The moment you have a premature child you are faced with uncertainty and sometimes that uncertainty is caused by mixed messages and information which can make you feel like you were just hit by a Mack truck. Those sharing their ideas or thoughts on prematurity and how to handle situations can be well meaning, but they may not realize their comments can have a damaging effect on the parents. From the moment our babies arrive we are receiving messages from our babies’ doctors, nurses, our own family and friends. Sometimes the information is absolutely accurate. Sometimes information shared with a preemie parent comes across as cold and lacking empathy, while other times statements can be outright rude and misinformed.
As a “veteran” parent of the NICU, with 3 stints in 3 units in 3 cities, my biggest lesson learned is that when you’re feeling hurt or upset about something said, is to shake it off. Try to stay positive. If you need to talk it out, ask your partner to go for a walk with you away from the unit. If that’s not an option, ask to speak to a social worker or peer parent on the unit to discuss your feelings and get it off your chest. Then do what you can to shake it off and move forward.
There will likely be many instances while in the NICU that may leave you feeling pretty shaken. In order to cope it will be important to learn how to talk it out and shake it off so you can keep focused on your baby (babies) who need you.
When you go home with your preemie you may find the comments don’t stop. You might attend a mommy and baby group and find yourself in the middle of a comparison game. It’s like a tennis match. One mom serves up with, “My baby is only 7 months old and can pull himself up at the couch,” and then it’s the next mom’s serve, “Well my baby is 8 months old and she’s already walking around the coffee table” and then it’s your serve, “My baby is 10 months old and she’s starting to try to get into a sitting position.” You might hear crickets as they stare at you, forming opinions in their minds and trying to figure out what to say. Alternatively you may feel like you’ve just been served with too many, well meaning, but uneducated statements about your baby’s development, telling you there could be something wrong and you should get that checked out. They may not know your baby’s back story about her early start in life. Likely you already are being followed by a neonatal follow up clinic and are well aware of where your baby stands in the development department; again, this is the time to shake it off.
As preemie parents we can tend to worry about how our baby is doing and how they will do in the future, so it is important not to bring in other worries caused by outsiders’ opinions and ideas of where your baby “should be.” If you’re ever concerned or in doubt about something to do with your preemie, consider calling your child’s neonatal follow up clinic, pediatrician or a peer who has also had a preemie to discuss your concerns and decide on the best course of action.