Monday, June 24, 2013

Preemie Parenting: A Few Thoughts

My usual blog posts are usually a bit lighter than this, but I this has been on my heart. I’ve leaned towards writing about the lighter things in life, but it’s only fair that I’m transparent with anyone who reads this.  Am I always cheerful and thinking about running? Definitely not, just ask my husband! Maybe reading this will help someone through a tough situation or will give them some insight to help a new parent of a preemie. Keep in mind, our baby was not an extreme case of prematurity. I do not know what it's like to experience a long stay in the NICU; this is just my thoughts from our preemie baby experience.

Disclaimer: If any guys happen to read this, you may want to stop now. This post contains a bunch of baby and pregnancy details!

Today, a coworker shared a news article about the smallest preemie baby that was born and survived. I did my best not to tear up when listening to the news story and reading the article about a 10 oz. baby. It brought back a lot of emotions from having our preemie baby. E was born at 35 weeks gestation, which was actually a blessing after the earlier premature labor scare I had at 33.5 weeks. On the day of the premature labor scare, I was feeling “menstrual-like cramps” at work, but nothing too painful. Problem was they were 5 minutes apart. Leo and I stopped in at Labor & Delivery to get their input before we continued our nightly routine of going to the gym. The nurse checked my cervix and immediately called our doctor; it was 80% effaced and 2 cm dilated. In a whirlwind, they called the ambulance, put me on a magnesium sulfate drip, gave me a steroid shot, and sent us off to the nearest NICU.

After an overnight stay in the hospital and a ton of fluids, the contractions ceased. The cause was determined to be dehydration and a UTI (urinary tract infection). I was prescribed antibiotics, bed rest for a couple days, and sent home. By the time the weekend was over, I felt back to normal and returned to work. After that scare, I cut way back on working out. Running consisted of a jog and walk combo at the pace of a snail. Prenatal yoga was definitely my new best friend.

All was well for a while, minus the fact that we had a “blizzard ordeal” that I will never forget! Leo and I learned many lessons in that blizzard; the main one being, don’t get stranded in a blizzard with a preggo lady. They aren’t much help when it comes to hiking in the snow, pushing cars, or shoveling. Thank God I didn’t go into labor again while stranded!

Fast-forward to March 2nd, we were visiting my parents who live one hour north of our home. We were having a leisurely weekend; went for another snail-paced run with Leo. He was training for an army competition at the end of the month, so he ruck marched with a weighted pack on at the same speed as my “run”. Afterwards, we ate some food, sat around and talked, and then headed to town to visit more family. The contractions came back that afternoon, so I started chugging water like a crazy fool. Though, if they were dehydration-induced, it was a bit late to start chugging water. I made it through visiting family, supper (and a DQ mini-blizzard!), and we started watching “The Green Lantern.” Soon after, we decided it was time to go home. The contractions were getting worse than ever before and they were at 5 minutes apart again. We rushed home and I laid down for a while trying to stop the contractions. No success… so into Labor & Delivery we went.

The nurse checked my “situation” to find that I was 7-8 cm dilated and she could feel baby’s head. They couldn’t send me in the ambulance to the NICU hospital because of the extreme dilation, so we had to take our chances and possibly airlift baby after the birth. Leo was a great help through all of this and never left my side, though I about ripped his hand off during some contractions. Husbands should NOT try to make jokes while their wife is in labor! I stayed in a relatively good mood throughout the whole ordeal. The nastiest thing I said to Leo was, “I really want to punch you in the face right now!” Don’t worry, I didn’t. It just felt really good to say something semi-aggressive. Six hours later, it was time to push. Believe it or not, I thought pushing was a good experience; it sure beats laying there riding out the contractions. After 30 minutes of pushing, our baby arrived! We hadn’t found out the gender during the pregnancy so I was very intent on finding out “what it was” immediately after baby shot out. And, I insisted on naming him immediately… I’m a bit impatient. And that’s how E came to be!

E arrived!
God blessed this little man with great health; he was born tiny but was able to breathe on his own! He was so healthy that we were able to keep him with us in our room instead of taking a helicopter ride to the NICU. E was 4 lbs. 14.5 oz. and only 17 inches long. He was so little and precious; and he had pretty stylish sideburns! We fell in love with him right away.

