According to the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention, 1 out of every 8 babies are born premature in the US every year. Babies are considered premature if they are born before 37 weeks. A baby born premature can face a variety of complications such as cerebral palsy, breathing difficulties, and visual difficulties. There can also be complications that aren’t seen until later such as learning difficulties.
A pregnant woman can decrease her chance of having a premature baby if she does not smoke, drink and attends regular checkups by her physician. However, a woman can still have a preemie even if she does everything right. That’s what happened to me, and here’s my story-
Chichi was born a late preemie, at 34 weeks, due to preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM). Oddly enough, I had always known she would come early (mother’s intuition!!). But I never thought it would be this early.
I was lucky that Chichi didn’t need steroid shots, or ventilators or much else really except a feeding tube. The first time I saw her in the NICU, she had a feeding tube in and was hooked to the monitors to monitor heart rate, breathing and oxygen saturation. I didn’t know what these things were at the beginning, of course. I remember panicking when I saw so many wires coming in and out of her because I thought she must be really ill. Later, I learned all babies there were hooked to the monitors and that a feeding tube was pretty standard. This is because most preemies don’t know how to suck properly to eat.
She was only in the hospital for 2 weeks. But, it was the longest, most difficult, 2 weeks of my life. I realize that many preemies end up in the hospital for many more weeks, and I honestly cannot imagine the pain that these parents have to go through.
Every mom expects to go home with their new bundle of joy at the same time she gets discharged. There’s the car seat all set up, the crib with the brand new bed sheets waiting for its new resident, everything all shiny and clean.
Going home empty handed felt…just wrong. It felt like I was leaving a vital piece of me in the hospital.
I would think about her constantly when I am at home, and I would worry….Does she miss me? What if the nurses are too busy to tend to her when she cries? Would she think mommy has abandoned her? Is she hungry?
I remember pumping my milk every 3 hours, with tears streaming down my face. I would cry myself to sleep at night. I did a lot of crying those 2 weeks. I also had the baby blues the first week after birth (perfectly normal!). Hubby was distraught every time he saw me cry, and nothing he did could make me feel better. Hubby is a very logical man, and he repeatedly told me the hospital was the best place for baby…that the nurses were looking after her. I remember telling him, that when I gave birth, I must have left my heart in Chichi. People can’t live without their heart. That’s precisely how it felt to have a baby in the hospital. I had a giant gaping hole not only in my uterus, but where my heart should be too. This was all mixed with feelings of guilt. I felt I must have somehow contributed or even caused her to be born premature. Was it something I ate? Something I did? What if I had done something differently? Did I have an underlying infection I didn’t know about?
I was unfortunately told that they don’t really know what caused my membranes to rupture early. This made me really afraid. Could it happen again? What if it happens again, and the baby is born even more premature? Already, I was fearing for the life of my next baby.
The only time I felt any comfort was when I was at Chichi’s bedside. I was there 6-8 hours every day. If it weren’t for the fact the hubby has to work, and we only have 1 car, I would have been there 24 hours a day.
I was also afraid of going out. I didn’t want anyone to see me without my bump, but no baby, and ask me where my baby was. I knew I would instantly break down in tears.
Those were long, hard days. Now, when I look back and think of those times, I still feel pain but much less. Now, I see that there were unexpected upsides to having her in the hospital those early days. Not only did she have the best possible medical care, I also had time to recover, sleep and do last minute baby shopping. The nurses in the hospital were really helpful as well, and I learned most of baby care from them. Even simple things like changing diapers, bathing baby…the nurses were full of helpful tips.
My advice to those who have babies in the NICU….it’s okay to cry. It’s extra important to have a support network around you during this time. Tell them how you feel, and have them help you around the house. The days will be long and hard, but eventually, one day, your baby will come home with you. Try not to rush the doctors into releasing your baby. When your baby is in the hospital, they have their vitals monitored constantly. You can’t do that at home, it’s impossible for you to look at your baby every second of the day to make sure they are still breathing.
Just remember to give them extra loving when they come home.