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.
I’m Carolyn, the mother of three prematurely born children.
I had a quick introduction to parenting when my 31-weeker arrived very suddenly and with what I thought was little to no warning!
The day my little 4-pounder arrived, I woke up feeling pretty good and headed off to two BBQ celebrations; one at the lunch hour, the other by about 4:00 that afternoon. After BBQ #1 I began to feel a bit of indigestion, sore stomach, a bit of backache. I had eaten a veggie burger, but had a cola pop (a “soft drink” to my American friends), which I had been avoiding during my entire pregnancy. I chalked up the indigestion to having a caffeinated cola, when I probably should have skipped it entirely.
At BBQ #2 I talked about expecting my first baby and we learned of a new mom who had just given birth in a taxi cab a day or two before. We giggled; how could a mother NOT know she was in labour until it was really too late?? The afternoon progressed and so did my “indigestion”.
After several washroom visits that afternoon there were no “results,” if you know what I mean. Around 6:30 PM my husband and I headed back to our city, about a 50 minute drive away, made a quick stop on the way to return several party folding chairs, which I proceeded to carry on my own. I wasn’t in labour, so of course I was still carrying out small tasks and some light lifting. As we drove the rest of the way home I could feel my baby moving quite a bit, but figured, “that makes sense.”
About four hours later I found myself almost delivering my firstborn into a hospital toilet, as we had made our way fairly quickly to the hospital when things were obviously going very wrong.
Do you think by the time I got to the hospital, after having a little bit of spotting, and intense backaches that I thought I was going into preterm labour? Why, no. I had no idea!
Up to that point there had really been no conversation about preterm birth and the symptoms to be aware of. I had heard of it, but I was told I’d likely go to term, maybe even late because I was a healthy woman, with no issues. So when my husband rushed me sprawled across the backseat to the hospital, I thought I was having a bowel obstruction or something completely crazy. Not once did the idea, “I am going to have my baby,” enter my mind. Thankfully our firstborn little boy was very healthy and after not quite 4 weeks in a NICU he was home with us to celebrate our first wedding anniversary.
Fast forward not quite two years later and I was pregnant with twins. I was so excited to be having twins and I tried to remain positive that these little babies would be carried to term. I found that sometimes you can think positive till the cows come home, but you cannot control your body.
Almost two years to the day preemie # 1 arrived, along came preemie #2 and #3; arriving at 27 weeks and 5 days. We were not in a hospital with the type of level of Neonatal Intensive Care Unit anyone would want a preemie born in, let alone two, but that was the hand we were dealt. The hospital we were in didn’t have a NICU at all, just a small area with a couple unwell term babies.
My twins were born in about an hour, after I presented at the hospital and said “I think I may be in labour,” as I wheeled my suitcase into the ward. Within that hour, I went from standing and holding my own, to saying, I am pretty sure I am about to have these babies, to delivering in a high-risk delivery room with no medication or GA. Our twins were born quickly and were stabilized over several hours, while we waited to hear where our tiny 2-pound babies would be transported. Would they go together to the same hospital or would they be separated? We didn’t know. The uncertainty of having preemie babies is one thing, but to have no idea where they will go for the emergency and lifesaving care they need because it depends on bed availability in the province (or state) is traumatizing!
Eventually, within 4-6 hours the twins were moved one-by-one to the same hospital. The first one to go was considered the more unwell baby and he took priority. The first twin was followed by my husband and mother to the hospital about an hour away. I stayed to be monitored, was discharged in a little over 3 hours and was able to go behind the second transport ambulance. I was chauffeured of course!
I am very grateful to report that all three of my children — my older son, 5, and my twin boys, 3 — are growing up happy and healthy. Their premature births have had a profound effect on our family, of course, and I now chair the Multiple Births Canada’s Preterm Birth Support Network and work in my local multiples group as a peer support worker. I am passionate about sharing my experiences, in the hope that I might educate other families about the signs of premature labour.
Carolyn blogs at Twintrospectives, reaching both the preemie community and the multiples community.