU. How could they not? My pastor was a preemie and he has discussed with me how he has an emotional memory of his stay in the NICU, he said that he cannot put words to the memory but that it is a strong feeling. Some friends of mine who had twins in the NICU have told me that the kids have recently told them about the "bandaids" on their faces. The creepy thing is that the parents were so traumatized by the twins being in the NICU that they have never shown the kids pictures of them in the NICU and it isn't something that is ever discussed in the house.
I am hoping that O and A will have minimal memories of their time in the NICU.

Amanda Bacon said...

My son will not look or go near any of his NICU baby pictures. He is TERRIFIED of "Baby Lewis"! Anytime he sees one he starts shaking, bawling his eyes out, and keeps saying "No No No Baby Lewis is sad!!!" I will ask him why he is sad, and he tells me "Because it hurts!"
I think they have some emotional memories from the NICU. I hope one day my son will even let me explain to him what the pictures meant and how much I loved him even with all the "hurts".

BusyLizzyMom said...

We have always been open with Elizabeth and her early arrival. Only will she refuse to look at pictures from when she was in the NICU.
I don't think she remembers anything particular about her time in the NICU but to this day she cries when she hears a lullabye (which is better because for years she would vomit immediately if a sad song was on). What I figure has caused this was after I left her bedside to go home every day I would play one of her toys which played a lullabye. For her a sad song meant mommy had left her.
No wonder there is such a high incidence of anxiety disorders with preemies. They went through such pain and often with no one to comfort them.

Barbara @therextras said...

This post is heartwrenching. I think I will not rush to learn the neurology of early memory potential. But I am grateful to read the experiences of several parents.

Michelle said...

Oh, I really hope my boys can't remember their time in the NICU. They weren't there for long, but I'm carrying around enough unhappy memories for all three of us.

Lacey said...

I started following your (and Eliza's) blog a little over two years ago ... my brother and his wife were in the hospital at 26 weeks about to deliver my niece ... I googled 'something' hoping to find a 'success story' (rather than the typical scary Web MD stuff) and found your blog. What you don't know is how much hope you and your daughter gave me in those first few month's of my niece's life ... btw her name is Grace Elizabeth. Now it is 2plus years later ... Grace is amazing ... she has some delays, but I know that she'll catch up on HER timing ... I still follow Eliza's life (and your blog) as I feel she is sort of Grace's guardian angel ... Thank you for writing this blog ... it really is a God-send!!!

Anne, Eliza Grace's mom said...

Thank you Lacey. I'm glad your niece is doing well. There is a series of children's books called Ruby Flew Too and Ruby In Her Own Time. They remind me of all the Eliza's out there who do things on their own schedule.