Dear Prematurity

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Today is World Prematurity Day. Premature birth is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five worldwide. Babies born too early may have more health issues than babies born on time and may face long-term health problems that affect the brain, the lungs, hearing, or vision.  

Each year, one in 10 babies are born prematurely in the United States. In 2017, the preterm birth rate in the United States increased to 9.93%. Check out the latest March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card to see how Michigan compares to other states.

Unfortunately, I’m all too familiar with premature birth. All three of my boys were born too early. I, like many other women, had no known risk factors for premature birth. When my water broke early for my first pregnancy, I was completely stunned. As I sit back and reflect on what I went through, I decided to write a letter expressing my feelings about our prematurity journey.

Dear Prematurity,

You are cruel. You tried to steal the lives of my babies. I wasn’t ready to stop feeling those adorable kicks my babies gave me all day long to reassure me that they were OK. You took a combined 12 weeks of pregnancy from me that I will never get back. I will always remember the look of sheer panic on my husband’s face when the nurse told me that my water broke and that you were coming. I wanted to scream and run away from you. We were not prepared to deal with your fury.

You robbed me of the joy of delivery. Most of my friends have beautiful memories of their children entering this world. Instead, you have left me with memories of a delivery room filled with Obstetric and Neonatal doctors, nurses, and medical students anxiously awaiting my precious babies, so they could whisk them away to incubators. Because of you, I could not hold my three and four-pound twins until they were 12 hours old.

You forced my babies to spend the first weeks of their lives in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), not at home in their newly-decorated nursery with their mom and dad. Instead of sleeping in their cribs, they were restricted to sleeping in sterile incubators. Thanks to you, the sweet NICU nurses spent more time bonding with my babies than I did. I began wondering if they knew that I was their mama.

My babies were not ready for you. They needed a multitude of cords, monitors, and feeding tubes taped all over them just to keep them alive. You made us count their feedings in milliliters instead of ounces because their tiny underdeveloped tummies couldn’t handle too much milk. Because of you, I worried that my babies were not getting enough calories in their miniature bodies, so I pumped instead of nursed.

You instilled fear in me. I suffered immense stress from all of the alarms, beeps, and unknowns that come along with being in the NICU. I cried every single time I had to leave my tiny babies alone in the hospital overnight. You made me become jealous of pregnant women that could carry their babies to term. Every time I smell Purell hand sanitizer, I have flashbacks to the trauma of the NICU.

Because of you, I have still not forgiven myself for causing my children so much unnecessary pain. I have spent the last six years trying to combat your far-reaching effects. You likely contributed to my sons’ speech delays. My boys will likely be the smaller kids in their class for a while because of you.

But you know what? We did not let you defeat us. Preemie parents are resilient. We are a stronger family because of you. We know that we are one of the lucky ones. I hope that one day no other family will have to experience your wrath. Until then, I will continue to support other families that have experienced premature birth and donate to organizations to stop you in your tracks.

Sincerely,
Preemie Mama {x3}

PC: Kristin Greenwald Photography

If you know anyone that is experiencing premature birth, I have listed a few ideas about how to support them during this difficult time:

How to support preemie parents:

  1. Let them know you are thinking of them with no pressure to respond. Remind them that they are doing a good job and that it is not their fault for experiencing a premature birth.
  2. Stay positive and calm. Preemie parents are likely wrecked with anxiety, wondering about long-term health issues and when they can bring their babies home. Let them know that you are there to support them however and whenever they need it.
  3. Respect their wishes in regards to visitors. We had our twins during a bad cold and flu season, so we were very selective about who could visit us for a while. Please don’t be insulted if they aren’t ready for visitors right away, or if they ask you to wash your hands a million times. Preemies are susceptible to getting sick more easily than full-term babies because of their weakened immune system.
  4. Bring them their favorite foods or send them gift cards to restaurants near the hospital. Hospital food gets old really quick.
  5. Take care of chores at home. Mow their lawn, shovel snow, do laundry, go grocery shopping, or clean their house. Preemie parents want to spend all the time they can at the hospital, so they often neglect housework.

Have you experienced a premature birth?
What was your experience like?

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