Our little miracle baby gained weight at a rate that shocked the doctors and he didn’t require any extra care than an average newborn. Well, besides the fact that I fed him every 2 to 3 hours for a good while (and sometimes even now). E is very good at eating; hence, his now chunky cheeks!

The Unexpected Preemie Postpartum Emotions

Having a baby is an adrenaline rush! I was on Cloud 9 in the hospital, still on the “I just had a baby” high. Then we had to go home and take care of this little bugger on our own. And in came the unwelcome criticism and speculation from many people. I usually try to stay level-headed, but postpartum sent my emotions spinning like a top. After having E so early, I found that they were slightly different than some “normal” pregnancy emotions. I felt analyzed; like people were judging me as a mom, trying to figure out what I did to make my baby arrive prematurely and so small.

Here’s a snapshot of the negative emotions I felt and still feel from time-to-time:
  • Guilt.This has been the big one for me. I felt like it was my fault E arrived early and that I somehow “ruined him.” People were very direct with their questions and asked if my running caused the early birth. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I did wrong; did I eat something wrong, not drink enough water, was I too active, am I too high-strung? My mind was basically a tornado of “Why’s”. I was asked repeatedly, “Are there any long-term health concerns???” Well, nothing the doctor had told me about! The more people asked, the worse I felt.
  • Disappointment. I felt disappointed that I wasn’t able to carry my baby to full-term. Disappointed in myself, in my own body, and this experience that didn’t go as I expected it to. One prize comment I received was, “Well, at least you didn’t have to carry the baby through the last couple months. Those were miserable.” My sassy side wanted to yell at her, but I held back fortunately. I would have GLADLY carried my baby through full-term regardless of how “uncomfortable” they are. Did they forget I run marathons because I enjoy pushing my body through the pain? Childbirth is like a marathon in many ways. And besides, that little baby is my son; I would die for him!
  • Frustration. I was frustrated with comments and people subtly cutting at me (whether on purpose or not). To look on the bright side, the birth went really well. I wanted to have E without any pain meds and at least that part went as planned. Afterwards, I felt pretty well, despite just having a baby. When I called into work to say my maternity leave was officially beginning, the first comment I got was “Just wait til you have a full-sized baby.” Ooh… ouch.
  • Un-readiness. (Yes, that is a made-up word.) Mentally, I thought I had another month to try to grasp the idea of me being a mom. Then again, are you ever ready as a first-time parent? Physically, I was still a rather small pregnant lady. I was waiting for the huge bulging belly before it was time to give birth!
Aside from the initial negative emotions and the wild roller coaster this experience has been, I am thankful for so much in my life. So much good has come out of this:

  • E. I never realized how much I could love until this baby was born. He has been such a life-changer, but he brings so much joy to Leo and me. I'm SO in love with this little boy!
  • Leo. My husband is amazing. He has supported me 100% of the time and never once blamed me for E arriving early. He’s an awesome dad and is always willing to help out.
  • My family. They have been very supportive and so excited for the arrival of our little guy. When I got home from the preterm hospital stay, my mom came over to stay with me for a while and made a bunch of frozen meals. After E arrived, she stayed with me then, too. My brothers love E so much and Leo’s family loves him, too!
  • My true friends. Our friends have been there the entire time; always ready and willing to help us out. They even watch E for us now and then so Leo and I can go on a date!
Even in the hard times, God surrounds you with the perfect support group to help you through. Now, I couldask the famous question, “Why does God make some babies prematurely and some not live? Why would He want my baby to arrive so fragile and small?” But, really, I don’t need to ask. God knows best, always. Even when situations are less-than-ideal, God is working it out for His will and for our own good. I’m naturally a high-strung, type-A kinda person, but He is teaching me daily to TRUST and LET GO of my own will. There’s still much progress to be made, but each day I’m doing the best I can to surrender and accept the fact that I will never be perfect. Life won’t always go as I have it planned, but God’s plan always turns out better than mine.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

If you made it through that entire, lengthy post, I hope you will have a new perspective on preemie babies and parents. Maybe you are the parent of a preemie similar to mine, or you had an extremely premature baby, or maybe you know someone who has one. Personally, I want to be more compassionate, supportive, and helpful to anyone who is going through something like this or any struggle in life. What’s the point of cutting others down?

