30 April 2013

Become Empowered! Prematurely.

I recently sat down with the author of Empowered Preemie Moms, Shaana Berman. OK, well I was sitting on the east coast and she was sitting somewhere on the west, but we got together via the interwebs and she told me about her new book. I had just read it and she was kind enough to answer some questions and include photographs. I wish there had been a book like this available when I had Tristan (or even that I'd read it before pregnancy)! Preemies happen. Two years later we are both in better places and active in raising prematurity awareness. This blog has been my outlet - this book has been hers...

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From NICU, to Newborn, and Beyond...

Shaana and I originally met around the time Tristan was born (her son, Jackson, is about a year older) and I joined a preemie support group. She is one of the moms who helped me cope with my initial emotions and all the ones that came along with the rollercoaster known as NICU. She had just started asking for anonymous answers to a survey that would one day become her book. I'm so excited that it's complete and available right here on Amazon. It's a must read for everyone - after all, one in eight babies is born prematurely in our country so even if you aren't a parent to one, chances are you'll know someone who will. 

Author Shaana Berman and son, Jackson.

Empowered Preemie Moms by Shaana Berman

Introduction and Interview

Empowered Preemie Moms utilizes the analysis of over 50 personal narratives from preemie moms around the globe to offer empowerment strategies and support to preemie moms.  I had a very difficult transition to parenthood and felt very isolated and overwhelmed.  Other preemie moms were the only people who seemed to be able to support me and understand what we were going through.  I want to pay that support forward, and that is why I wrote this book.  In addition to supporting other moms, I was able to find a little closure as I wrote down our story.  

Friends who do not have preemies have read the book and have commented that the reading was very intense and almost too difficult to process.  My very closest friends, who are not yet parents, were very disturbed by what I went through because even though they were right there, they didn't really understand the gravity of what I was dealing with.  I think because the book is raw and real, and I made no effort to tone down any of the stories, the book would raise awareness and perhaps enable folks who didn't endure the preemie or NICU experience to empathize and support those of us who have experienced traumatic birth and NICU scenarios.  

I write on two blogs, but will be integrating them soon.  Most of my content is on roosterclubmom.blogspot.com but will be integrating at some point to empoweredpreemiemoms.wordpress.com. I also recently set up a Facebook page and love to hear from people!

NICU treasures: bonding doll, bili light shades, tiny pacifier, O2 tubes, and now & then diapers.
NICU treasures: bonding doll, bili light shades, tiny pacifier, O2 tubes, and now & then diapers.

How did it affect you – with your own PTSD while writing this – to read so many emotional stories?

While it was certainly intense to read these stories, knowing I was not alone was extremely helpful.  In fact, I believe that this network of moms who shared their stories contributed to pulling me up and out of a very deep and very dark hole that I didn’t realize I was living in.  I wasn’t alone, and I would make it through.  Writing our own personal story, however, was extremely challenging because I relived every single second.  Every moment that I thought I had let go of and overcome came rushing back, and it still does when I re-read our birth story. 

In what ways are you still recovering from Jax’s traumatic birth?

I recently graduated from therapy.  I was in counseling for both postpartum depression and anxiety, as well as PTSD for over two years.  Although I am significantly improved, I still experience some residual anxiety, especially about health issues.  We have been hospitalized two additional times since Jax was released from the NICU.  During those times, I felt like I had been catapulted back into the same emotional place I was shortly after his birth.  It was difficult to return to a less anxious state once Jax was well, but I was aware of my anxiety and worked to control it.  I never know when to “freak out” about something.  To some moms, a cold is just a cold.  In our case, I learned that a cold could be RSV and lead to a hospital stay where I spent 70 hours awake and helpless as I watched my son struggle to breathe.  So, whenever I hear a sniffle, my adrenaline starts going.  I also still have difficulty sleeping.

I’d never heard of The Golden Hour before – can you tell me more about what that would have entailed?

