This post comes from our Preemie Parent Mentor Emily – her story will resonate with many preemie parents who wonder if there’s something they could have done to prevent premature birth. The fact is, however, that most premature birth happens without warning for reasons we don’t always understand.
Today was supposed to be your due date. March 15th – it was written in my head in flashing, neon lights. It was going to be the day when our dream of becoming parents would finally come true. Instead, the three of you made your terrifying entrance into the world seventy three days early. Some people said we were lucky, triplets never make it to their due date so at least we had an idea that they’d come early. Yes, we knew that on average triplets deliver at 33 weeks, we knew that having an extended NICU stay was possible, but we’d also been told that the chances of us triplets were approximately 2.5%. We’d beaten the odds on that one so figured maybe that luck would continue.
What no one ever mentioned in the days and weeks leading up to those chaotic thirteen hours when we learned that there was no stopping your arrival was the overwhelming feeling of guilt. I could barely comprehend what was happening as I looked at your impossibly tiny faces for a just second before you were whisked off by strangers whose sole job was to keep you alive after my body had failed you.
Every waking hour was spent wracking my brain trying to figure out where I went wrong. Every doctor, every nurse tried to reassure me that sometimes these things just happen but I was convinced that I was somehow to blame. If only I’d upped my daily water intake, if only I’d stopped working, if only I’d complained less about needing assistance to roll myself out of bed in the morning then maybe I’d still be feeling you tap dance on my bladder rather than seeing your fragile bodies covered in wires and tubes.
Life was suddenly full of beeping monitors and long acronyms, cracked hands that stung with each repeated washing and arms that ached when you weren’t in them. I would wake with a start in the middle of the night thinking one of you had kicked me awake only to remember that you were miles away in a plastic box. I tried to be strong, knowing that one day I’d want you to see pictures of my smile, not my tears. I tried to stay calm so you wouldn’t sense my stress as I attempted to memorize every detail about your delicate lips, your button noses, the little distinguishing features between the three of you. But you lay curled up on my chest, I constantly wondered if you could you hear my heart whisper “I’m sorry” with every beat?
It’s been four years since you three made your dramatic entrance into the world. Four years filled with sleepless nights and toothless smiles, skinned knees, and potty-related triumphs. Four years that have changed my life in more ways that I ever could have imagined. Memories of your time in the NICU have faded to the back of our minds, but they’re always there.
It seems our whole parenting journey is defined by that tumultuous start, those weeks spent sitting beside your isolettes, and the smell of our NICU’s brand of hand sanitizer that still makes me nauseous to this day. For four years that nagging feeling of guilt has been lurking in the background. I feel it at every doctor’s appointment when we’re still dealing with the effects of you being born too early. I dread every time we celebrate your birthdays, having to put on a brave face and smile at your excitement while inside wishing we could stop commemorating the day I failed you so spectacularly.
I recognize that feeling of guilt in other NICU parents. It seems that everyone’s story includes the line “I wish I’d known what I could have done differently.” And although I don’t know if that guilt will ever go away, it is comforting to know that it’s no longer a dominant feeling in my life. There’s no particular light at the end of this tunnel, at least not yet, but it does feel a little less claustrophobic. Maybe it’s simply time, maybe it’s knowing that there are other people walking with me, maybe it’s being able to channel those feelings into something positive by providing a empathetic ear to others on their preemie journey.