Recently, I have read several posts on social media where Mom's are talking about feeling guilty about having a preemie. I read with compassion and tried to understand because I did not have a preemie. I have been blessed to have had three reasonably normal pregnancies. I did deal with gestational diabetes with the last one, but all I had to give up was sugar. That was not a bad thing! The 10 pounds I didn't gain with that pregnancy was a blessing in the end!
From the minute we become pregnant, our "mother" instincts come to life, and we want nothing but the best for our babies! We start to worry about what we eat, what we drink, are we doing this right, or are we doing that wrong?! Do we have the right gear ready, the right birth plan, where are we going to have this baby? At home or in a hospital? What way is better for the baby and me? What happens if something goes wrong? Are we going back to work or staying at home? This wondering about how our actions affect our children never stops! My babies are now in their 30's, and my worry mechanism still is working just fine. However, one thing I have learned over these almost four decades is that all the worrying and trying to do everything right doesn't ALWAYS work. Don't get me wrong, a lot of the time it does! I am just saying sometimes stuff happens, we don't have control, and we have just to let it go! I have discovered that often these hard or even "bad" things can be watershed moments in our life. The challenges we face and overcome can tremendously empower us to attempt new things, engage in new possibilities or give us greater compassion for others going through difficulty.
Here are some simple examples from my own life. My middle daughter was about three years old when she came down with a cold on the weekend. By Wednesday I had her into the doctor, and he quickly pronounced she had pneumonia! I promptly said, "How can that be, she just came down with the cold a few days ago?" That's when he told me sometimes people have a cold, and it will just stay a cold. For some that cold progresses to bronchitis or maybe into full blown pneumonia. You don't always get pneumonia just because you stayed outside too long. He was trying to tell me, "Mom you didn't do something wrong to cause this." That made me feel so much better! You see the old wives tale of getting sick because of not wearing a coat outside and the words,"Mom must have done something wrong," were ringing very loudly in my ear. When I hear of someone getting a nasty cold or worse, I no longer jump to the conclusion they must not have been wearing enough clothing outside. A few years later she had another cold, which quickly went right to her chest. I found myself at home alone for a few days and my daughter having breathing troubles in the middle of the night. I tried all the medications and suggestions my pediatrician had given me, but the situation quickly escalated to a trip to the ICU and a multiple day stay in the hospital. My daughter was diagnosed with asthma, and we have dealt with breathing and sinus issues for years. Those days in the ICU were difficult, and help me to understand the feeling of not being able to fix your child's problem on your own but having to trust doctors and nurses to take care of her. It was very difficult leaving her at the hospital overnight and dealing with different behavior due to medications they had given her. This small example helps me to better understand how parents might feel when their baby is in the NICU.
I could give you more examples, especially when it comes to broken arms and stitches. Wow, I have dealt with a few, and you know what? Most of them happened through strange accidents that I wouldn't even have been able to prevent. Throughout my life, I have had other situations that have taught me similar lessons, in regards to divorce, the death of loved ones, and other significant life events. I strongly feel that we can make choices to stay in the guilt zone or move to the empowered zone. It is most definitely a choice.
I want to acknowledge the fact that some women do struggle with postpartum depression and some PTSD from their NICU experience, and this is a genuine struggle. If this is happening to you, please reach out to your doctor and get some help. Talk to someone, express your feelings and work through them. It is essential and will help on your road to getting stronger.
You're probably asking by now, what does this have to do with being a preemie Mom? I want to encourage you by saying, "It's not your fault!" I understand that it is a lot easier for me to say that than for you to accept it. Being a "Preemie Parent" was probably not a title you were looking to wear. If I can say this without sounding too weird, I would encourage you to "embrace it!" Parenting a preemie may just bring you on a path that will change your life for the better, just like motherhood itself can. The amount you will learn with your baby in the NICU will be astonishing! The appreciation you will have for the little things that so many mothers take for granted could be a tremendous gift. I think of this type of thing when I go to another country, or when I spend time on our boat because at many places you can't or aren't supposed to put toilet paper in the toilet. I know you all just gasped! It is such a simple thing we all do daily and never think about, and then all of a sudden you realize that a lot of the world never does. However, I will admit that when I get back home, it is so nice to drop it in! Without the enlightenment of having the restriction, the appreciation of freedom wouldn't exist. The question is: How will you turn this unexpected journey into a path well traveled?
We do see this done with many parents who have started non-profits or give back to their NICU at the holidays, and other times of the year. These are great ideas, but maybe there is something new that none of us have thought of before, and you will be the one gives back that way. You might write the next best book, article or start a blog that will make a difference in women's lives, maybe even 30 years down the road. As I said, I didn't have a preemie, but I was at the hospital the day my friend gave birth to her 2lb, 14oz baby girl. It opened a world to me that I didn't even know was there. I found out 25 years ago that there weren't options for clothing these little miracles. I spent six months working with the nurses at the NICU, finding out what they would want for NICU friendly clothing. The NICU was the first to place an order, and the gift shop was the second. I sewed all those items myself and was ecstatic! My preemie clothing mission was in full gear. I don't personally sew the products anymore but I still design, buy fabric, manage the factory and many many other tasks. There are certainly ups and downs just like any other business. But I still Love what I do, and feel so blessed to have been made aware of the needs of these babies. So you never know where your "giving back" might take you!
Taking hold of the trials that come and turning them into gold is a concept all parents can choose! We also know that preemies may have future issues due to being born premature which could lead a Mom can take that on as another level of guilt. I encourage you to let it go. Big issues can happen to full term babies too. My niece, Sarah, has four beautiful children, her third baby boy was diagnosed with Duchesne Multiple Dystrophy at only 11 months old. He is the sweetest little guy and to realize what this diagnosis will bring for his future (barring a miracle) is devastating. She and her husband have begun a non-profit and raise thousands of dollars for research. We have walked for Fritz, businesses have sponsored fundraisers, the college soccer program she participated in is sponsoring a "Fritz Day," and the list goes on. She has people all over the world wearing her "Fritz & Friends," and "Strength is more than a muscle" shirts. I know she will make a difference in many people's lives, but she would still prefer not to be walking this path. She has allowed this terrible disease to empower her to action rather than let it overpower her into paralysis.
So what can you do? Choose to be empowered! Then, the next time you see someone on a social media post express feeling like her body failed and she did something wrong, to write her some encouragement and let her know that it wasn't her fault! For whatever the reason, her path is a little different than expected and it goes through the NICU instead of the Mother Baby Unit at the hospital. Be open to acting on whatever is percolating inside of you. Most of all, anyone who identifies as a mom needs to continue to give up any guilt of imperfection and embrace the beauty and empowerment of motherhood, no matter how it arrives!
Thank you for reading,
Cressie started the Preemie clothing brand Perfectly Preemie designing preemie clothing that fit the needs of preemie babies in 1993. She acquired the Preemie Store in 2018 to continue to offer great preemie products to parents all around the world.