How Being a Preemie Mom Made Me a Better Person
People say that being a new parent is a game changer, and even though I had been hearing this all my life, it surprised me how much being preemie mom changed me.
Most parents walk out of their child’s birth with their newborn in their arms, eager to spend a lifetime raising their little miracle. This is not the case for several preemie families. My son was born at 31 weeks, weighing a mere 2.49 pounds and not breathing. I could barely catch a glimpse of an incubator with a tiny human inside before the doctors rushed him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where he spent the first 43 days of his life. During those 43 days, I learned more than I had learned in all the years prior to his birth combined. It was a truly wonderful, grieving, miraculous experience, and when my son, my husband and I walked out of that NICU ready to head home, I was a completely different person than the one I was when I walked in.
I learned to Appreciate Life
Most parents ponder on the miracle of life once they hold their newborn, and they have a good reason to do so, they just created life! But for a preemie mom, this miracle-pondering experience elevates to a whole new level. I wasn’t just seeing a new life, I was actually seeing a baby being formed inside an incubator.
One of the things that impressed me the most was that my son’s ears were stuck to his head. I literally watched his ears forming and unsticking themselves from his head, and that was one of the most truly beautiful and amazing things I have ever things.
We also had to deal with daily uncertainty. The doctor’s prognosis was reserved, so I went to bed every night thinking what I may find next morning.
I learned to Take it Easy
We millennials are often defined by two words: Instant Gratification. Back in the day, I wanted everything done right, and right now! I wasn’t cut much for patience. If we had a milesotne due next week at work, I would overwork to have it ready today. When my husband and I were looking for places to live, I wanted to move in to the first appartment we saw because it was ready then and there.
It was maybe for this natural impatience that it was particularly hard for me to finish any long-term project. I didn’t understand the value of continued, paced work. If I wanted to run a marathon, I would start running as fast as I could and since I couldn’t keep up the pace, I would just give up.
And then, Oliver came along. When he was born I couldn’t wait for him to be extubated, or get out of NICU, or start nursing, or smiling, talking, walking… and he was a 2 lb baby! I didn’t understand the weigh that I was putting onto his already tired shoulders. But I knew better than to pressure him, I swallowed all that and sat by his incubator and watched him porgress slowly. By the time we were heading home, 43 days later, it was stariting to dawn on me the true meaning of the saying “slow and steady wins the race”
Now I truly savor every fleeting moment that passes with my son and my husband becuase progress, small as it may be, is progress after all!
I learned to Trust in Myself, and in People
When Ollie stayed every night at the hospital (which I had thoroughly researched to be a good hospital), and I left home to spend the night without him, I felt many things. But one of the feelings that taught me the most was the one of taking a leap of faith. I felt like falling into the darkness with unkown hands waiting to catch me.
I’m a strong, independent woman, or at least I like to think that I am, and the thought of having to rely my son’s care to (trained, professional, beautiful) strangers terrified me. It still does. But I learned to cope with that. One of the hardest things to understand about beeing a preemie mom is that I wasn’t capable of keping him alive. So I had to trust in those who were.
I also learned to trust in myself and to trust my gut. Even though I wasn’t trained to take care of my baby, I knew what was right and what was wrong… somehow. And I believed in that. On top of it, knowing that we somehow got through the high-risk pregnancy and the NICU stay increased the trust I had in myself, my husband and my newborn baby.
I learned to Forgive Myself
An unexpected load to having a preemie is blaming oneself for everything. The very weekend before Ollie was born I broke two of my tips to overcome a high-risk pregnancy and went to celebrate mother’s day a couple of hours in the mall. I walked more than I think I should have and ate at the mall. My blood pressure immediately increased and didn’t lower again. I was hospitalized next Tuesday, Ollie was born in less than 24 hours at 31 weeks and 6 days. We had made it so far, and I felt guilty because I thought that if I had just stayed resting at home, maybe Ollie would have waited a couple of more days. Maybe, just maybe, his lungs wouldn’t have collapsed during his third day in NICU because he’d have had time to get a shot…
…but then again, maybe not. There’s no telling what might have happened, and I have to settle with the fact that I did what I thought was best for me and our son. I hoped that a bit of fresh air would have improved my mood, thus affecting positively on the baby.
It’s easier said than done, and it took many months to acknowledge that I couldn’t keep blaming myself. I even fell into a deep post-partum, post-NICU depression. Before I could start forgiving myself I started keeping a gratitude journal, stating ten things that I was grateful for every morning, I excercised, watched Korean soup operas, read tons of books and wrote tons of words. I still think that going out that one time had soemthing to do with Ollie being born premature. But I forgave myself for it. And that made all the difference in the world.
I learned to Love
I’m lucky, my husband is the love of my life. But I was naive enough to think that he would be the only love of my life. When my son was born, every loving feeling I feel for everyone expanded. It was like seeing the Matrix all of a sudden. I knew the reason why I’m in this world. It was in an incubator in the NICU, and I understood that I would devote every day of my life to raise him, to teach him, and to love him.
The love I feel is so deep that I felt inspired to do everything I’ve ever wanted to do in my life. I loved him when he used to wake me up every two hours once he got home. And I love him now when he cries whenever I take a toy away. I love him day and night.
But that’s not the extent of it all, I loved everyone more deeply and sincerely now. I understood that what my son is to me, everyone is to their parents. Speaking of parents, I learned to love my parents for real, for all the sacrifices they made for me, and for the devotion they are now showing my son.
When people ask me why Ollie is so small, and we get to the whole preemie mom tale, everyone has a story to share. They tell me about their own daughters, or cousins, or friends, who were preemies. And I can see it in their eyes, the kindness and the love that lingers in the world.
And it all started for me with a tiny baby under 2 ounces!
That’s a Wrap
A child is far from incapacitating. Some people feel like having children will limit them, professionally or economically. I didn’t think so before having my baby, but what did come as unexpected was the feeling that I could be anything, or do anything just for him. Having a premature baby has its challenges, but we have loved every step of the way! I’m a proud preemie mom!
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