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Interview with a Preemie Mom

InterviewwithaPreemieMom

I have kept a blog over the past three years, and while doing so, have met some pretty incredible women.

One of these women is Kristin. Through the poignant transparency of
her own blog, I have caught glimpses here and there of her story as a
preemie mom. Not only has my heart been touched by her story, I have
also been inspired by the work.

Kirstin has gotten involved in, helping other preemie parents.
Kristin agreed to be share her story when I asked her for an interview.

“I guess in hindsight you could say I was one of the lucky ones,”
Kristin told me. “We knew far before Zach’s birth that something was
wrong and that he would more than likely be premature.

“On January 31, 2006, my husband, mother, and I, went in for my first
sonogram. We were excited to find out the sex of the baby, which we
found out was a boy.

“We could tell that there was something wrong by the sonographer’s
face, however, shortly into our appointment. She left to get the doctor,
who then came in and told us that we had been pregnant with twin boys.
One had already died. While sad, we were still relieved that we had one
baby.

“They sent me to a high risk OB just to make sure that things were
okay. This was probably one of the best decisions they could have made.
I was 23 weeks. It was there that we discovered that the baby was not
growing like he should be and was only measuring 20 weeks instead of 23.
I wasn’t exactly sure what this meant (it’s amazing what you learn when
you go through this stuff!) but I could tell that it was bad news.
Immediately the doctor started talking about doing genetic testing in
addition to other testing to determine what the problem was. I consented
to all but the genetic testing, citing that if something was gravely
wrong I would still like to carry the baby to term instead of having an
abortion.

“They ran every test imaginable on me, only to have negative results
on all of them (negative means the baby did not have any of what he was
being tested for). The doctor suspected Trisomy 18, but had no proof due
to lack of genetic testing.

“The Doctor did finally diagnose me with Intrauterine Growth
Restriction (IUGR), which we learned after Zach was born was severe.
Basically that meant that he was not growing in my womb like he should
have been.

“We continued on through the weeks, making trips to my regular
doctor, my high risk OB, and occasionally to the hospital, which is
where I spent Easter weekend that year. I was 27 weeks and they really
wanted to take him then, but I didn’t feel in my heart that it was time.
We went through the tests, the Biophysical Profiles, the Non Stress
Tests, and finally, the dreaded Amniocentesis at 36 weeks to make sure
his lungs were developed. They were, and it was finally time.

“I was induced on a Saturday morning, and had a c-section later in
the afternoon. Labor was too much for his heart, and we wanted to be on
the safe side. Zach was born at 5:39 p.m. weighing 3 lbs. 1 oz. and 13
3/4 inches long. He stayed in the hospital for 23 days, coming home at 4
lbs. 3 oz.

“He now weighs 25 pounds and is a healthy, happy 2-year-old. They say
the memories fade after awhile, but these have yet to go anywhere.

“My pregnancy summed up?

8 Months of pregnancy
33 Doctor appointments
26 Sonograms
3 Trips to the hospital
8 Hours of “labor”
1 C-Section
1 Perfect baby
It was all worth it.”

After hearing the story, I went on to ask Kristin how it was
different for her, being the parent of a preemie, than it is for other
mothers who deliver when they are supposed to.
“It was hard going to the hospital to be induced because I knew that
he was going to be premature. I always imagined when I gave birth that
it would be this wonderful day and we’d all be so excited to see this
new life.

Instead, I was being warned that there was a chance that he
would die shortly after birth, and if he did live, he’d be small and
have to stay in the hospital for awhile.

“One of the things I did consent to was steroid shots, a set of shots
that helped develop his lungs while he was in utero. After being
induced, they discovered that he was not tolerating the contractions
very well, so they decided a c-section was in order. He came out
screaming (thanks to the shots no doubt!) at 3lbs. 1 oz.

“The worst day was 4 days later when I was discharged and had to go
home while he stayed in the NICU. I cannot think of a more empty feeling
than going home without your baby. We were back up at the hospital 2
hours later.”

When I asked Kristin to describe the emotions surrounding her son’s
birth, she replied that she experienced just about all of them.

“I went through feeling fear, being in shock, being angry,
experiencing angst, feeling upset and sad, and mostly wondering why. Why
did people who didn’t go to the doctor, people who smoked a pack a day,
and people that didn’t care about their diet or taking their prenatal
vitamins, get to go home with big healthy babies? Here I had done
everything I could have done and still came up short.”

She went on to add, “You blame yourself a lot. You wonder if there was something that could have been done to change things.”

I wondered how Kristin got through all of those emotions. After all,
giving birth brings about a roller coaster ride anyway for a new Mama. I
just couldn’t imagine having the normal post-pregnancy emotions on top
of everything else she told me she had to go through.

