In the United States, 1 in 9 babies is born prematurely, 1 in 10 in Canada. Worldwide, over 15 million babies are born too soon each year. While not all multiples are born prematurely, a multiple birth increases the probability of an early delivery. Babies born prematurely, before 37 weeks gestation, are at a higher risk for health complications in infancy, some of which can have long-term effects. Full-term infants are not all free from their own health complications, of course.
In honor of November’s Prematurity Awareness Month, led by the March of Dimes, How Do You Do It? is focusing this week’s posts on The Moms’ experiences with premature deliveries, NICU stays, health complications, special needs, and how we’ve dealt with these complex issues.
When our daughters were in the NICU, there were many things that our friends and family did for us to ease our lives. If you have a loved one with a child in the NICU, maybe this will give you some new ideas on ways to reach out.
My daughters’ godmother’s stepmother (got that?) planned to visit us while our girls were in the NICU. The day before she was to drive down from Ft. Worth to Austin, she found herself coughing. She thought it was probably allergy-reacted, but conferred with her doctor just in case. She told him that she was planning to visit a NICU, but was wondering what to do about her cough. He recommended that she stay away. She rescheduled her visit for later. Had she asked me, I might have asked her to go ahead and come down. I would have chalked it up to allergies. I wanted to see her, selfishly. I hadn’t yet been allowed to visit the NICU and had no idea that visitors would expose not only my daughters, but all the NICU babies, to potential infection.
- DO: Put preemies’ medical vulnerability first.
- DO: Inform yourself.
- DO: Talk to medical professionals
My coworkers visited us on their lunch hours, and every last one of them said, “Congratulations. They’re beautiful.” Let me be honest. My little girls were not objectively beautiful as newborns. They were scrawny and out of proportion, covered with wires and tubes and sensors. I think everyone was more prepared to deal with my preemies after a coworker had a micropreemie a few months earlier. I remember discussions about whether to go ahead the scheduled baby shower when we weren’t sure if the little girl (now a vibrant and healthy 8-year-old) would make it.
What my friends saw, because of their love for me, was the beauty of our girls’ potential, the beauty of being loved and the beauty of being alive.
- DO: Ask whether you can visit.
- DO: Congratulate the new parents.
- DO: See the beauty.
My friends Kaylan and Markus watched our cats for us, sat with me in the hospital, brought me food, and brought me photos of the babies. Kaylan took my husband shopping for a breastpump. Markus took my husband out for a beer when J backslid and had to have her feeding tube reinserted.
- DO: Be a friend.
- DO: Help your friends remember that they are still people even while they’re parents.
- DO: Help with pets and home maintenance.
My in-laws asked us early in the pregnancy how we wanted them to help. We told them that we wanted them to stay with us and help out for as long as they could. We warned them that the birthdate would be unpredictable. They both talked to their employers and made arrangements to be able to travel on short notice. They kept their phones on. Despite our girls coming 7 weeks early and living thousands of miles away, my mother-in-law was by my side the day in gave birth and stayed for 3 weeks. My father-in-law relieved her for another 3 weeks and was my chauffeur during the days that I had one baby home and one in the NICU. They split their time instead of coming together to maximize how long we had help. My mother, on the other hand, told me in great anger that she was planning to come on the due date despite my selfishness for giving birth early.
- DO: Ask what the parents need and respect to their requests.
- DO: Coordinate your schedule with other helpers. CareCalendar is a great tool.
- DON’T: Blame the parents for preterm birth.
- DON’T: Take premature birth personally.
- DON’T: Expect the due date to be the birth date. I’ve seen some people use the term “guess date” instead of “due date.”
By the time I gave birth, my coworkers had already thrown us a lovely baby shower. Still, when the girls ended up hospitalized, they wanted to do more. Some genius took up a collection and bought us gift certificates to restaurants near the hospital. We could take husband-wife time and eat non-cafeteria food while staying within minutes of the NICU. Seriously: genius.
- DO: Offer practical gifts.
- DO: Ease the financial burden of sick newborns with gift cards.
Before I went into labor, my husband’s commanding officer called my ob/gyn to get a precise estimate on when I would give birth. He wanted to figure out whether my husband would be able to lead his unit during combat training. He even had the gall to ask the doctor to schedule a preterm C-section around their training schedule. The doctor’s staff told him that medical information was protected by law and that they would never compromise the health of a newborn, not even for national security.
- DON’T be a jerk.
What did people do for you while you and/or your kids were hospitalized?
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.