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.
The first day I was a mother, I believed that I had already failed in the role.
Unable to get pregnant without the intervention of science, and unable to give birth without the doctors cutting me open and extracting the babies, my one job as an expectant mother had been to keep my twins nestled firmly and warmly in my womb.
At 33 weeks, I began preterm labor due to preeclampsia. When the decision was made to have an emergency c-section, I burst out sobbing. I had always been healthy; never had any hospitalizations; and, I really believed that the issues facing my pregnancy were ones that happened to other people, not to me.
In my mind, I had somehow failed my one, and most important, job.
After being bundled tightly in their blankets and posing for a quick picture in front of my head, Marc (4.5 pounds) and Maddie (3.4 pounds) were rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Under the ominous, and yet miraculous for women with preeclampsia, drug, magnesium, I was unable to get out of my bed or even see my babies for over 24 hours. I remember waking up the next morning in a horrible magnesium fog and not remembering what we had named our daughter. When one of the neonatologists came into to my recovery room to report that Marc’s lung had collapsed and he needed to be intubated, I couldn’t process what she was saying and I couldn’t remember my husband’s cell phone number to tell him to come to the hospital. The failures seemed to continue to pile up.
Even when I was able to see the babies, I felt so disconnected from them. I wasn’t able to hold them—or do anything for them. I felt like an outsider—like it didn’t really matter if I was their mother or not. I remember telling Scott that the babies were more his than mine. He had spent more time with them; he had already developed a rapport with the nurses; he seemed to know what was going on.
Those first horrible days were nothing like what I had imagined their birth would be like. Without family around or a mothers-of-multiples support group, no one was able to help me navigate through those feelings of overwhelming guilt, helplessness, and disconnect that accompanied those days.
And, while the emotional rawness of that time has been smoothed away, the trauma of those first few days still resonates with me. When I asked moms in my San Antonio Mothers of Multiples group what their feelings were when their babies where in the NICU, I was surprised at the emotion that erupted, even from mothers whose children were now in their teens.
- Out of control or helpless: Christina, mother to b/g twins described feeling out of control, “…like I was a nuisance for wanting to come and nurse him and hold him.” The mother often feels like she takes back seat to caring for her babies.
- Mourning the loss of the imagined delivery: We all imagine how the birth of our children will occur. When it doesn’t go like that, there is an incredible sense of loss or disillusionment. In some way we feel we were cheated out of a genuine experience. One mother, whose twins were born at 27 weeks, 5 days wrote, “I don’t know why I assumed that I would have the birth I wanted—naturally at 38 weeks and they would be fine and healthy and go right home with me.” She writes that even a year later, “I still feel cheated from the whole new mom experience—I didn’t get to hold any of my babies after they were born; I didn’t see them until hours later; a nurse gave them their first bath; their first bottle.”
- Shock: “It was only on delivery day that anyone even started talking to me about the NICU and that they would have to go there…the first time I went in there was a few hours after delivery. It was just bizarre. All those teeny tiny robo-babies hooked up to various machines and wires.”
- Relief: A couple of moms wrote that they were relieved that their babies were in the NICU. “I was in no condition to take care of my babies,” wrote one mother of twins. “I needed to heal myself, and I knew they were in good hands.”
- Guilt: Almost all of the mothers expressed feelings of guilt, constantly reexamining what they might have done to have caused premature births or birth defects. Sara, a mother of b/g twins whose daughter was born with her esophagus from her throat growing nowhere and her esophagus from her stomach growing into her trachea, wrote,“Some days I could emotionally handle seeing her attached to what seemed like a bazillion tubes and listen to the breathing stridor; some days not. Once I came out of the morphine/Vicodin induced haze [from her C-section], I started wondering what I did wrong, reading medical journals about when that particular defect manifests itself. Then, I started wondering if it was because, before I knew I was pregnant, I had a margarita in an airport around 11 am and had a daiquiri that night around 8 pm… On an intellectual level, I knew it was not my fault.”
- Powerless: A couple of mothers talked about how difficult it was to get their babies out of the NICU. One mother wrote how, “you can’t be blind to the reality that all pregnancies and births have risk and sometimes babies that seem to be perfectly normal may need some extra help from the NICU.” She goes on to write how important it is to have “… an advocate, whether that is a doctor, family member or friend who will help you fight for what you believe to be right.”
Did you have these feelings when your multiples were in the NICU? Other feelings?