Today’s blog post was written By Joanna Howarth.
On May 19, 2014, I was 29 weeks pregnant with my first son. That morning, I went in for a routine ultrasound. The sun was out and my work bag was packed with my usual change of shoes and a salad for lunch. It was my best friend’s birthday and we had an upbeat, jokey phone call in the car on the way to the appointment. (32! So old!)
Little did I know I would not go to work that day, or for many months, because I wasn’t going home without giving birth.
At 18 weeks pregnant, my doctors discovered a vascular mass on my placenta that eventually grew until it was the size of a grapefruit. When, at 29 weeks it was visibly stealing from my son’s heart, we learned he had to come out via c-section. There were countless doctors, nurses, and tech’s involved in the 3 days leading up to his birth. There were 7 hours of nonstress tests. 1 ambulance ride. 10 ultrasounds. 2 steroid injections. 24 hours of a magnesium drip. And one 3lb 5oz incredible fighter of a baby.
Since nearly one in ten babies is born early (before 37 weeks), you probably know someone who has gone or will go through this frightening journey.
Now that we are on the other side – Isaac is a healthy, happy, chatty, energetic 3 year old – my friends often come to me when they hear someone they know has a baby born early and they ask me, how can I be there for them? What can I do? What should I say? Here are some loving suggestions and of course, keep in mind, every family is different.
- Speak and act from your heart and from a place of empathy. Consider saying things like, “I can only imagine how hard this must be.” “I’m here if you want a hug.” “I love you and am thinking of you and baby.” “I want to hear updates when you feel comfortable sending them.” Avoid statements such as “at least you missed the hard part of pregnancy” or “at least you are able to sleep until the baby comes home.” The mom is likely not sleeping much (she might be pumping around the clock or wracked with anxiety and guilt) and does not feel lucky to have missed any parts of pregnancy. Losing weeks of pregnancy is still a loss, even though the baby is here.
- Send text messages with the above love and kindness and send them often, but don’t expect a response in return. When a baby is in the NICU, it is all consuming. Know that the texts are most likely being read and appreciated but responding feels overwhelming at times. Avoid sending photos or updates about your own children temporarily during this time. Those may be hard to digest without jealousy or pain.
- Google some relevant medical terms and use them in questions. “Is baby having many apnea or bradycardia spells this week?” “Is baby on CPAP?” Let your friend know you’re not completely sure what these things are but that you want to learn, listen and know more.
- Bring or send food. Send meals to the house (don’t ask, just do) or send gift cards to food places in or near the hospital. The family is likely spending all their time there or getting there, and cooking is often the first thing to go.
Isaac continues to amaze us every day. He’s smart, articulate, curious, funny, opinionated, handsome and has so many questions – great questions – about the world, his body, his friends and family. His excitement for life is contagious and makes me want to be a better, stronger, more positive person. Though the trauma of having a surprise 29 week birth has mostly subsided (in large part due to my second son’s full term, regular birth), prematurity is still part of our story and our identity as a family, an important part.
The birth of your first child is supposed to be filled with so much light, but when you give birth prematurely, there can be a lot of darkness instead. The road is often bumpier and just different than the experience of full term moms with full term babies and finding support once you’re home (and for years after) can be really hard. Join me on September 13 for one hour to talk with moms of preemies about some of the challenges and triumphs of having a little one with a fragile beginning.