When a woman is pregnant, she spends many hours thinking about what her baby will look like. Is he going to look more like mommy or more like daddy? Will she inherit mommy’s big nose or dad’s cute lips?
Every mother plans for the arrival of the new bundle of joy. You write a 3-page perfect birth plan! You have your doula, lactation consultant, and newborn photographer on speed dial. Ready for the big day! Little do you know that all those thoughts and plans can vanish in an instant.
When the unexpected happens, all you care about is getting the baby delivered safely. There might not be time for dad to get to the hospital much less anything else.
It can be very scary to not have any control over your delivery. Worrying if the baby is going to make it can send you on an emotional roller coaster ride that no one signed up for.
Small things are no longer important when you are standing by the isolette in the NICU watching your preemie struggle. Your baby is fighting to do basic things like controlling their body temperature, tolerating feeds, or learning to eat and breath at the same time. This is the time when small things fall away. And mom and dad sometimes just live heartbeat to heartbeat with their new baby.
That emotional reaction does not always just vanish the moment the baby is healthy enough to leave the NICU. Parents realize they are the ones who will now be listening for the baby monitor to beep. Or counting the number of ounces the baby drinks. All those things that the NICU nurse did for them! It is an exciting time to finally have your baby home, but it is also terrifying at times.
Having a preemie at home can be very isolating. Especially if he or she is born during flu and RSV season. There is constant worry about catching a cold or virus that could send baby right back to the hospital. Neonatologists often ask parents to avoid crowded places like the grocery store. And to be very strict in making sure that visitors are healthy and not bringing germs into their home.
As your baby grows and thrives, these times get easier. But a NICU mom or dad will always remember the early days. Some things can trigger a mom to emotionally relive that traumatic day. The birth date or a transition in the child’s life. Going off to kindergarten and the idea of the germs they will be exposed to can send you running for the Clorox wipes.
You may also mourn the fact that the earliest pictures of your baby are when they were hooked to all kinds of machines and tubes. Not the well planned cute newborn photo shoot you were hoping for.
My advice to parents of preemies is to feel all the feelings surrounding your child’s birth. All the sadness, depression, anger, fear, and guilt. And as you process those feelings, you will begin to heal. You will see your former preemie as the miracle they really are. From there, you get to a place of understanding and acceptance of the hard road your child has had to journey down from the very beginning.
My 9-year-old former preemie reminds me to do that daily. She really is on to something. This page on Leaving the Hospital Before Your Baby provides valuable information.