J was born 94 days early. I was in shock for at least a week after his birth, stumbling around in a dream-like state. When I awoke, I was furious. I wasn’t furious at the medical staff for being unable to stop my preterm labor. I wasn’t furious at my husband who had forgotten his wallet at work, which cost us precious minutes on the way to the hospital. I was furious at myself.
I come from a long line of women who have plenty of healthy babies. My paternal grandmother birthed four big babies at home by the age of 20. My maternal grandmother had three of her four babies in her late 30s without any complications. Pregnancy didn’t necessarily suit my mom, but hers were the usual struggles of a petite pregnant woman. Nothing in my family history suggested I would be any different. Then, lightning struck. I, a perfectly healthy, 28-year-old woman, had a baby three months early. My body betrayed me.
In the months after J’s birth, people asked me what happened, but what I heard them ask was, “What did you do?” I felt guilt and embarrassment. I felt inferior to women who carried their babies full-term. I wracked my brain for clues as to what I had done wrong. Most people were simply seeking answers I couldn’t give, but all I heard were accusations that I had somehow brought preterm labor on myself. I was so angry, but I wasn’t angry at the questions. I directed the anger squarely at myself.
Then, my second preemie changed everything. M was another shock, but a totally different shock. Just when we thought the preemie coast was clear, I developed pre-eclampsia while visiting family in Texas. A whirlwind of craziness ensued with us trying to get home to our hospital with a familiar NICU. It was an incredibly bizarre set of facts, another chapter in the same premature labor book. But, as I held my second 2-pound baby, a funny thing happened.
I forgave myself.
M’s birth showed me that there was nothing I could have done. The minutes lost and the warning signs missed probably wouldn’t have changed a thing with J. Yes, I have sadness. There are regrets. I wish things had gone differently. But, was it my fault? Was it something I did or didn’t do? Absolutely not.
Obviously, I must be meant to have two tiny babies. I don’t know why I’ve been sent along this journey, but it is mine. I accept it. The rhyme and reason to it will surely show itself as the days and weeks turn into months and years.
Instead of dwelling on what I couldn’t do, I changed my perspective. What about all the sacrifices of my body, mind, and soul? I pumped breast milk, pushing past the point of misery until one day I saw my own blood in the milk. For 150 days, I spent more than an hour in the car in traffic each day, shuttling back and forth to a baby in the hospital. I buried dark fears in the pit of my stomach, and I ached for a baby who was not mine to hold. Whatever I was unable to do for my babies in the womb does not diminish the sacrifices I have made. The circumstances of my deliveries do not negate my abilities as a mother. Preterm labor and pre-eclampsia do not limit me as a woman; in fact, I am more of a woman than before I embarked on this journey.
Mothers of preemies are some of the most gracious, grateful, and generous mothers I know. We should be kinder to ourselves.