She replied that most days she would simply just live through the
motions of the day. She would get up, get dressed, and go see Zach. She
said that if she was really honest, she really didn’t deal with any of
the emotions. At the time, the last person she was worried about was
herself. She was focusing all of her strength and energy on her tiny
son.

I wanted to know what people did or said that added to her hurt and
burden during the time she was waiting for Zach to come home from the
hospital. In response, Kristin shared her heartbreak that no one said
the words every mom longs to hear, “Your baby is beautiful.” Instead,
most of their visitors just gasped.

“I suppose I can’t blame them,” she said. “They were expecting to see
a little baby; but that’s not what preemies look like. Zach had a small
body, a large head, was red and still covered with hair all over his
body. He was hooked up to countless machines and monitors and he looked
limp and tired. He had biliruben lights on him (for jaundice) so he had a
blue tint to him as well.

“Now when I go visit the NICU, I make a point of telling the parents how beautiful their baby is!”

Kristin also shared that some well-meaning but non-thinking people
would actually say things like, “At least you can get some sleep at
home!” or “He wasn’t due yet anyway, he’ll be home then right?”

“They didn’t know. It’s really a situation, that unless you’ve been there, you just don’t know.”

However, there were some people who did really touch Kristin and her
family during that time. Some came to visit Zach in the hospital and
others sent preemie outfits since he didn’t have anything he fit into
(even the preemie clothes were too big for him).

“By far, however, the best thing that was done for me [was] when
people listened to me. They listened to how I was feeling, listened to
what was going on that day, how many grams Zach had gained, etc.
Listening was everything.”

I asked Kristin what someone like me could do to help out a parent
that has given birth to a preemie baby. Having never walked that path
myself, I honestly didn’t know what the best thing I could do was.

She told me that parents of preemies are usually shocked to even find
themselves in that situation in the first place. One of the most
helpful things I could do would be to do the everyday little things for
them.

“Do you have even 30 minutes?” she asks. “Use that time to mow their
lawn, make dinner and take it to them, clean their house, or do their
laundry. Offer to babysit the other children so the parents can go to
the NICU.

“Buy gas cards because the gas is expensive with all the trips to and
from the hospital — especially if it’s in another town. While you’re
buying a gift card, buy a couple for restaurants near the hospital.

“You can also buy them a journal so they can record their thoughts.
“And please don’t be disappointed or angry if the parents are
protective of their baby. They have every right to be. Don’t persuade
them that it’s okay for them to go out during RSV season and don’t
create a scene if you’re a smoker and they ask you not to smoke around
their child.

“All of these are little, yet big ways you can help out the parent of
a preemie during one of the most difficult times they will ever go
through.”

I asked Kristin what the long term effects were on Zach’s life, due
to his being a preemie. She stated that she and her husband are blessed
to have not discovered any long term effects as of yet. Although he was
late with his sitting up, crawling, and walking, he has thoroughly
mastered all of those milestones now at 26 months. He hasn’t really
become much of a talker yet, but they are sure that it’s just a matter
of time before he hits that milestone as well

I wondered if Kristin would be willing to go a step further and share
her heart about how this has affected her and her husband’s desire for
more children. She transparently shared about this.

“We are scared half to death to have more children. Our first
pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage, and with Zach we were pregnant with
twins but lost one in utero. We would love another child down the line,
but it’s really hard once you’ve been through a preemie [birth] to
trust that things are going to be okay with another baby.”

One of the things that I have grown to deeply respect and admire in
Kristin is her willingness to embrace her story and use it to help
others. She is now on the founding board of the NICU’s Family Advisory
Council in the hospital where her own son was born. This board focuses
on making the NICU experience better for other families of preemies.

“We offer a sympathetic ear to parents. Most just want to hear that
it’s okay to be scared. For me this was the best thing that I could do,
take my experience and try to help others. Like I said before, unless
you’ve been through it, it’s hard to know what they are going through.”

I wrapped up our interview by asking Kristin what we can all do to
get involved in helping premature birth awareness and support. She
strongly encouraged me and our readers to donate to the March of Dimes. A
donation of money or time can both be used. “Look up your local
chapter, they always need help”, she encourages.

She went on to say that we can also donate rocking chairs to our local NICU so the moms have a comfy place to rock their babies.

Some may even want to volunteer their time because a lot of hospitals
have a “cuddler” program where all you do is go in the NICU and hold
the healthier babies: “Zachary was at a Level III NICU — the highest
level — and they serve all of Kansas. We were lucky enough that we could
go see him multiple times a day, but some parents only get to see their
baby once a week.

“And don’t forget even the little things like bringing the nurses
cookies!” Kristin adds. “Even that can be a big help because it
brightens their days.”

After all, they are caring for our most precious babies.

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