Today is World Prematurity Awareness Day. So many lucky people in this world may not even know that this day exists, but for 1 in 10 parents that have babies born too soon, this day helps them to bring attention to an issue that we as a community need to address.
When a baby is born prematurely, it means so much more than simply being born small. It means their lungs being under developed and unable to process oxygen. It means their bowels not being ready for their mothers milk. It means long NICU stays, and time away from the families that want to bring them home. It means that their parents miss out on so many “firsts” with their new baby. The first diaper change, the first bottle, the first bath… all of these can happen in the hospital by an attentive nurse while the parents are home taking care of their other children.
Being born prematurely can cause lasting effects for babies. These children could suffer from developmental delays, physical complications, or be born with a condition that they will live with forever.
Some are extremely lucky and will have short NICU stays and no lasting effects from being born prematurely, but there can never be any guarantees.
The US preterm birth rate has increased for the fourth year in a row, which is a very scary statistic considering how advanced modern medicine is these days. One would think that with so much technology in the world, we would be able to decrease premature births.
Five years ago, I delivered my twin boys prematurely at 29 weeks. To say I was terrified is an understatement. When I first saw Jack in the incubator with a tube in his mouth, it broke my heart. He was so tiny, and I couldn’t imagine how a baby so small could survive. By the time I was able to go see him in the NICU, the fear was even worse.
There were so many wires and monitors, constantly beeping. Although the nurse was talking and trying to explain everything to me, I found it so difficult to focus and understand anything she was saying due to all of the noise. I was so overwhelmed by seeing my baby in this situation. My instinct was to just pick him up and hold him, but at that point I wasn’t even able to touch him yet because his skin was so sensitive. I was restricted to simply looking at him through the plastic walls of the incubator.
For 53 days I sat at his bedside. Eventually I was able to hold him, feed him, and change him. I would be able to read him stories and sing to him, and change his clothes once he was able to wear some of the outfits we had bought for him. At one point, he graduated out of the incubator into a big boy crib! And then the big day came when we started to ween him off of the oxygen. That’s when his countdown to coming home started. As soon as he could successfully breathe on his own, we could finally bring our baby home.
But once that day finally came, so did my anxiety.
What if something happened to him? What if he stopped breathing? What if I couldn’t take care of him as well as the nurses? They knew him better than I did at that point.
I barely slept, I rarely ate, and I don’t remember much from that time other than holding my son while he slept and ate. The first two months of having him home are a complete blur of panic and sleepless nights to me.
Having a baby prematurely can be a nightmare. Having a baby in the NICU can be a nightmare. Even bringing a preemie home from the hospital can be down right terrifying.
I’m not even sure when it stops being scary. My son just turned 5, and there are even still times when he gets sick that I have flash backs to my days of terror over him not breathing properly at night.
Being a preemie parent is hard work. Our babies are super hero’s and warriors, but we’re not too far behind in my book.
To my fellow preemie parents, I salute you. Today, for World Prematurity Awareness Day, and everyday.