I have thought about writing this particular post often over the last 7 weeks and 6 days. My husband and I went to a baby shower the other weekend (Winter was able to come, too) and while talking with our friends about babies and the birthing process, Kyle turned and said to me, “I feel like we were robbed.” I knew I had to write this post. We were both on the same page.
Don’t get us wrong, we are incredibly lucky and blessed to have two babies who are doing particularly well given their prematurity. But, there are certain things that having premature babies robs us of.
1. The excitement and joy of birth – On the morning of March 13th, we found out we would be having twins that day, at only 33 weeks gestation. They had estimated that Winter would be close to 5lbs (they were wrong, she was only 4lbs 4oz) but Porter would only be 2lbs 12oz. Yes, we had had two rounds of steroid injections to help their lungs along, but the overwhelming feeling for me that day was fear, not joy or excitement.
2. Immediate kangaroo care/skin-to-skin/breastfeeding – Now this is something that a lot of c-section moms can relate to, whether they had premature babies or not. I was numb from my rib cage down. My arms were sprawled out by my sides. The room was cool and full of doctors and nurses to take care of me, as well as two NICU teams for the babies. As Porter was pulled out they yelled, “Baby!” He was whisked into the little room just off of the OR to be evaluated, revived and whatever else was needed. Winter was all stuck up high in my belly. It took pushing and pulling and lots of pressure to get her out. She became bruised in the process. “Baby!” She was taken away as well. Kyle went into the little room with the babies and I lay there by myself wondering if they were okay. I hadn’t expected to see my babies before they were rushed up to the NICU. One of the wonderful nurse practitioners made everyone stop and wait so that I could see them. She held Porter over me and then Winter. Kyle quickly snapped some pictures. I was in such shock that I got to see them that all I could say was, “Does she have hair?” During our ultrasounds it looked like Winter had a full head of hair. She did. Moments later both babies and Kyle were on their way up to the NICU, I was alone. I didn’t get to touch the babies, hold the babies, rest with them on my chest so that I could feel the overwhelming love. There was no giving the babies the opportunity to attempt to latch onto me. We didn’t get to hold Winter for a few days, and Porter even longer. We were never given the opportunity to do kangaroo care with Winter and doing it with Porter was so scary because he would have times where his heart rate would drop real low or his oxygen levels would decrease and we thought we caused it.
3. Touch, smell – Typically parents are able to touch and hold their babies right away, as often as they like. Babies are given their first baths and smell delicious. Our babies had to remain under heat lamps and have phototherapy and once stable enough were put into isolettes. We couldn’t hold them whenever we wanted, in fact, it took days to be able to hold them for the first time. Then we pretty much just touched the babies at their assigned ‘care times’.
4. Hot potato – When someone delivers a term baby, shortly after they invite in friends and family who have been sitting in the waiting room ready to meet and cuddle the new little bundle of joy. They pass around the baby and admire their features and say who the baby resembles. They congratulate the parents. The room is filled with loved ones and you can feel the happiness. For preemies, you have to invite people into the NICU, two at a time. They must take off any jackets or jewelry. They’re required to scrub their arms from their elbows down with soap and water and this little scrubber thing. Then they must sanitize their hands with gel. Then they’re not even allowed to touch the babies. All they could do was hover over and see just how tiny the babies were. They were scared. Our babies had tubes and wires, IVs and monitors, sensors stuck all over their bodies, blue lights and heat lamps.
5. Bringing home baby – Normally after 2-4 days, the parents get to leave the hospital with their baby/babies. They arrive home to balloons or signs letting neighbors know the babies have arrived and what their genders are. For us, I left the hospital empty handed after 4 days. My postpartum body and extreme swelling from the bedrest before delivery were the only signs that I had even had children. I had to have a ride back and forth to the hospital for the first week after discharge just to see my babies. After that I could drive myself. I would spend all day there. It was exhausting. After 4 weeks, we were able to bring Winter home. It was just Kyle and I. Winter was all covered up because preemies have very immature immune systems and we had to walk her through the hospital to get out to the car. She was also all bundled up because preemies have a harder time maintaining their body temperatures. We have yet to bring home Porter.
6. Control – As much as can be expected with newborns, most parents have some control. Do they want to breastfeed, would they like to hold the baby anytime, feed every 3 hours or more or less, swaddle or no. With premature babies, the parents have virtually no control. There is a staff of people who are in control. Doctors and nurses, speech therapists (for eating) and physical therapists, specialists, case managers and more. I couldn’t control when my babies ate, what they ate, what position they slept in, what they wore, their environment and the noise around them. I could control nothing. This has led me to the decision to exclusively pump, at least for now. The one thing I can have control over is the exact measurement of food my babies are supplied with. When breastfeeding, you can’t tell exactly how much the babies are getting. You have to count dirty diapers and watch for signs of dehydration. No, thank you. I will pump and meticulously measure and record our babies eating habits because it’s something I can control.
7. Revolving door – Now I can’t say that all of the things we were robbed of are downers. When babies are born and first get to go home, parents can feel like they have a revolving door. Everyone wants to come and visit and hold the babies. With premature babies, because of their immune systems, visitors should be limited and holding should be discouraged (you know from people other than the babies parents). You have to make sure any visitors you do have haven’t had any symptoms of illness within the last 14 days, school aged children shouldn’t visit, everyone must wash and sanitize their hands. People tend not to show up with premature babies because they’re nervous or scared. This can be a plus if you’re a bit of a hermit like I am. I don’t have to have a clean house. I don’t have to stay awake to entertain guests. I can do my own thing.
I could go on, but I’ll spare you. Having premature babies is so different than the experience of having full term babies. We spend a lot of time walking on eggshells. I realize first time parents of full term children may be nervous as well. The difference is most first time parents are blissfully ignorant, they don’t know any better. With premature babies, we have seen all that can go wrong, been lectured on properly caring for premature babies. It’s beaten into us that it takes a lot to maintain their temperature and that they are more susceptible to illnesses and any number of conditions. For at least a solid week we checked Winter’s temperature 7-8 times a day.
It’s not all bad. Having premature babies had made me into a much stronger person. It’s taught me how to be an advocate for my children very early on. And most of all, we were given 7 extra weeks with our babies that most people don’t get to experience. We get to love them just a little bit longer.