Life as a Preemie Working Mom after the NICU

June 28, 2012

I have yet to meet a mother who has said motherhood is anything like she anticipated. Furthermore, motherhood to a preemie is anything like any mother could ever imagine if she had to find herself in that position. It isn’t just about having a cute, small baby.

I had all of 10 minutes’ notice I was about to become a preemie mom, which was barely enough time to hysterically call my parents and send a few text messages before I found myself off on a wild stretcher ride and into a scene that looked like it was from a weekly TV medical drama that left my head spinning and body reeling. Clearly, this was not how it was supposed to happen. This was not the plan! This was not how I had imagined my right of passage into motherhood that I had waited 30 years for and fought for so hard for. This is not how it was supposed to be.

Over the next few days and weeks the reality of it all sets in. “He” is named Kellan Thomas. I couldn’t be more proud of my lil guy and all of his milestones over the next few weeks. Weeks become months. My life has been COMPLETELY flipped upside down. All these big “plans” I had for maternity leave were thrown out the window. All those dreams I had for bonding with my new baby, are now nightmares because I couldn’t even hold my baby for the first few days. Now all I can think about is his delivery, all the stuff they permanently engrave in your head in the NICU, the “dos” and “don’ts,” the tests he needs, the specialists he has to see, the unknowns, his eating, watching him sleep for endless hours because you’re afraid to let him go too long. And then there was what I had even put off an extra month, but it had always been looming over my head, you know, that 4 letter word—W-O-R-K!!!

Work? I mean who can think about work? I’m lucky if I brush my teeth by noon on a good day. Going back to work was always in the game plan from day one but having a preemie wasn’t a part of that game plan. So, doesn’t that mean we should take a look at plan B? Do we have a plan B?

So Plan B begins to take shape. The first thing we did was started weighing pros and cons. I quickly began to realize my worst fear was a reality. I was going to have to go back to work and I was going to have to leave Kellan; every day. How could I leave Kellan again? It was as devastating as being discharged from the hospital without him because he had to stay behind in the NICU. And now I have to think about going back to work and not being home with him? We had worked so hard to get him home. But I had to stay focused; I had to do this to provide for him. We were onto Plan B and this was how it had to be. Kellan would go to a private in-home daycare, I would return to work where I had good benefits, including private health insurance which was essential due to Kellan’s health problems as a result of his prematurity. This was the (new) plan.

It’s my first day back, the day I hoped I would never really have to face. It was surreal. It felt kind of like the first day of school. There were new people who I hadn’t met which had gotten hired and people who had left while I was out on leave. I felt like I had missed so much but deep down I think everyone knew what I was really missing. I made sure not to call to check on Kellan because I knew what it would do to me emotionally if I did. I survived the first day, then the second, and finally the first week. It took a few weeks for it to all catch up to me. It was probably the around the first month when the exhaustion and stress really started to take its toll. Kellan has severe reflux and feeding problems which cause him to have projectile vomiting spells. He wakes up several times a night as a result and to feed. The up and down all night, stress of getting back to the high paced work environment, being a preemie mom, and trying to maintaining a house is starting to become taxing. I feel like I have become a robot. Get up, do what I can to get thru the day, get thru the night, and repeat. I need an IV bag set to a constant drip and a personal assistant.

Now that I am back to work, barely keeping my head a float, I need to somehow have to add another layer to the equation and figure out how I am going to manage Kellan’s doctor’s appointments, therapy appointments and GI Specialist appointment, which is a 2.5 hour drive each way. I think I am going to need a pair of water wings because I feel I am already in above my head. How am I going to ask for more time off? I just came back to work and now I need to ask for sick leave to multiple doctor and specialist appointments, some in the same week? Do I even have sick time? I am going to miss important meetings. I can’t miss ‘that’ meeting! And how am I ever going to meet these deadlines? Wait, deadlines?

No one ever said being a preemie mom was going to be easy. I can safely tell you that being a working, professional, preemie mom is the hardest thing I have ever done to date. It really is a constant juggling act. I struggle each and every day to try to find a fair balance and often times wonder if I will ever find that balance or if there even is one? From managing meetings, departmental budgets and deadlines to feeding and medication schedules, doctor’s appointments, tests and everything in the middle, it’s a constant battle of prioritizing and finding the most efficient and effective means in which to meet all of the objectives.

With each closing day, I ask myself did I do the right thing? Does it ever get any easier? Is this really what’s best for my family? I think these questions are answered differently for everyone. For Kellan and I, the answer for right now is yes. I think it will always been a work in progress and we will adapt and overcome the situations life presents us with. It might not have been our initial plan but I am proud to say I am a working, preemie mom!