According to our hospital, the golden hour is that time period just after birth where a new mother is left with her husband and child to bond.  During this time, breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact are encouraged.  I was horrified to wake up and realize that my son and I had missed out what I felt was a natural and normal experience.  I felt cheated and angry, but most of all, I was terrified that my son would not bond with me because he was taken away before I had a chance to even hold him. 

I’ve never seen a bonding doll. Do you still have it? (can you include a photo if so?) What mementos of NICU have you kept, if any?

My husband, even though he expressed that he could not wait to forget about this NICU business, kept everything from Jax’s bili light mask to his belly button stub.  We have his first pacifier, his hospital bracelet, and a tiny blanket knitted by a volunteer group.  I had never heard of a bonding doll either, and I was literally grief-stricken when I was told that my scent on the doll would help Jax bond with me even though I wasn’t there.  In retrospect, I think the doll is a wonderful concept, but at the time it only reinforced my anxiety over losing our golden hour and what that that crucial period of time represented to me.

Through the course of the book I feel like we really get to ride your rollercoaster of emotions. How would you describe your personal growth since Jackson’s birth?

I have completely changed.  I used to be the kind of person that burned the candle at both ends and through the middle.  I was always sick, anxious, and my blood pressure was reaching the threshold for medication, all before the age of 30.  I didn’t take care of myself.  At all.  But, I had all of these nifty degrees, credentials, experiences, and a high status job to show for my hell-bent desire to be successful.  What I didn’t realize was that I was never present.  I was always thinking about the next thing.  I didn’t really understand gratitude.  Therefore, I can now say that I was never truly happy or balanced.  I think everything happens for a reason and my story proves that.  Jackson literally saved my life.  Although his birth was traumatic and I had to hit rock bottom before I could see the forest for the trees, I was lucky enough to be able to start over.  It was like a re-birth for me.  Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I was reborn, and every day I have to reaffirm that these miracles really happened.  I’m still here.  It’s for a reason—I have to believe that.  Now, I work hard to have balance.  I try to stay present.  I practice gratitude.  I have a running document on my computer where I log things I am grateful for.  I just started a Zumba class and I actually cried in my car afterwards—they were tears of joy.  Last year at this time, I could hardly walk around the block.  Now, I wake up each day and I am so thankful.  Universe, wake up call received! 

How do you feel towards NICU nurses these days? What could they have done to make you feel better at the time?

I appreciate them.  I hope that came through in my book.  I am not the only person who has experienced impersonal treatment in a hospital.  I can say that most of our nurses were amazing.  But, I must be honest and say that some were rather harsh and clinical.  They acted like this situation was normal and that I was overreacting or something.  I felt like some of them thought I was crazy.  Understanding that the NICU is not normal or something a family wants to experience is essential to appropriate treatment.  The nurses who were the most helpful were the ones who treated my son like a person instead of a patient.  Taking care to re-wrap him tightly, ensuring that we were called before feedings or when he was crying, pulling up a chair and talking to us, giving us time and space when we needed it, all of these things helped us feel supported during the process.  There were nurses who did that and those who did not.  The NICU and its staff guard a family’s most precious thing—their child.  Our NICU was efficient and the staff was extremely competent.  But these factors are not what stand out.  Those nurses who used a caring, family-centered approach are the ones we will never forget.

How long after Jackson’s birth did you write his story?

Inspiration to reach out in the form of a survey struck me in January of 2011.  I collected over 50 responses from preemie moms across the globe from January to March.  I began writing in June 2011, so about a year after his birth.  The writing was therapeutic for me.

What's your advice for new preemie moms?

Try not to beat yourself up. 

We can’t stop the passage of time.  It may seem like every day is an eternity, but your child will grow.  Someday, things will change.  While this is certainly not the experience any of us expects, we can’t change what has happened, we can only forge our way through it.  Take some time for yourself every single day and don’t feel guilty about it.  Use some of the empowerment strategies in my book to help you through!  Remember, the days are long but the years are short, and someday your NICU experience will be a memory that is overshadowed by many other moments and milestones.    

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