Just this morning, I was remembering as I always do on #WorldPrematurityDay, how my twins began their little, delicate lives. They are healthy and thriving now, but there was a time they couldn’t even breath on their own. It made me associate the state of this pandemic to life with preemies. What’s more, I thought of my time on bedrest. I felt defeated. I felt like I was doing nothing for my family. I remember crying most nights, alone in the hospital, until a nurse reminded me I was doing everything for my twins. Staying put was what they needed to stay safe and healthy. Does that sound familiar? You may no be a mama of preemies, but in this crazy and scary time of COVID-19, you may be feeling like I did in that hospital.
I share my story every year in some way with mamas and families. November is Prematurity Awareness Month and for my family, it’s an important reminder of where my twins began their life outside of me. My twins, like 58% of twins, were born premature. As a mama of twins, when you are pregnant, you are warned that it is very likely your babies will be born premature. But nothing truly prepares you for what is to come next. This is why I write about it so other mamas of multiples (or preemie singletons) can have a sense of things.
For many mamas, having preemies can feel terrifying, and sadly, there is a sense of failure. Most friends and family don’t know what to say or do for preemie families. And because you can have very strange schedules going to the hospital until they arrive home, you can lose touch of everyone and everything else. Here’s my story and tips to get through the process.
I went into labour at 28 weeks, which was way too soon! The doctors were able to stop the labour and put me on hospital bedrest until I went into labour again at 33 weeks. At that time, the doctors did not stop labour and my babies were born. That meant weeks away from my first born who was just under two years old at the time. That was really difficult because I felt torn. I also felt like I was doing nothing but the reality was that I was helping my two babies stay put and develop more.
Weighing in at 4 pounds and 5 pounds, my little ones were not able to function on their own yet. They needed to stay in incubators for a while and they had to be fed with a syringe and the tiniest tubes you ever saw, through their noses into their stomachs. They did not know how to suck for weeks and that was the only way to get nourished. Their little heads had to be shaved of their baby hair in order to find the only vein big enough for blood work. They probed and picked, they were handled by many hands that were not mine or my husband’s and it was so hard to see them that way. Slowly but surely, they grew. Slowly but surely, they didn’t need to be attached to heart monitors and feeding tubes. Slowly but surely, they figured out how to suck and I was able to nurse them. And finally, they were able to come home with us, a month after they were born.
There are some things you can do to prevent premature births (such as no alcohol or smoking) and there are others things you have not control of at all (like medical conditions that can arise while pregnant). For more information, there are great resources, such as The Canadian Premature Babies Foundation. http://cpbf-fbpc.org/.
Here is some insight to the first stages of preemie life:
- Preemies need constant warmth to survive. This is why some need to be placed in incubators and wear caps.
- Parents of preemies use the ‘kangaroo’ method – a form of skin to skin contact so preemies can stay warm and flourish.
- Feeding time is regulated in the NICU, so is bathing, burping and sleeping. And you have to share it with a bunch of other babies and parents and medical staff.
- In order to visit a preemie in the NICU, you need to wash down and cover up. No one with a sniffle will get in, and hand sanitizer is everywhere! (sounds familiar, 2020?!)
- Nurses in the NICU are your lifeline to your preemies when you are sent home. And they are busy, so answers are short and sweet. Don’t take it personally (it’s hard, I know).
- Along with sucking, breathing is really hard for preemies. They can struggle with figuring out how to breathe, which can cause them to go into distress, especially during feeding time.
- Having preemie twins means accepting you cannot take care of them on your own right away. This is the hardest part of all.
- Each stage of development, no matter how small will feel amazing. Celebrate the tiny milestones and you will be able to get through the difficult times.
- If friends and family are looking to see you and help, encourage them to follow your schedule, bring food, and never come over with a cold! (Of course this is post-COVID advice, here, because no one can visit right now)
If you are a mama of preemies, I hope this helps. I feel you. If you know a friend who has had preemies, I hope this helps you understand a bit more what they are going through. Finally, to the NICU nurses and volunteers, the doctors, thank you.
To learn more about #WorldPrematurityDay and read other incredible stories, follow the hashtag on social media.