A Preemie Is Born

Many parents of premature infants fail to acknowledge their pain and grief. Here are some common situations that parents of preemies deal with shortly after the birth of their baby.
I never forget the day, my daughter was born.
The looks on the faces of the doctors and nurses were frightening. There was no cry from the baby, no cheers around the room, just a quick hustle, fast-moving figures in green masks scurrying around.
They never let me hold my baby, never said a word. They whisked her away and ordered my husband to follow them.

See, Samantha was born ۱۶ weeks early at ۱ pound ۱۲ ounces and only ۱۲ inches long. Her skin was thin like a sheet of paper and her eyes were still fused shut. I've never seen such a tiny baby in my life.
When a child is born premature, many parents don't realize that they are going through many fazes of grief. These emotions often go unacknowledged, unrecognized, or swept away because of immediate concern for the child. It's important as a parent that you take the time to acknowledge your feelings and deal with them in order to effectively deal with the challenges that lie ahead as well as be a strong support for your baby.

Here are some of the most common feelings and situations that many parents face shortly after the birth of the baby:

1. Disappointment with childbirth - Often during a woman's pregnancy, she begins to fantasize about the birth experience. When there is an emergency c-section or unusual birth. Your experience may be quite the opposite of your expectations. Allow yourself time to grieve over the loss of that.

2. Pain of going home without your baby - Often there is guilt, fear, disappointment as well as the obvious worry about being discharged without your child. The moment that holds the strongest in my mind is when I was wheeled out of the hospital in the wheelchair holding a plant instead of my baby. There was an overwhelming sadness in that.

3. Dealing with the stages of grief - you may not think so, but grief is a part of dealing with a sick child. Many parents grieve the loss of the ideal that they planned for during the pregnancy. Normal stages of grief include denial, anger, guilt, depression, loneliness, and acceptance.

4. Expecting your partner to have the same reactions as you do. My husband dealt with Samantha's hospitalization with anger and denial. I dealt with it with a combination of extreme sadness to extremely efficient behavior (quite a scary combination, actually). These types of expectations can cause undue stress in an already stressful situation. Allow each other to grieve in your own unique way without judgment. Try to be as supportive of the other's mode of dealing with this issue.

5. Siblings are acting out - if there are older siblings, remember that they are dealing with this too. One way that they may show their confusion and fear is through acting out, getting in trouble, extreme helpfulness, or anger toward the parent or baby. It's important to incorporate the entire family into the healing process. Allow them to be as involved in the baby's life and visitation as much as possible if age-appropriate. Answer their questions honestly and take time off from the hospital to spend with them.

6. Learning to deal with different types of healthcare providers for your child and learning medical terminology in the midst of your emotional state. I became the research queen. I arranged meetings with every single healthcare provider my daughter had and asked them how can I help them, help her. It was very important for me to become a partner with my daughter's healthcare providers. I learned everything that I could about who these people were, what they were doing with her and what could I do if they weren't around. At this stage, it was easier to live in my head than in my heart.

7. Not accepting help from others - I have to say that this is probably the most important advice that I have to share with you today. If someone offers support, help, a shoulder, whatever...take the help. Many push the people who want to help us away in our grief. I felt guilty if I left the hospital or let someone else take a shift with her. My self-care went down to zero, my family life suffered and I suffered. I had no emotional support structure to lean on. For goodness' sake, take the support.
Above all, remember to express your feelings. Whether it is to the hospital social worker, a support group, a friend, or your spouse. Don't be a lone ranger. Your child needs you to be there for him in one piece, physically and mentally.