David Jax McCormick known to us as DJ, age 11, is the older sibling of a 26-week preterm baby brother now 9 years old. He provides a unique perspective on the preemie family experience. Too often siblings of preemies struggle during the NICU stay due to the confusion surrounding the medical emergencies and the upheaval of everyday life. David tells us in his own words what that experience is like. – Deb Discenza, Founder of PreemieWorld, LLC
PREEMIEWORLD: David, you were almost two years old when your brother, Joshua was born. Do you remember anything about that time?
DAVID: I remember little bits and pieces of that time. For example, I remember mom and dad being “different”…like tense and I felt like everybody was hiding something from me. I also remember that my mom was gone all the time and I really missed her and I remember she was crying a lot. But, I also remember that I got to hang out with my grandma a lot and that was fun.
PREEMIEWORLD: What was it like when Joshua finally got to come home?
DAVID: Well, I felt confused because I met him in the hospital but I didn’t know that he was going to come live with me. I also felt jealous because he took a lot of my mom’s time. But after a while, I felt protective of him because he was so little and I became a protective big brother. I also remember mom saying, “be gentle because he is tiny.”
PREEMIEWORLD: As your brother got older, what was that like?
DAVID: Joshua was definitely healthy but he had to go to lots of appointments and I remember people coming to the house to work with Joshua. Sometimes they brought toys and sometimes I got to play and participate. I also remember my mom explaining to me what it meant to be born prematurely and that Joshua may have some issues or complications growing up.
PREEMIEWORLD: Is there anything hard about being a sibling to a preterm baby?
DAVID: I think one of the hardest things is having to deal with his diagnoses that developed over time, like Autism and ADHD. A really hard thing I’ve had to deal with is watching his behavior issues at school because sometimes he would have massive meltdowns in front of other kids and I’ve had to try and help him regroup. Some kids would make fun of him and sometimes they would look for me just to tell me that Joshua got in trouble at school. I’ve had to be a protective big brother so other kids won’t mess with him. Also, it’s not always easy to play with him because he processes things differently and I’ve had to learn how to be patient with him so we could find a way to play together.
PREEMIEWORLD: What are the positives of having a preemie brother?
DAVID: One of the best things about Joshua is that he is my brother and my companion and we always have each other’s backs. Also, he is very protective of me. For example, one day at Daycare when I was very young, a boy hit me with a toy and I started crying. Joshua came running out of the back room and went beast mode on the boy who hit me. Also, one of my favorite things about my brother is his personality; he is very kind, compassionate, loving and when I’m upset, he gives me a hug and says, “it’s okay, I got you, brother.” Most of the time, when he is having a bad day, I know it’s related to his special needs and even though I get frustrated, I try to stay as patient as possible because he is my little brother.
PREEMIEWORLD: What do you want other parents and siblings to know about your experience with having a preemie brother?
DAVID: Having a special needs preemie sibling is hard, but they are our family and they deserve recognition because of how hard they fought to be here with us. It takes a lot of responsibility and patience and bravery to stand up for my sibling when he needs somebody to support him. Never give up on your sibling or the hardships because at the end of the day, they are and will forever be family.
Even at two years old, young DJ knew something was happening in the family and that there was a lot of stress. His experience speaks volumes about the need to help siblings through this experience and beyond with compassion, education and yes, lots of patience. After all, they are young children as well. Thank you, DJ, for giving us this incredible gift of perspective. I hope other families will chime in on their family experiences well in the comments below.