If you have just had a preterm baby, welcome. Welcome to the exclusive club you never wanted to join. I welcome you because you are my sister now. Initiation is a bitch, but I promise you at the end of this you will find strength in yourself you never knew you had. I am not going to tell you everything will be alright – that would only be dismissive of the totally legit worry you have. This is hard, hard stuff. But I can tell you that you can do this. You are strong.
A few things I wish someone would have told me when I became the mother of a premature baby:
Take all the help you can get. When people ask if they can help – refer them to the list below.
Be aware you might not make as much breast milk as a full term mommy for a variety of reasons (your body didn’t have as much time to start making milk, you may have had a traumatic birth, your placenta may not have come all the way out on its own, you were probably separated from your babe shortly after delivery, etc). Lots of people in those first days will tell you it’s your job to make milk for the baby and then your body may not cooperate. It is one of life’s cruel jokes and it’s not your fault!
Did you hear me when I said “it’s not your fault”. I want to repeat this again – none of this is your fault. There are drug addicts that have perfectly healthy full term babies so it is not your fault, or your body’s fault. There are a million reasons you can go into premature labor and bad luck is one of them. Treat yourself nicely and get help if like me you felt insanely guilty over something that you logically know wasn’t your fault.
On the other end of the spectrum you may not be feeling guilty. You may be PISSED! Pissed at your doctor, pissed at the hospital, pissed at your higher power, pissed at the freaking world. Why did this happen to your baby!?!?!? Feel free to get angry – just try and channel it in the right way. Like try not to focus it ALL on the NICU nurses, they are good peeps and they work hard (that is not to say that you can’t complain to the Charge Nurse if it is warranted).
Don’t feel like every mom but you is with the baby 24/7. They aren’t, or if they are they will pay for it later. Go home and get some sleep. As the NICU Nurses love to say “You have the most expensive babysitters in the world” – use them! You aren’t going to make it through this marathon if you run at full speed the whole time. Pace yourself.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t think your baby is cute. Seriously, it is hard sometimes to see past the tubes and wires to that cute little earthling underneath. They look different than you are expecting, see through skin and fur were off-putting to me at first and then I felt guilty for not thinking he was the cutest thing in the world (yeah I had a lot of guilt)
Take lots of pictures and journal – you are in shock -you may not remember anything later and may want to know what the heck just happened.
On that note – take whatever “memorabilia” you can from the hospital – their first pacifier, first diaper (not the ACTUAL first diaper because that is disgusting, but one of the leftovers when they move up a size), anything that will show their tiny size and will help get through to all the people that might want to visit when they go home just how fragile they are.
Decide whether you want to go public on social media or keep things private. Even if you are keeping it just family and close friends you may want to designate one person to keep everyone updated so you aren’t constantly sending updates. Sites like caringbridge.com can help you disseminate information or email and Facebook work as well.
NICU moms are more prone to Post Partum Depression (see guilt and anger above). If you even think that this might be happening then go talk to someone. Your OB, the NICU Social Worker, a therapist. Just start talking.
Make some premie parent friends. No one can understand the emotional roller coaster like another parent of a premie. Although, one word of caution – steer clear of the parent that tries to play the “my baby is getting better faster than your baby” or “my baby is sicker than your baby” game. All our babies are in the NICU for a reason and we all need support in our lives. I found my tribe through the preemie baby board on inspire.com, handtohold.org and through the NICU social worker who introduced me to other premie parents.
Things to help a premie parent:
1. There are a lot of people who will tell you what to say and not say to a premie parent and lots of people would disagree with those people but here is one that almost never fails: “Congratulations, your baby is beautiful. I am so sorry they are in the NICU. How are you doing?” And then listen.
2. If you want to help, here are some ideas:
- Send a care package with snacks, a water bottle, hand sanitizer, nice lotion, gift card for e-books or paper books
- Send money for gas, restaurants or lodging if the person lives far away from the NICU so they can see their baby
- Offer to babysit their other children, watch their dog, water plants, clean their house etc
- Tell them that they and their baby are in your thoughts and/or prayers as appropriate. Even though I am not religious, the idea of hundreds of people sending positive energy to our family felt amazing.
- Offer to bring a meal over – bring it in a disposable container and preferably food that can be frozen and easily reheated. Or better yet, offer to organize all the people who want to help by using a site like www.takethemameal.com
- Once baby is home, don’t be pushy about visiting. The smallest cold for an adult can be life threatening to a premie. Trust me, they would love to see you and introduce you to the baby. And they will as soon as they recover from the trauma and feel comfortable. If they are ready for visitors, be prepared to sanitize yourself before going near that baby.
I am 14 months out from this life changing event and I still don’t have my head fully wrappe d around it. I am sure I missed a ton of great resources and advice for a premie parent, so please feel free to share yours in the comments. I am always looking for new ways to support my friends who are parents of premies.