Today, November 17th is world prematurity day. Everyone knows someone who was either born premature or knows someone who has given birth to a premature baby (whether you are aware of it or not). What you may not know or understand is the struggle, concern, and fear that there is when a baby is born early. I didn’t understand this until I gave birth to two beautiful premature twin baby boys. Today I write this blog in honour of all those who were born premature- and fought for their lives, and for those who gave birth to babies born too early who have watched their children struggle to simply take a breath.
There is certainly a fear that comes with knowing that you are going into labour early. It doesn’t matter how far along you are; 24 weeks, 34 weeks, 38 weeks- if it’s not 40 weeks (full term) there are always concerns. Will my baby be okay? Are they developed enough to survive? What kinds of complications are we going to run into? When will I get to take my baby home?
My babies were born at 34 weeks, and for twins I was considered fortunate to have made it that far. My babies didn’t have the same struggle that other babies have. They were able to breath on their own, they gained a little bit of weight everyday, they were able to tolerate their feeds for the most part, but there were still struggles, and there were a lot of days where I left the hospital feeling defeated and in tears. Both of our boys were hooked up to monitors so their heart rates and breathing could be monitored at all times. They both had numerous “apnea events” where, in simple terms, their breathing would slow down causing their heart rate to drop really low, this results in an alarm from the monitors going off. Most of the time both of my boys were able to get their breaths back on their own and their heart rate would climb back up. Occasionally, they would need assistance coming out of these events by being stimulated.. When those alarms go off, whatever the cause may be you find yourself holding your breath. The only way for babies to over come these events is time. They need time to continue to develop, to grow stronger, and for their little brains to figure out how to control these things. As a parent you feel hopeless when this happens. Due to these events and our babies not being very strong we were advised to not interact with them a lot. It was advised that we limit our holding of our babies to about an hour a day, the rest of our days were basically spent watching them sleep and changing their diapers before they were fed (by tube- so we didn’t even get to feed our babies for weeks). To have to ask permission, or if it’s okay to hold your own baby is a sin, but we knew in the long run following these guidelines would benefit our babies health, help them grow stronger faster, and get us home sooner. Harrison spent a total of 5 weeks 2 days in the NICU and Hunter spent 6 weeks 1 day.
From our time spent in the NICU I learned a lot. I never realized how many babies actually visit the NICU after they are born, whether it’s for a few hours, day, weeks, or months the amount of patients in and out of the NICU was mind blowing to me. We saw so many people come and go during our time there. Another thing I learned was how many people we know who opened up to us about how they were a NICU baby, and look at them now, or how many people said they had friends or they themselves had babies that spent time in the NICU. I realized it’s not really something that is brought up or included as part of a birth story, but affects so many people. I learned about the emotional rollercoaster of what it is to be a parent of a premature baby and a NICU baby. I have friends who have had babies early, and babies stay in the NICU and you think “oh that’s too bad” or “medicine has come such a long way they will be fine”. Those feelings, although true, barely scratch the surface for a family who is going through something like this. Having to basically live in the hospital to not be able to fully care for your newborn baby because they are too fragile, while you have other children at home that you are not able to care for because you are spending all your time with this new life trying to love them the best that you can in the situation you have been dealt, it’s more than anyone should ever have to go through.
My heart truly goes out to those whose babies are in the NICU fighting for their lives- I only had a small dose of that reality, but I understand the stress, confusion, and fear that goes a long with it. I hope that by writing this it opens up your eyes to the real struggles families of premature babies face. After going through this ourselves I wish I had of known more about what my friends were going through during their times in the NICU.
NICU parents are strong, but premature babies are even stronger.