25 February 2013

Prematurity Awareness: Becoming a NICU Mom

NICU preemies, what to expect preemie, what to expect NICU, time in NICU, having a preemie, prematurity awareness
Letter to my past self about becoming a NICU preemie mom

You are about to become a preemie mom and move into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit henceforth called NICU. This is going to shock you because there's no way to see it coming.

That was your water that broke when you went to bed. I know you read a lot of posts on The Bump about baby leaning on your bladder forcing you to pee a little. That's why your friend told you to buy those pads. Yeah, parts of pregnancy are gross. When a woman's water breaks it doesn't always happen like in the movies (big splash!). 

When you called an ambulance after a few hours of working your night shift you couldn't sit in a chair. You had to learn over the back. That is not normal. Then telling the paramedics that you couldn't possibly be having contractions because you are only 30 weeks...well, try to listen to them. You're going into shock, though, so that might be hard.

I'm writing to raise prematurity awareness. I didn't know anything about preemies before I had Tristan other than they were a smaller version of a Cabbage Patch Kid that smelled like baby powder.

There is a lot of guilt when it comes to having a preemie.

  • How did my body fail?
  • What could I have done differently to prevent this?
  • Why me when everyone I know has a big full term baby?
  • Did I spend enough time in NICU?

The list goes on.

Self, you might not be able to breastfeed. You might have to choose between how long you can stand pumping 8-10 times/day or choose formula. Just because you get time to practice doesn't mean it will work. Don't feel like a failure if it doesn't because you are a champion for trying under such stressful circumstances.

Once you see the end of your NICU time in sight it will be the hardest part. You might hit a few walls while in NICU, get another wind, hit a wall, and get stuck in a rut. You can't predict your feelings but it seems like most moms will agree that the end is hardest. Friends won't realize this unless they've been in your shoes. They also won't realize that your child isn't "all better" when you are discharged. Just because you get to come home doesn't mean you don't have a preemie anymore. 

Your baby, who seemed so big compared to the newbies in NICU, will look even tinier than ever out in the real world. There will probably be things you need to continue doing - OT, PT, IE, ST, ohh you will speak a whole new language. Numbers will have new significance.

Germs will be terrifying. People will judge you and say cliches like "it's good to expose a baby to germs" except it's not good for a preemie. They didn't develop the same way a full term baby did. Their lungs are immature up until they are two years old! You'll learn even more letters like RSV.

It takes about two years to "catch up." You will have a lot of appointments. 

When you're finally discharged, all the emotions you've kept tucked away because you're in mommy-survival-mode will come crashing out of the closet. Most preemie moms suffer from PTSD and it's particularly bad the first year. Their first birthday/s will be hard but for most moms things become a lot easier after it passes. Support groups are everything! Don't be afraid to join one even if you don't post. Other preemie moms will be the only ones who can relate to this part of your life.

You will probably feel awkward around pregnant women - especially if this is your first child. You'll envy third trimester. 

You'll probably tell anyone and everyone about how you had a preemie. Like you'll be at the park and the mom small-talk will start. Oh how old is he? Is he small for his age? Then your big, traumatic story will fly out of your mouth. Please try not to scare any pregnant women, but prematurity happens. We are the voices, the real life stories. That Preemie Mom. 

We'll get extra excited when you say you're 24 weeks. Even more at 25.

Don't play who is preemie-er. Anything less than full term isn't good (do not advocate for early induction because you're uncomfortable!).

The tiniest of babies (micropreemies) have sailed through NICU while 35 weekers have spent more time and had more complications. Gestational age is just a number like all the other numbers. 

Remember many moms have experienced a loss. Choose your words carefully.

There is NICU etiquette, but we'll get to that.
Another letter for another day.

There will come a day when you no longer feel like a preemie mom. It won't be how you identify yourself anymore and that might feel strange. You'll be a toddler mom. They keep on growing, even if it's very slowly (more letters FTT).

Some mothers will choose not to talk about it and that is all right.

I want to share my story. As long as prematurity happens it needs to be talked about by someone and I will be one of those voices. You don't learn a thing from silence and I don't want to hear about another mom who thought she needed to drink more water, fight through night shift, and nearly have her baby drop out on the bar floor.

Everyone, you can never be too careful. Please go into the hospital if you feel like something isn't right. The worst thing that happens is actually the very best: nothing is wrong.

post signature


  1. One thing I'm always telling people about prematurity is that I wish talking about it was a standard part of prenatal care. I'd never even HEARD of the NICU until we were in it. Why the heck not?? Prematurity happens, so why not mention it during normal visits early on?

  2. As the mom of a former 23 weeker (no 2yo), I identified with everything you say here. The Cabbage Patch Kid line made me crack up, which is hard to do when talking about preemies. It is SO true though. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I was a nicu Mom 17 years ago. At 28 weeks I gave birth to a 2 lbs. 3 oz. baby girl. My blood pressure shot through the roof and birth was.the only cure. After a roller coaster of.ups and downs and a heart surgery at the Childrens of Philadelphia, we were able to bring her home on oxygen, and and a heart monitor. When I was brave enough to take her out, I was in the super market. While waiting in the checkout the woman in front of me saw the oxygen tube, she asked me of I took drugs while pregnant! I almost died right there! Well anyway, after lots of ups and downs she is now a very healthy high school.senior this year . My husband and I are very lucky, some nicu parents are not, my heart goes out to them, and I hope my story is able to help someone in some small way.

  4. Thank you so much for your post! You are correct when you say that only preemie moms will understand. It is very refreshing to read something so honest.

  5. @Christina - yes! I wish they had, if not during the standard OB visits I think they should have told me a little after my place burned down. Even though my stats were normal I was under more stress than can be put into words...so that had to change the "textbook" dontcha think?

    @akcrankin - I totally had that CPK and if you Google the commercial for it in the 80's you will pass out LOL'ing! It tells you to feed it cookies. It's gold.

    Ohh @Kyle - wow. I am very happy to hear how well things are now because you're right that things don't always work that way. I'll bet it was so different back then. My mom was born prematurely and she'd kill me if I said when but parents weren't even allowed in back then. She was 3 lbs!

    @MsRegan - thank you <3


Thanks for your comment - I'll totally w/b/s! If you want to read my response (which of course you will!) please click that little "subscribe by email" link you'll see next to the publish button. Blogger does not send reply-alerts unless you complete that step. xx