Today is World Prematurity Awareness Day. With E being a preemie, this day is obviously close to my heart. However, when I was drafting this post in my mind, I couldn’t quite gather what I was supposed to be making others aware of. Most people either know/know of a preemie, considering that premature births happen every 1 in 10 pregnancies. They understand that a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) stay may be required, filled with monitors and wires. Then, with the stay hopefully ending in a bundled baby held by two happy, tired parents on their way home. I think there is more than enough awareness of prematurity itself, but perhaps not all that it entails. I have many thoughts on what all it entails but only have the energy for a couple of points. 🙂
Prematurity means that a mother and father will not get the chance to hold their baby until days, weeks or months after he/she is born. The first touch their baby knows is the sting of a needle for an IV, the push of a tube down their throat and coarse cotton sleep positioners bundled around them. They do not get to rest on their mothers chest, calmed from their entry into the world by listening to her familiar heartbeat. They instead hear dinging monitors and strangers’ voices. The first time I held E was not the soul-calming, fulfilling time I had hoped it would be. It was absolutely terrifying. It took 3 people to get us settled, moving wires and silencing alarms. I was holding this tiny 3 pound baby who felt so familiar yet so strange, who was so fragile but so strong. My mommy heart was comforted but simultaneously wanted to run and hide.
Prematurity usually means that a mother cannot nurse. She instead will pump exactly every 3 hours, around the clock in order to provide her baby with milk. This act, very often, is the only way a mother can contribute to the care of her baby. The most heart-wrenching, terrible times were when my alarm would ring at 3 a.m., my bleary-eyed self would find its way to the kitchen table, and sit in a hard chair to pump. Then, I would cry at my empty, empty arms. Once I gained some composure, I would call E’s nurse who would be finishing up her 3 a.m. care times and ask for an update. Usually nothing had changed, but the nurse would speak in quiet, reassuring tones, repeating the same information she had told me when I called at midnight. It may seem like a small act, but it was my lifeline as I sat alone in our kitchen, an hour away.
Though E’s birth and 70 day NICU stay were traumatizing, difficult and life-changing, there was a lot of good. A lot. My value and appreciation for the medical community grew exponentially; I’m looking at you, nurses! They were the biggest advocates for E and the biggest comforts for us. One nurse would send text messages “from” E to update us:
They validated us as her parents, having us be a part of her care in any way we could, teaching us to change diapers so that poo wouldn’t get on her wires. They made sure there were storybooks around that we could read to E so that she could hear our voices. They saved her umbilical cord because it really grossed Ben out and we all laughed when they gave it to him.
They loved E. Truly loved her… and they loved us too! What a gift.
Another gift is the lifelong friend I’ve found in another preemie mom. Her 23 weeker twins were born a month before Ellie but were due a month after she was. Her (their) journey was far more arduous than ours was, in ways that even I cannot imagine. She has been the biggest blessing to come from our time in the NICU. I have found someone who understands, who roots for E in such a meaningful way and listens when my heart is heavy. I pray that everyone can find a friend like her.
This post has been all over the place, but honestly, when I think about E’s NICU stay… I am all over the place about it. I mourn the loss of a full term pregnancy yet I rejoice over the appreciation I have for all that E has come through. I wrestle with the Lord as to why us, yet I thank Him for the privilege it was to be an eyewitness to womb-happenings outside of the womb. We didn’t realize it was just the beginning of E’s trials, but she weathered them well and will continue to do so, by the grace of God.