My first child was a surprise. I had recently graduated from college, finished my first marathon, and started a new job. So when my shirts weren’t fitting right and a test from the drugstore confirmed my suspicion, I panicked by obtaining just about every book about pregnancy there is.
Included in the stack was the popular “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel. I read through almost all 600+ pages of it, learning about topics like sleep, fitness, nutrition, stretch marks, and heartburn.
I crafted my perfect birth plan and started collecting baby gear and clothes. I had an uneventful pregnancy until 33 weeks when I developed preeclampsia. I was hospitalized for a week, during which time I scoured my books for information about premature babies and found them terribly inadequate.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 12 percent of live births are premature – defined as before 37 weeks. With so many babies coming early, one would think that there would be more than a dozen pages dedicated to them in a 600+ page book!
If you are expecting a preemie (and even if you are not – most of us don’t!), here is what you can expect:
- A crowd in the delivery room. Besides the doctor and nurse to help you, your baby will have a crew of neonatologists. And as soon as that baby emerges, they will be all over him. You might get a quick peep, but don’t expect to hold your little one just yet.
- Wires everywhere! Your baby will likely need oxygen, an IV, and other interventions shortly after delivery.
- To learn a new vocabulary. You will get to know the A’s and B’s of the NICU in no time. The most common diagnoses of preemies can be found here (link: http://kidshealth.org/parent/system/ill/nicu_diagnoses.html?tracking=P_RelatedArticle#), so you can learn about IVH, NEC, PVL, and all the other terms parents of healthy newborns don’t have to learn.
- Another crowd in the NICU. NICU nurses are a special breed; they have seen a lot, so take advantage of their wealth of knowledge and talk to them. You will also see lots of doctors, specialists, lactation consultants, and maybe even chaplains.
- A roller coaster of emotions. You thought pregnancy hormones messed with your emotional state?! When a preemie comes, you will experience everything from guilt and frustration to heartwrenching depression to overwhelming joy.
- More uncertainty than you would like. Closely related to the emotional roller coaster, the uncertainty can eat at you. You aren’t sure if your baby will make it, if or when he will come home, what kind of long-term consequences there could be – and most of the time the doctors won’t give you concrete answers either.
- Newborn clothes are gigantic. All those 0-3 month clothes you’ve collected? Too big. But no worries, you will have time to collect preemie clothes. Most preemies hang out in their birthday suits for a little while; all the wires and therapies make it hard to wear clothes anyway. In good news, you will get your money’s worth from those 0-3 month clothes eventually.
If it is likely that you will expect a preemie, most hospitals will tell you all of this. 10x as fast. Using big words and unfamiliar acronyms. When you are already stressed out. But don’t worry – you’ll catch up faster than you think!