World Prematurity Day:: A Love Letter to Preemie Moms

Dear Preemie MomsNovember 17th is World Prematurity Day, which is a day dedicated to bringing awareness to the causes and effects of babies born too soon. According to the World Health Organization, more than 15 million babies are born prematurely each year world wide and approximately 1 million die from complications of prematurity. Here in the United States, about 380,000 babies are born annually before 37 weeks, which translates to about 1 in 10 births. I think it’s safe to say that from the moment most women discover we are expecting, delivering a healthy, full term baby becomes our main priority. Preemie moms will tell you that this is a club that no mom ever wants to belong. 

My Story

On July 13, 2006 my husband and I welcomed our own little miracle, Olivia, born at 25 weeks and weighing in at just under two pounds. What followed was 94 days of  sitting next to her bedside in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit {NICU} while doctors and nurses cared for her. Now, we often joke with her that she has already stayed in one of the world’s most luxurious and expensive hotels. During that time, I got a crash course in caring for a preemie, making note of possible complications and developmental milestones to watch out for, while endlessly pumping breast milk since she was too weak to be able to nurse. 

I met other preemie moms and dads who regularly sat watch over their own preemie babies and we bonded over our shared hopes and fears. We comforted and encouraged each other and through it all, we arrived on the other side a little wiser and a lot more hopeful. In the 14 and a half years that have passed, I have often wondered about those families I crossed paths with during their NICU stay.

As for Olivia, we knew the odds were not in her favor and we were prepared to meet the unique challenges that may present themselves, both developmentally and physically, from being born at 6 months gestation. As expected, there were some setbacks, but she outgrew them all and has no lasting effects resulting from her prematurity. Trust me, I know what a blessing this is for her and my family. On the other hand, I have some lasting effects or at least things that I’d like to share with other mommas who may find themselves with their own tiny treasure. 

Dear Preemie Moms,

I know that you are scared and confused right now, but I’m one of you and there are a few things I want you to know.

  1. You are not alone.  There are thousands of families in the same situation, and resources to help you sort through this difficult time.  So many new and unfamiliar medical terms, financial considerations, and treatment options are in front of you and the emotional stress is overwhelming.  There are resources at your fingertips to help make this somewhat easier on you and your family. The March of Dimes provides educational information to keep preemie moms and their families informed and most hospitals have social workers on staff to help you determine what assistance would be beneficial to you and your family.
  2. Pace yourself.  NICU days can be long and it you have other children, they still need you. Siblings are just as concerned and confused as you are, so communicate and share information with them freely. Make sure you schedule some quality time with your other children and your spouse. Once your NICU baby comes home, normal life patterns will change and adjustments will need to be made. Use this time wisely to prepare your family and focus on them for a few minutes each day. This is a lesson I learned the hard way.
  3. NICU doctors and nurses are heroes!  The level of professionalism and care that your child will receive is unmatched. They are uniquely qualified to care for the most vulnerable little lives and you can trust that they will do just that. Preemie moms, be open to communication, ask questions and let them do their jobs. Which brings me to my last point…
  4. Make time for self care {another thing I learned the hard way}. Let others spoil you. Accept meals from neighbors, let friends take your kids for playdates, find a good book to listen to or a trashy reality television show to distract you for a while. Really, this season as a preemie mom will pass, and you will need all of your emotional and physical energy restored just to keep up. 

World Prematurity Day:: A Love Letter to Preemie Moms

Good luck to you, preemie moms.  Soon your little one will be home with you and the rest of your family and life will slowly begin to return to normal, or at least your new normal.  Be encouraged knowing that your child is in good hands and help is all around you. 

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