The premature birth of our daughter was stressful, traumatic, and to say the least – far from what my husband and I hoped the experience would be like. So much of my labor, delivery, and immediate hours postpartum felt like they were going by in slow motion. Like things were happening to me, rather than me having as much of a say in the process as I had hoped. Now, of course, there’s a lot that is outside of our control when it comes to the process of birth, but to have to be induced pre-term, in a hospital, assisted by residents, nurses, physicians, and specialists was not what I imagined for this major life event. Throughout my pregnancy, I had been under the care of a magnificent midwife with the option of giving birth at the birthing center where she worked or in my home, which is what I planned. I wanted to get to 40 weeks, to get to the point of discomfort, and just be ready for the pregnancy to end. Instead, I learned at a routine Monday morning prenatal checkup, that things weren’t looking good for Baby and it was going to be the safest for her to be out of the womb earlier than she wanted to be in my arms. Thankfully, our daughter was healthy, albeit very small for her gestational age. She had a couple of mild issues that required her to stay in the NICU, but her time there was brief.
Though she and I came out of everything alive and well, I was really troubled by all that we had gone through. Through regular sessions with my therapist and practicing EMDR therapy, I have worked through much of the issues associated with having a premature baby and for that I am thankful. This is one of the things I wish I knew about right after my daughter was born. I knew about therapy, but I didn’t pursue it and instead, suffered silently and often alone. My husband was around and was a fantastic support, but I couldn’t articulate all that I was feeling and thinking about the process of our daughter’s entry into the world so I kept things bottled up for years. Take it from me: If you personally experience the birth of a premature child or are supporting a client who gives birth to one, connect with a mental health provider as soon as you can. It might not seem like it now, but the experience likely will impact your life down the road and the earlier you work through the trauma, the better off you will be.
Other things I wish I had known include:
- It can be hard to find preemie clothes in a pinch. It might be a good idea to have a few options on hand while you’re pregnant just in case. That way, you’ll have a few options for the baby in the earliest days and you won’t have to be asking everyone you know to look for preemie clothing like my husband and I did. Save your receipts, don’t take tags off, or wash items right away because if you don’t need them, you can return them. Or better yet, you could donate them to your local NICU or another family in need!
- There’s an adjusted age and actual age, which can be hard to get used to at first. For example, if a baby was born on May 1st, but their estimated due date was June 15th, the baby was about 6 weeks premature. Then look at today’s date, July 1st for example. The baby is 2 months old today or 8 weeks, but the baby will likely be hitting milestones associated with a 2 week old to account for the early birth date. I know, it can be confusing. This is why I wish I’d known more about it beforehand instead of having to learn it when I was in shock from having a baby early.
- Premature birth isn’t your fault. 9 times out of 10, the baby and Mother Nature have a completely different plan than what you imagined. Don’t blame yourself, don’t go down the dark rabbit hole of what-ifs. Show yourself the same love, grace, and compassion that you would extend to a friend, and be as gentle with yourself in this process as possible.
- It can be hard to feel connected to your premature baby. Maybe he or she is sick and requires a lot of interventions in the NICU so they look like they’re covered in wires and gauze with beeps, whistles, and alarms going off all the time. It can feel like it’s not safe to touch your baby, but this is a common feeling. The nursing staff will walk you through what to do and what not to do and will hopefully calm your nerves. Many mamas struggle to feel love for their baby because of so many missed expectations about the last weeks of pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum, and/or what the baby would look like once they were born. Don’t feel bad if you don’t find your child to be cute or if you feel disconnected from them at first. Remember, you’ve been through a lot too and it’s okay to take your time to come around to the idea of this new person who was just inside of you and is now out in the real world. Try to express these feelings with your partner, doula, or a trusted friend so you’re not keeping everything inside. It’s important to lean on your support people as you adjust to your new life and being open with them about everything you’re experiencing can help.
Kelli Blinn lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband of 14 years, their 11-year-old daughter, and their 8-year-old son. In addition to her work as a labor doula, Kelli is a childbirth educator, an infant feeding specialist, and a peer recovery supporter for pregnant and postpartum moms with the POEM program. In her free time, she enjoys listening to podcasts, going to concerts, meeting friends for coffee or cocktails, and anything having to do with potatoes.