When your first child was born 14 weeks premature, like mine, the idea of a second pregnancy is, well, just a bit daunting. I feel strongly about postpartum care and how it’s even more crucial when your pregnancy and/or child has any sort of medical or special needs. The following is a very short, but in depth list on what I missed out on with my first pregnancy, and how you can help if it happens again.
It goes without saying that when your first child is born premature, you “miss out” on a ton. For me, I missed the 3rd trimester completely (and no, I was not lucky), wearing maternity clothes, or having a baby bump for that matter (I’m tall, I was barely showing at 26 weeks), holding baby after he’s born, feeding baby after he’s born, going home with baby. I mean, the list goes on and on. But honestly, that stuff never seriously bothered me. At the time, I wasn’t thinking too hard about what I missed out on because, A) that would just be depressing, and B) I’m a very here-and-now kind of person, rather than a what-could-have-been kind of person. I was just dealing with the punches as they came. There are a couple things I missed out on that really stung though.
Be happy for us
One thing I really missed out on was people just being happy for us. Instead of, “Congratulations, he’s so beautiful!” I got, “So, is he going to live?” Instead of joy and elation at my new son, people were sad, distraught, confused as to what to do. All of that is understandable, and to be clear, I wasn’t offended by any of this, because it is a completely crappy situation. But it sucked. Because, for me? Yeah, I was worried. But I was also very happy that I had a son and that he was doing OK. I honestly felt that I shared that feeling with almost no one, except my husband.
Objective #1: So if I ever have another premature/NICU baby, please try to be happy for us. See the good. Because it’s not about you. We preemie parents continually try so hard to grasp at any positive straw we can during this time. You can absolutely have your feelings about it, but please, not to the point where it burdens me. If you’re part of our lives, it’s your job to support us, not lay on the negative feelings (the latter includes ignoring us).
Support us in the NICU and after coming home
I also felt like I missed out on a lot of support that most new moms receive. Meals, apparently, were reserved for new moms with new babies at home. Same with help with housework or errands. By the time our son came home from the hospital over three months after his birth, people were kind of like, You’re good now right? I mean, it has been over three months.
To be fair, I wasn’t very transparent about my needs during that time. I posted updates on my blog about the baby, but I wasn’t honest about needing help, about having nothing to eat for dinner except popcorn after we got home from the NICU at 10 pm. About having no groceries in the house because I didn’t have time in between being at the NICU and constantly pumping. About just feeling lonely because no one understood. I was definitely a suffer-in-silence type. So preemie parents, please be transparent with your needs. It will only benefit everyone in the long run.
Objective #2: Support me as if I just had a baby; because I did. And don’t stop. Preemie parents need support while their child is in the NICU and when their child comes home. Meals, money, running errands, babysitting our other kids, you name it, we need help. Don’t even ask, just do it. Some hospitals have vouchers for their cafeteria where NICU parents can get free meals, others don’t. Ours did, but it was only good for one meal a day (insert: popcorn dinner). Don’t assume that because baby is being taken care of by nurses and doctors all day, that NICU parents have the easy life and all the free time in the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.
And a little note to the preemie/NICU parents, please ask for help. I struggled with being able to do this so much. Call it middle child syndrome; I just did not want to be any kind of burden. You’d be surprised how willing people are to help if you just put it out there, and there is nothing wrong with needing, asking for, or expecting help. Because only everyone benefits from helping those in need!