5 Things I Never Knew Until I Had a Preemie
It's been 10 days since my second daughter was born, almost 8 weeks early. Ten days since all 3 pounds 12 ounces of her came rushing into the world. Ten days of NICU visits and eight-times-a-day breast-pumping sessions and lots of tears and fears and excitement and joy. And with these ten days has come a very steep learning curve about how NICU departments work and how the world of preemie babies is different than that of full-term kids. While my daughter is so far incredibly fortunate -- she's been breathing and eating all on her own since the get-go!! -- I know it's an up-and-down, day-by-day process so I'll take it as such.
But in the meantime, here are five things I ever knew about the preemie world...
1. Yes, NICU nurses are amazing. But they are not perfect. Everyone and everything I've ever read about these nurses is just beyond laudatory -- raising them to saintly levels. But they are NOT saints. I've had a few be dismissive, terse, or just downright snippy. And that's normal and that's human. These people are no more perfect than we are. It's hard not to get frustrated, of course, when something happens (a curt word; a longer-than-normal-delay in tending to your baby; a nurse bringing a bottle of formula when you're pumping breast milk as if your life depended on it) but I am trying to remember that they have nonstop, demanding, emotional jobs and they, too, make mistakes and have frailties.
2. For the tiniest babies, merely eating is an intense workout. For my daughter, taking the full ounce of milk that she's up to now is truly exhausting. Full term babies have a hard enough time staying awake through the first feedings -- imagine how it is for one who, by all rights, should still be tucked inside getting easy nourishment from the placenta!?
3. You can become obsessed with chairs. By that, I mean: finding a comfortable position/seat when you're spending hours and hours holding a baby in a NICU is pretty much the only thing I've been thinking about (other than my daughter's health) while I've been visiting her. And yet, this particular hospital NICU has but ONE comfy, cushy rocking chair and the rest are hard-backed torture devices. I've yet to arrive early enough in the day to get the rocking chair-- another mom often claims it for the duration of her visit and so it's just me, my increasingly-numb tush and my still-healing c-section incision and that darn horrible chair.
4. Don't look at the monitors. ANY of them. By that I mean: don't try to follow the fluctuations, blips and beeps of your baby's monitors, with the flashing lights, errors, over-sensitivities and constant beeping. It will make you bonkers and fray your nerves. And don't look at the monitors or statistics of the other babies either-- because that can start you on a road of comparison. Who is heavier? Who is doing "better"? The trajectory to coming home can be varied, and I am already finding that comparing your baby to any other (even if they were born the same amount premature) is never going to end well.
5. It's all about headphones. In the last few days I have found salvation in my little headphones, plugged into my iPod. As I've held my baby, I've listened to music and podcasts, and been able to drown out some of the drama around me. Yes, talking and commiserating with the other parents can be invaluable and give much-needed support. But sometimes, the constant chatter all around is too much. Instead, the rhythm of my music and our two heartbeats (all cozy in one horrible chair!) feels really, really nice.