For me, it seemed like I was working toward an impossible goal.
I knew I had to heal.
I knew I had to “get over” my life-threatening pregnancy and my daughter’s premature birth and forgive myself.
The truth is that you never really “get over” your baby’s premature birth ― you just learn to move on from it.
This was a requirement; not just for me to move past it, but so that my family could move on despite our setbacks.
The need to move on and enjoy life does not accurately explain what I really mean. What I really mean is that I needed to give myself permission to enjoy life again.
For almost three years, I had been feeling guilty about enjoying anything for myself. I always felt the need to make sure that all of my children (and I have 3 boys in addition to my daughter!) were happy all of the time.
While this will always be my goal as a mother, as it is for most, I completely neglected my own personal needs and goals. I always felt the need to go above and beyond with the boys, because I owed it to them for “putting them through” so much stress during my pregnancy and while my daughter was in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).
I owed them three years of time ― including my pregnancy through my daughter’s third birthday, which is when I finally started to relax and realize that we all survived.
I truly believed that it was all my fault. After all, it was my body that failed and led to my daughter almost dying and my boys almost losing a mother. It was my body that caused this beautiful baby to come into world way too soon and be subjected to hundreds of X-rays, IVs, narcotics, procedures, blood transfusions etc.
It was my body that failed, so it was my fault.
The three years following my daughter’s premature birth is still a thin fog. I was completely consumed with keeping germs away from her, keeping her on the correct dose of daily steroids to counteract her Bronchial Pulmonary Dysplasia (caused by her premature birth), and arranging her 5-day a week intervention service schedule.
Every spare moment went into how to “make it up” to my other kids because they could not have play dates at our house (to keep germs out) and we had to miss holiday and birthday parties. This was all because my daughter could not catch a common cold, as they usually caused her to get pneumonia and return to the hospital for weeks at a time.
For three years I felt guilty for my life threatening pregnancy and my daughter’s premature birth. Those words may sound crazy to some, but if you had a premature baby, one that was born on the cusp of viability and almost died and spent months in the NICU, you would understand.
Instead of forgiving myself, I turned inward and began to write. I took out the journal I kept while my daughter was in the NICU and turned it into a book (”From Hope to Joy: A Memoir of a Mother’s Determination and Her Micro Preemie’s Struggle to Beat the Odds”), and then continued to write on my website (www.micropreemie.net) in the form of a blog. I even wrote several guest blog posts for various parenting media outlets, including this one.
This is how I began to heal.
But I didn’t notice that I was healing as I wrote, because it was a very slow process.
I wrote about every emotion I had surrounding my daughter’s premature birth, 121 days in the NICU and discharge.
While very dramatic and scary, my pregnancy afflictions and my daughter’s traumatic and early birth are not special to just us. Unfortunately, many mothers suffer the same fate and many other babies are born at early gestational ages where they are barely viable.
To summarize my story, I will share that I suffered from an extreme case of Placenta Percreta. It started out as Placenta Previa, but got much worse very quickly.
My daughter’s embryo implanted directly on my scar tissue from my three previous C-sections and then her placenta pushed through the scar tissue and grew through my uterine walls and attached to both my bowels and bladder.
This caused me to almost lose my life on four different occasions, beginning at 17 weeks gestation. I suffered four life threatening hemorrhages and required more and more units of blood each time. The last hemorrhage required my daughter’s delivery at 23 weeks gestation and a hysterectomy and over 30 units of blood to save my life.
My daughter (who we named Joy) weighed just 1 pound and 4 ounces at birth. She was only 11 and 3/4 inches long. Joy spent 121 days in the NICU and she suffered from several complications caused by her extremely premature birth.
She is a modern miracle of medicine and faith!
Joy is now 4.5 years old and shortly before her 3rd birthday I began to notice signs that I was healing.
The signs were subtle at first.
Then one day after I finished speaking at a fundraising event for premature babies, I realized that I forgave myself and I had healed. I’ll explain this a little later on.
Below are 5 signs that you’ve moved on and healed after your child’s premature birth (because we never really get over it!). Some are more obvious than others.
1. The crying subsides.
You will likely never stop crying when you see videos or read blog posts (like mine) pertaining to premature babies. This will go on forever, but after a while you will be able to regain your composure more easily and maybe even smile instead of cry when you read about another family’s preemie success story.
2. You will begin to take care of yourself again.
All of a sudden you will want to color your hair, exercise, get a pedicure or massage, or organize your closet. The urge to self-care is a sign that you are healing.
3. You will want to laugh again.
All of a sudden you will want to watch a funny television show that you used to like before you had your premature baby, or you will want to watch a funny movie instead of a serious one.
Unconsciously, I would not allow myself to watch any old favorite reruns like “Friends” or “Seinfeld,” or any other modern humorous show or movie because I felt as if I had to keep to dramatic television. I only wanted to watch others serious or painful stories unfold because I thought I deserved that. If my daughter was in serious condition, than I should not be allowed fun. Finally ― one day I had the urge to watch “Happy Gilmore!”
4. You will look for opportunities to see your friends again, outside of your home.
While your baby is home recovering and growing and staying away from dangerous viruses, your friends many visit you at home and bring you lunch or coffee. After a while, when you begin to look to have someone watch your baby for a few hours so you can meet up with a friend for lunch or coffee outside of your home- that’s a sign that you are healing.
5. One day you will turn around and notice yourself telling your baby’s premature birth story and you don’t mention yourself or what it did to you.
This was a big one for me. After speaking at an event for The Morgan Leary Vaughan Fund (a nonprofit that raises money for NEC research in premature babies and of which I am a member of the Board of Directors), I began my speech with my daughter’s birth. I discussed how many weeks she was at birth and what she weighed, never even mentioning how I almost died and how long I spent in the hospital or how my body had failed me.
I started with her life.
This is when I knew I healed and I had forgiven myself.
The road to “getting over” your baby’s premature birth is not easy and will take different amounts of time for each preemie parent, but it’s important to know that it will happen and that you will forgive yourself. And if you find this not happening over time, then you should seek support so that you can move on.
Let yourself take as much time as you need to process what happened and then realize that you are alive and need to live your life.
You deserve it!
What other signs did you notice that led you to believe you were finally healing after your baby’s premature birth?
November is National Prematurity Awareness Month and November 17th is World Prematurity Day! How are you helping spread awareness about premature births?
For more information or advice on being a parent to a premature baby, please see www.micropreemie.net.