This is a letter to mothers who deliver a premature baby. My son, Aiden, was born at 25 weeks gestation and spent 3 1/2 months in the NICU. I remember searching for positive and negative stories from other families in order to feel a connection, a relation, to what I was experiencing. I hope this letter helps you. I understand. I am part of this community and I can tell you it’s going to be okay.
If you deliver a premature baby…
You will be in shock. A premature baby isn’t what you and your husband planned. There isn’t a course for this, you have to deliver your child on instinct and fear. You will say to the doctor, “it’s too soon, he’s too young.” But he comes anyway.
You will see him in an incubator, and be told not to stroke him, your natural inclination. Wires will be attached to his chest, lines from his umbilical cord, a ventilator in his chest. You will talk about lungs, heart, gut, brain, eyes and ears. Do they work? We don’t know yet. Will there be issues? We don’t know. Time will tell.
You will mourn your pregnancy. When you see the term babies leaving the hospital day after day, you will watch them with jealousy, then force your mind to move on.
You will dislike the doctors with crude and nonexistent bedside manner. You will need to learn a new language – medical terminology – and be asked to help make decisions that affect your new baby. This will frustrate you. How can I know the best answer?
You will have nurses you absolutely love and others you don’t like. Some nurses want to see your child excel and will be open to trying new steps to help your child progress. They want to nurture and help you cope. Other nurses follow the textbook and offer cold hard truths.
You will be asked about milk supply, are you pumping every 3 hours? You will be expected to produce milk to feed your child from a tube. The pumping will hurt and you will hate it, but you’ll do it.
Your baby will be poked and prodded. His discomfort will make you look away in tears. Doctors will advise you not to watch the procedure, it’s harder on parents than the baby. It’s true, but you feel guilty for not taking on the emotional trauma when your baby feels the physical pain.
Your only comfort is cradling his head and feet. A few weeks longer and you will be able to have skin to skin. When that day arrives, cords, oxygen lines and his fragility will require multiple nurses to hand him to you. The first time you hold the warmth of your child on your skin will take your breath away. “Mom is here, mom will protect you.” But then you have to put him back and leave him to doctors and nurses that don’t love him like you.
You will hit more problems. Infection, more tests. Does he have sepsis and meningitis? How are his eyes, his ears, kidneys? Is he ready to come off breathing support or do we give him a few more days?
You will be more scared than you ever thought possible. Your fears will take over your life. You won’t sleep. You will clench your jaw so hard at night it’s sore for months. The fear will make you become numb to everything.
Your husband will become your rock. How could you never see this side of him before? He is strong and comforting, holding you while you break down and cry. Telling you everything will be okay when he has no idea if it will be.
But one day you wake up and realize this is it. This is the only life you have and the only life your son has. As hard and painful as this process can be, you are going to survive it. And just maybe, he will survive it. Your wounded heart slowly opens, allowing love and wonder to enter.
I promise you that when that day comes to go home, after months of emotional pain, you will look forward to begin the life you always imagined. Maybe it’s not exactly what you wanted, but you’re home with him. And he’s your baby, and this is your family.
You capture every expression, every smile, frown and cry. Because you look at your baby, who may not be here today, and realize how empty life would be without him. He fulfills you in ways you didn’t know existed. You will love him with your whole heart. And it will all be worth it.