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.
Our girls were born at 34 weeks and spent 10 days in the NICU. I knew at the time – on some level – that we were very lucky, and certainly I realize it today. Still, those 10 days were filled with many emotions, and a whole lot of haze.
I know a lot of the details I’ve blocked, but some things stand out very clearly in my memory. One of the things I remember with great clarity is a hallway exchange I had with another family, whose twin girls were born a week or so before ours. The mom seemed so well-adjusted and optimistic. We exchanged pleasantries, and she said, “I’m already looking forward to the NICU reunion this fall!”
I appreciated her outlook, and that little tidbit of information stuck in my mind. A reunion…eight months out…it was something to look forward to. Although it was very tough to appreciate at the time, I logically knew my girls would be long past their NICU days by then. I, too, began to anticipate the weekend after Labor Day.
Throughout the next few months, as I practiced what I’d learned in the NICU…how to feed my babies, how to burp them, how to bathe them…I was looking forward. I couldn’t wait to show off my babies – who by that time would be plump and smiling – to the NICU nurses. I couldn’t wait to show them and to celebrate, “We did it!”
I’ve had numerous conversations with my mommy friends who didn’t spend time in the NICU. Several have recounted how they cried and cried when they brought their babies home, feeling like they didn’t know what to do.
While I did my share of crying after my girls got home, it wasn’t because I felt like I didn’t know what to do. I know I have the NICU nurses to thank for that.
Those nurses were there for us, not just punching the clock and doing their job, but wrapping their arms around us figuratively, and at times, literally, during those first critical days as the size of our family abruptly doubled.
They cheered as I changed my first two diapers…they showed me all sorts of tricks for coaxing a premature baby to take a bottle…they affirmed my every “was that a burp?” question…they stood by my side as I gave the girls a bath for the first time.
The environment may have been cold and sterile, but that’s not how I remember our time in the NICU. The nurses were always so reassuring, letting us know the babies would be fine, and so would we. For that, and for so many more things, I will be eternally grateful.
We attend the NICU reunion each year. It is an awesome opportunity to reconnect with the doctors and nurses who were our family those first couple of weeks. They are truly amazing people, and they will always hold such a special place in our hearts.
The first reunion, it was Mommy who was so looking forward to the visit. The next year, when the girls were about 20 months old, I’d worked with them for days to say, “Hi, Miss Michelle,” in greeting our very favorite nurse. It brought tears to her eyes, and mine.
Since then, the girls look forward to the reunion, too. “When are we going to MY hospital, Mommy?” They like to ride the elevator, they like to eat a piece of cake, and they like to see their pictures hanging on the wall outside the nursery, one of a handful of cases who were highlighted as part of a March of Dimes “graduates” wall.
If I could rewrite history, would I want to spend those days in the NICU? No. But do I love to take the girls for a visit once a year…to reflect on how far we’ve all come…to try to convey our eternal gratitude in some small way? Absolutely.
Have you revisited the NICU since your babies graduated?
MandyE is mom to fraternal twin girls, now almost five. She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.