Source: 10 Things Not to Say to a Preemie Parent

8 comments:

  1. Very well written, Amy and congrats on your healthy, Leo.

    My neighbor spent 7 weeks in NICU though he was full term. It was a freak delivery turned unbelievable odds (1 in a billion or so baby odds) turned immense prayers.

    He just turned 21 last December, still only has 1 functioning kidney, and by the time he was in high school he was an honor roll student.

    I share this, because, as you said, others tend to have opinions on everything. My neighbor's mom had a normal pregnancy, but her delivery was anything but normal. There was nothing she could have done to prevent it either (severe fever during L&D with an unknown cause).

    3 years later they welcomed their third child. Oh, and the NICU neighbor is Jonathan which means "God's blessing."

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    1. That is such a cool story - thanks for sharing!

      I've of stories like that before where even full-term babies come out with health complications that weren't anticipated. It is truly a reminder that we're not in control; only God knows how things will turn out! Being unable to control situations in life is so hard, but it's reassuring knowing that everything is in God's hands and that's the best place to be! I need to continually tell myself that because it's so easy to worry about everything in life.

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  2. You are an amazing parent Amy, and you did NOTHING to cause Eli to come early. Sometimes that just happens and we have to trust God knows what he's doing when it doesn't make sense to us. I'm here for you always!

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    1. Thank you so much, Elizabeth. I really appreciate having you as a friend and being able to talk about babies, running, and, well, everything!

      It's so hard to accept that things "just happen", but that's the truth. Even the doctor said it! I'm always digging for answers but I'll have to save this one for God when I get to meet Him face-to-face :)

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  3. Hi Amy, thanks for sharing such a personal experience. God really is amazing that babies can be born prematurally and be perfectly healthy!

    I have a couple questions for you: when you experienced the first pre-term labor, you said that you cut back on the running, but didn't completely stop. What made you decide to cut back vs. stopping until Eli was born? Sorry if that sounds judgemental - it's not meant to be! I'm just curious how you reached the decision, especially when I'm sure everyone around you was probably telling you to stop.

    You mentioned all of the questions and comments you received after having Eli that just added to the emotions you were feeling. A coworker's son was also born prematurally, and I'm wondering what you think could be said or asked to show genuine interest in how the baby and family are doing without it coming off as sounding judgemental? Thankfully, I have not had to go through what you and your husband (and Eli) have experienced, so I'm hoping that she hasn't taken my questions the wrong way as I try to understand.

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    1. Thanks for your comment! And, no, you don't sound judgmental; questions are welcome.

      I continued to be lightly active near the end of the pregnancy because the UTI had been treated, the dehydration had been addressed, and contractions had gone away. We had done what we could and I did my best to not be stressed out. Bed rest is not a proven cure-all/fix-all for pregnancy issues and can actually do more hard than good. Now I'm sure there are some who swear by it and some who say it's completely useless; no one with definite answers. I did my best to get plenty sleep, stay hydrated, and not stress out. I'll admit I'm a more high-strung type, so de-stressing emotionally was a challenge.

      Most of the comments came from women I was around each day (work mainly) the general consensus seemed to be that when you're pregnant, you should sit around and binge on whatever you want. Why? Because you're pregnant and you can! (definitely not true) But on the flip-side, if a woman isn't active before pregnancy, I would think that's not the ideal time to START exercising regularly. Her body wouldn't be adapted at all for exercise. My body was used to vigorous exercise pre-pregnancy, so in comparison, my pregnant activity level was a walk in the park.

      As for what to say to a new preemie parent: Personally, what I appreciated most was when people sincerely cared and asked how baby was doing, how we were doing, etc. It seems like a simple answer, but it made such a difference when someone genuinely cared about the baby and our family. I could tell the difference when someone was poking and prodding at me or talking as if my baby was "not normal", or if they were being genuine.

      Asking if you can help in any way is great, too, though not required/expected! Many people offered to send over meals for us and that was so helpful. Especially if a family has a long stay in the NICU, I'm sure a good home-cooked meal would go a long way.

      *Keep in mind, I am NOT a doctor and this isn't medical advice! In case anyone was wondering... :)

      Interesting article on bedrest:
      http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-05-20/national/39387993_1_bed-rest-new-study-questions-prematurity

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  4. Thank you for sharing this. I appreciate your honesty and how wonderful the blessing that Eli's arrival brought. I've really enjoyed reading through some of your posts tonight!

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