We just celebrated my son’s first birthday. It was a lot of fun and Charlie had a great time. It was also a time for my husband Jim and I to celebrate the fact that we survived one year of parenting. It was quite a year. I know that the first year of parenthood is challenging and rewarding for every parent, and it brings its own unique challenges with each child. We are no exception. Our son was premature. Very premature. He was born at 25 weeks and 1 day. I had no conditions that were factors for preterm labour; it just happened. He was about 1.5 pounds when he was born and spent 4 months in the hospital. It was a very stressful, and at times, a scary time in our lives. Charlie had some complications, and at one point, got very sick. Luckily, he is doing remarkably well now and the time he spent in the hospital is becoming a distant memory. There are no hard and fast rules when you have a preemie. Each person has their own way of dealing with the situation, and each preemie has their own path to follow, but here are a few things I learned in case you, or someone you know, has a preemie.
1. Weeks matter – I found it really frustrating when people compared their experience of having a baby 4 or 6 weeks premature with what we were going through. I understood where it was coming from, but it isn’t the same. A baby born as early as Charlie has underdeveloped lungs, and there is a whole lot of growth and development that needs to happen. Charlie was so early that his eyes were still fused shut when he was born. I wasn’t able to hold my baby until he was six days old, and even then he was connected to monitors and had a mask on his face to help him breath.
|The first time Jim and Kelly could hold Charlie after his birth|
2. Information can be powerful ... or paralyzing – This is totally personal. I met some moms in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) that wanted to know everything that could be an issue with their baby. That empowered and comforted them. That was not the case for me. If you google potential complications with a baby born at 25 weeks, the results are terrifying. Jim and I took the position that we would deal with whatever was presented to us, but we would not borrow trouble. Therefore, I did not look up everything that could go wrong. When we had issues – and we did – then that was when we got the information we needed, and we got that information from the medical professionals at the hospital, not Dr. Google.
3. There is comfort in numbers – We were very lucky that the hospital we were at had a program that got parents actively involved in the care of their child. Part of that program included classes that were held at lunch. Not only was that a great opportunity to get information and ask questions, it also provided the parents (usually moms) of children in the NICU to get to know each other. This was a huge source of comfort. Although every preemie’s journey is unique, there are some things that only a parent of a child in the NICU can understand. They know what it is like to have the alarms on monitors go off when your child has a “spell” (their heart or respiratory rate dips or the oxygen level in their blood goes too low). They can appreciate what you are feeling when all of a sudden a team of medical professionals rush to your child and need to change/adjust the type of respiratory support being used because your baby is struggling. The experience you have in a level 3 NICU is really only one that another NICU parent can appreciate. I became good friends with some of the moms I met in the NICU, and we are still in touch.
4. You don’t know what you will struggle with – Sometimes the things that you struggle with are not the things you expect. For example, I really felt cheated of my pregnancy. I was so looking forward to getting bigger and feeling the baby kick. I planned on doing a pregnancy photo session. I dreamed about what it would be like to hold my baby after it was born, and I pictured us learning to breastfeed. I didn’t get any of that. I was barely showing when Charlie was born, and after he was born he was taken away immediately to be assessed. When I did see him for the first time a couple hours after his birth, he had a breathing tube and was on a plastic sheet to help keep him warm. Charlie was also too premature to breast or bottle feed and was fed through a tube in his nose or mouth. He had to be tube fed for the time that he was on respiratory support, which was about three months. The entire time that he was in the hospital I pumped religiously every three hours. Unfortunately, my milk supply never really came in, despite all of the things I tried. It was heartbreaking for me. There was so much that I wasn’t able to do for my son – little things like giving him a bath. While I knew that my daily presence at the hospital benefited Charlie, there were times that I felt like the only thing I could really do for my son was feed him, and I could not do that. (As a side note – Charlie was lucky enough to be able to access breast milk from the Ontario milk bank. There are a number of criteria that need to be met before donations will be accepted, but if you are breastfeeding and have an abundant supply, please consider donating. www.milkbankontario.ca)
5. Support is key – I was so lucky to have amazing support from friends and family. My husband and I supported each other throughout the whole experience, but we both needed the support we got from others. One friend regularly visited me in the hospital. These visits allowed me to get out of the hospital for a break. I was able to talk about how Charlie was doing, how the pumping was going, etc. But I was also to talk about something completely unrelated if that is what I needed.
Having a child born at 25 weeks was not something that even crossed my mind when I learned that I was pregnant, but it was the journey we had to take. Now, when I look back on the experience, I am amazed at my little fighter. I just know that as we watch Charlie grow over the years we will see again and again the fighting spirit and the courage to face obstacles head on that we saw in the NICU in the summer of 2014.
|Kelly and Charlie on his first birthday|