Five things to know about premature birth
The wonderful Gemma Lovegrove has been kind enough to write this guest piece, a brave and honest account of her experience. She has some wise words about premature babies and the main things you need to know.
- It’s common
Our babies were born when I was 25 weeks pregnant. Yes, they were twins. Yes, twins are often born early. I had no idea what having a premature baby would entail, but the experience has changed me forever. Preterm birth, which occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy is the biggest cause of newborn death and the second biggest cause of death in children under five years old. More than 60,000 babies are born prematurely in the UK each year, and it was a shock to see the rows of incubators housing tiny babies in the neonatal ward.
2. It isn’t just a case of waiting for them to grow
I remember the astonishment I felt when we were told that we would be in hospital until our due date. The girls were born in November. They were due in February. We would be in hospital for Christmas? I would spend almost half of my maternity leave in an intensive care ward?
Some babies do just need to learn to feed, and then grow. For others, there are infections, breathing problems and worse. But coupled with this, is the loss of all normality. Many parenting choices are taken out of your hands. You have to choose to leave your baby to eat, sleep and pump milk, which physically hurts every time, and the guilt of not being the one to comfort them when they cry for you in the night has never left me.
3. It doesn’t end when you are discharged from hospital
I had a chart in hospital, where I ticked off the days until our due date. But then I was home with two 4lb babies and no reassurance from machines, nurses or doctors. The attentive support from family and friends can fade as they feel that you are out of the woods.
If you know someone whose baby has spent time in hospital, do continue ask them if they are ok. Quite possibly they are not, although they might not realise it at the time. I found life incredibly difficult for at least 18 months after being discharged. My experience of being a mum was so far removed from what I had imagined, and I hadn’t had a moment to process it. The neonatal unit has a long lasting impact and the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder for parents is high.
4. It is hard to let go
Having premature babies meant I didn’t return to work. The girls hadn’t even started to sit up when I was due to return. They were still so dependant. I felt like no one else would look out for the early warning signs of illness like I would. It felt too much of a risk, and I have kept them close by ever since.
I’m not sure that anyone can understand the fear that stays with you, once you have witnessed your child stop breathing and that meant I stayed away from baby groups initially, isolating myself through fear of infection and a return to hospital. My radar for a snotty nosed child is still impeccable.
We have worked so hard to hope that no one will be able to recognise the trauma of their early life. But we will never, ever, in a million years forget it, and it feels incredibly daunting to start letting them go a little.
5. It is a privilege to be a parent to a child that was premature
I am acutely aware of the mismatch between normal development for a baby in the womb, and the experience of a baby that is growing in the noisy, bright, false environment of an incubator. They are constantly disturbed and have to undergo numerous, painful procedures. Every day, I wonder if this will have an impact on the development of my daughters.
“They will get there”, you may think. I hear it regularly, and appreciate it is well meant. But we were given no guarantees that the girls would be able to walk or talk, and there is little known about lasting physiological effects.
One twin took two weeks longer than the other one to smile, and I remember tears of relief pouring down my face when she eventually showed her beautiful grin. The same has happened with every milestone since. Parents of premature babies are privileged. They will never take for granted a spoken word, and will never consider a step, ordinary. Feelings of enormous relief, extreme gratitude, and huge amounts of pride are in abundance every time you witness your very own miracle.
Thank you Gemma, for sharing your experiences.
If you can relate to any of this or want to share your thoughts please do comment, share or like over on the Facebook page
If you are going through a similar experience, have a premature or poorly baby, please do contact
BLISS – 0808 801 0322
Gemma didn’t feel able to attend baby massage her babies. She said “one of my girls was on oxygen for 6 months after we bought her home and I felt too overwhelmed to take them to very much early on. I also felt a bit stressed by the pressure of keeping them both happy in the early days”- this is totally understandable, but if you are feeling similarly, please do look for a local instructor. Baby massage can really help to connect and bond with your baby, particularly if you have not been able to touch in those early weeks or months. An instructor can always come to your home, or you can use the online course. Please ALWAYS ensure that your health professional has agreed that you can use baby massage prior to starting any course.