Having a prem is not something most mothers expect when they are expecting. In most cases, there is not merely a premature baby struggling to survive, but also “premature” parents who feel unprepared for the sudden and overwhelming challenges of having a baby – and a highly fragile one needing specialised care.
I have spoken to several mothers who had prems. Following is a summary of their stories of bravery amid the ordeal.
1. On the big challenges that come with such tiny humans
Emotionally, the mothers agreed that having a premature baby is an experience that knocks you off your feet – the stress of fighting for your child’s life and seeing their defenceless, underdeveloped bodies; the shock of an unplanned (mostly surgical) birth; the heart-breaking separation from your baby as they receive medical care – even leaving the hospital without them; the many disappointments as the ideals you had do not realise … And all this on top of the standard postpartum “baby blues”.
Physically, a new mother’s body is sore and tired, but there is no chance for a mother with a prem to recuperate as she is far from the most significant patient on the scene. The continued sleep deprivation they experienced (which is often worse in the case of a prem), exhausted them even further. An additional challenge is expressing milk every couple of hours – even through the night – for the ones who chose to breastfeed.
On the practical side, the moms felt incompetent and scared to care for such a minute, frail little body who had difficulty breathing and feeding. Where there were older siblings who also needed attention, the challenges were even harder – especially feigning positivity while spending time with them. One mom stayed far away from a hospital, which was a massive logistical challenge for the family, and it also resulted in a great deal of extra expenses.
2. On what kept them going
Most of the mothers honoured the amazing nurses who work in NICU wards. Hats off to these angels! Furthermore, support from family and friends was vital. One mentioned that she had mentors who helped her keep perspective.
“Celebrate all the small victories: every gram gained, every tube disconnected.”
Faith in God, prayer and worship were also essential. Being able to witness small miracles in their babies’ development every day was helpful in staying positive. One mom said the information she gathered (from doctors and books) assisted her to cope. And of course, a mother’s love for her child would get her through any difficulty.
3. On the little things they’ll always treasure
Although bittersweet, holding their premature babies in the kangaroo care position for the first time was an extraordinary experience, said many mothers. One of them remembered her baby’s soft moaning the first time she had touched him (when she had still not been able to hold him) as if he had recognised her voice.
The quiet times in the hospital with just mom and baby stood out as valuable bonding and slowing-down moments. Watching their little ones grow stronger and reaching each milestone (however “late”) was very special.
Some parents even felt they had “secret access to the womb” by seeing certain developments, unlike with full-term babies – like witnessing eyebrows appear. The bonds the mothers formed in the NICU with others going through the same trial were beautiful gems amid the sadness and stress.
4. On the advice they have for other prem parents
You absolutely have to accept help – now is the time to be humble. Ask all the questions you need to ask; cry all you need to cry: this was not the plan. Choose to take away something from the experience that can change you for the better. Celebrate all the small victories: every gram gained, every tube disconnected. Savour the special moments and take many photos that can later serve as a testimony for the miracle of your child’s life. And pray without ceasing!
To all the parents out there who went through or are currently facing the turbulent and tiring storm of caring for someone who should have still been a foetus protected by a womb – you are true champions!
Finding your feet at home with a prem and possibly other children to care for can be very tough. Baby Yum Yum expert Celeste Rushby, who also happens to be a qualified occupational therapist, can rightly testify to this as she had three prems of her own in less than three years!
Says Celeste: “I understand. I’ve been there! I am using my experience, my specialised training, and my heart for parents of young babies – especially preemies – to support, guide and educate; and above all, to empower. There is light at the end of the tunnel. A bright and incredibly beautiful light. And I just love helping parents to find it.”
The original version of this article can be found on the website of our partner, Munchkins.