Life with a preemie – and life after the NICU – is all about getting comfortable with the unknown.
I had changed many diapers before, but the first time I changed my own baby’s diaper was different. I needed a nurse to show me the process. With my hands inside an incubator, I had to work around wires and tubes. Everything was miniature, and I really had to concentrate to ensure I completed all the steps in the right order. I looked up at the nurse with a nervous smile and asked, “Does this get easier?”
It was Christmas Day, and I was sad to be at the NICU instead of spending my babies’ first Christmas at home with family. After a long scrub of my hands, I entered the NICU to hear today was bottle day. I was going to get to feed my baby a bottle for the first time. The nurse showed me how to hold my baby in an upright position, not in my arms like I had imagined. It felt awkward, and unnatural to me. The actual feeding didn’t go much better. There was sputtering and crying, and several minutes in I was sure more milk had been spilled than drank. I looked up at the nurse with a nervous smile and asked, “Does this get easier?”
But I wasn’t really asking about simplicity. A life with twins, preemie twins at that, was not going to be straightforward and uncomplicated. I already knew that. The question of “does this get easier,” isn’t a question of ease… it’s a question of hope.
From the moment my twins were born at 28 weeks and admitted to the NICU, my first thought in the morning and my last thought at night was when will they come home. The whole experience was so hard, that I just wanted it all to be over. I viewed discharge day as the end. I naively thought that once my babies were home, this whole “preemie thing” would be finished and things would get much easier. I think every NICU parent wants someone to tell them that everything will be fine. That once your baby is discharged from the hospital all the stress will dissipate and life will be just as it was before. That is certainly what I was hoping to hear. But no one can really answer that question for you. Life with a preemie is all about getting comfortable with the unknown. However, here are a few questions that I can answer.
“Will I always feel this fear?” No. That immediate life and death fear will subside over time and be replaced with a fierce determination to protect your child.
“Will I be the parent, advocate, and caretaker my child deserves?” Yes, you will rise to the challenge. You are everything your child needs you to be, and when you get tired, which you will, you will ask for help.
“Will my life ever be the way it was before the NICU?” Nope. You have changed forever, but for the better.
Now that I am several years out from the NICU experience, I have a different understanding. I recognize how difficult life after the NICU and raising a preemie can be. And for many, the NICU is just the beginning of so many brilliant, but also extremely difficult days, some of which will be overwhelming and harder than you could have imagined. But I am no longer in search of ease because that was never really the goal. Finding hope is so much more fulfilling!
So if you are still wondering, does raising preemies get easier? Yes…and also no. But if the question you were really asking all along was if you were going to be able to make it through, the answer is an easy yes!