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Book Review: Alex - The Fathering of a Preemie

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Book Review: Alex - The Fathering of a Preemie
Cover image courtesy of Academy Chicago Publishers

The Bottom Line

By Jeff Stimpson; 280 pages. Subtitle: A Father's Poignant Account of Raising His Premature Son

Alex Stimpson's birth, three months premature, starts a 13-month ordeal of poking, prodding, thumping, testing, confinement, and medical torture -- and that's just for his parents, whose first-baby fantasies are trampled under a stampede of doctors, nurses, administrators, and insurance drones who treat them in ways ranging from polite disinterest to contempt. How Alex finally makes it home, and how he and his family are changed by the experience, is the subject of this tough, touching memoir.

About the Guide Rating

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Pros

  • Gives first-hand look at the medical whirlpool preemies and their parents live in
  • Writing is honest, perceptive, and darkly humorous
  • Account of couple sharing the burden of special-needs parenting is refreshing
  • Deals with both medical crises and developmental issues
  • Photos give readers a look at that cute little, little guy

Cons

  • The story ends when Alex is 5, but there will likely be more story to tell
  • Journal-like writing sometimes jumps in time in a distracting way
  • Has a fairly negative take on the medical establishment and medications, though not without reason
  • If you've spent long hours and days in hospital waiting rooms, it may give you flashbacks

Description

  • Chapter 1: June to October, 1998
    Chapter 2: November and December, 1998
  • Chapter 3: December, 1998, and January, 1999
    Chapter 4: February to May, 1999
  • Chapter 5: May and June, 1999
    Chapter 6: July to November, 1999
  • Chapter 7: November, 1999, through March, 2000
    Chapter 8: March to May, 2000
  • Chapter 9: May to July, 2000
    Chapter 10: July to November, 2000
  • Chapter 11: December, 2000, to June, 2001
    Chapter 12: June to September, 2001
  • Chapter 13: September, 2001
    Chapter 14: September, 2001, to June, 2002
  • Chapter 15: July, 2002, to July, 2003
    Chapter 16: July to September, 2003
  • Epilogue: May, 2004
    Recommended Resources
  • Photos

Guide Review - Book Review: Alex - The Fathering of a Preemie

A common feature of special-needs memoirs is the mother who steps forward and deals with the grueling day-to-day reality of a child's situation, and the father who retreats into work out of financial or emotional necessity. Sometimes the marriage bends, sometimes it breaks, and sometimes everybody just carries on in their individual roles, hoping for better days. Even good memoirs written by involved and enthusiastic dads, like Not Even Wrong or Little People, have mom holding down the home front while the man of the house heads off to do research, interview experts, interface with organizations, and write books. So give Jeff Stimpson this: He seems to have been in the thick of caring for Alex, wrangling medical equipment and medical forms, arguing with doctors, getting pushed out of hospital rooms by roving bands of masked healers, changing diapers and cleaning spit-up. And he's got the junk-food weight and grumpy disposition to prove it.

It's a nicely captured irony that Alex owes his life to the miraculous medical procedures that have been developed to maintain the life of the small and struggling, but that same medical care becomes to some degree the enemy -- scarring his lungs and damaging his brain, disenfranchising his parents from his daily care and decision-making, causing enormous stress for all family members. It takes 13 months for Alex to finally make it home from the hospital for good, and by then his mom and dad have made that transition into special-needs parents, where things that once seemed terrifying become routine, and what once would have been a tragedy is considered a triumph. If you've ever rejoiced because your child is following the growth curve, even if he's well off the bottom of the chart, or been glad to get a diagnosis just to have something to hang your plans on, you can relate.

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