Today we celebrate our sons first Birthday, and I have written this blog to remember this special but equally terrifying day, whilst thinking of all the other parents who have been through a similar experience or are still fighting with their premature babies.
In the lead up to today, I have done the typical Mum thing and scrolled through a year’s worth of photos whilst laughing and getting completely emotional. I know every parent will feel the same, when we see how far our little ones have come and can’t quite believe the first year has passed us by so quickly.
Life with a new baby is a huge adjustment, but life with a new baby where you get sent home and they are is still in hospital is a living nightmare. It’s something you think you will never have to face, as everyone gets to go home with that perfect ‘going home’ photo, right? Well not for us and many others. I still have flash backs of this day last year, and I probably will for the rest of my life. It can take a long time to come to terms with and recover, and for some, we need professional help to accept what has happened. And this is ok, in fact it’s hugely important.
When your baby is in hospital, your nights are still spent sleepless as you relive what’s happened and worry constantly, thinking about them in that room with all the bleeping machines. Your body is completely exhausted and recovering from the magnitude of what it has been through, not to mention the crazy hormones and emotions sweeping through you and the painful engorged breasts with no baby to latch on. Your days are spent running back and forth from the hospital, desperate not to miss the next set times the nurses tube feed your baby or you are allowed to hold them. Those precious moments you are supposed to have with your new-born, that all important bonding time which naturally helps a Mother to produce milk doesn’t happen. Your baby is lying in an incubator and you are sat in a hospital pumping room expressing milk and probably crying as you do it because this is not how it is supposed to be. You are basically the milk man.
The nightmare seems endless, the doctors and nurses can’t tell you when you can take your baby home, because these fragile little humans can change within minutes. Our son was born 5 weeks premature during a very traumatic birth, but we were lucky, he went from strength to strength and was in hospital for 3 weeks. This was still far too long and an experience I have not been able to get over. But for others, who have very sick babies, you can end up spending months in hospital. This is the scariest time in a parent’s life, and you feel like you are missing out on so much. Especially Dads who have just two weeks paternity leave to spend in hospital, this is a whole other topic, but important to mention. You fear your babies won’t know you, let alone the overwhelming jealousy you feel that the nurses spend more time with your baby than you can. It is an exhausting and distressing experience for both parents.
The feelings and emotions you experience range from shock to tears, guilt to anger, powerless to loneliness and endless others. The most common feelings when a baby is born prematurely are loss and grief, loss of the birth experience you wanted, loss of control and grief that you are not with your baby. There are so many reasons why you may feel these emotions, but if I have learnt anything from our experience, it is to talk. Talking to someone and recognising these feelings can help. Recognising and accepting them won’t stop the pain, but it can help you to feel calmer.
There are little things you can do to help. You won’t be able to change the fact it is a challenging time, but if you take care of you more, you will find it a little easier to cope. When your baby is in hospital the guilt you feel when you are not there or have a little fun is huge, but it is so important you do. Make time for you, go for lunch, get a haircut, have a bath, take a walk, or go shopping and get those bits you thought you had more time to buy. Look after yourself by eating well, drink plenty of water and sleep when you can. There is no doubt we would much rather have our babies at home with us, but as soon as you do get them home you won’t have time for all the things you used to do so make sure you use this time. But most importantly don’t lock yourself away and shut people out, tell them how you are really feeling, it’s ok to be struggling and cry.
Remember, there is lots of support and organisations out there to help you, such as Bliss and Tommys’s, as well as numerous Facebook groups, and the huge network of parents who will relate to you and offer you some words of kindness. There is no one more understanding than other parents and we have each other’s backs.
Today we are celebrating how lucky we are that our tiny but mighty son is as strong as he is, and we can celebrate his and our strength as parents. Our thoughts and hearts are with those parents who have been fighting with their babies and experienced loss, and those who are still fighting and have babies in hospital now.
You are not alone.
Help raise awareness. Tell your story.