Saturday, January 15, 2011

Premature Parenthood

I've been thinking about how to summarize the past two months without too much or too little detail. I think I will break it down into topics such as:

-- when your pregnancy is cut short and you're not ready
-- when things don't go according to the birth plan
-- handling multiple weeks with a baby in the NICU
-- making it through the holidays under the above circumstances
-- figuring out what kind of help to request, accept, or deny from family and friends
-- what they didn't tell me about breastfeeding
-- what about our remaining embryos at CCRM?

Today I'll start with the first on the list:  premature parenthood. My twins were born at 32 weeks, 6 days. Interestingly, even though they were just one hour shy of 33 weeks, they were "32 weekers" according to the NICU. I hated that and always wished they could just call them 33 weekers because that would have sounded much better to me.

The fact that my pregnancy ended three weeks before my goal of 36 weeks was extremely difficult for me for the first several weeks and it still is, in some ways. At my first OB appointment last June, we sat in the office of a doctor I'd never met before and he told us that if I made it to mid-December it would be a miracle. Well that became my goal. Mid-December.

For weeks after the birth, which was on November 19, I couldn't stop thinking about how things happened, how surprised I was by it all, and how unprepared I felt. My last day at work had been that Monday and the babies arrived that Friday so I missed out on a lot of preparation and anticipation and nesting time. In addition to the distress of having to leave our newborns at the hospital when I was discharged, this was the dominant theme running through my mind and it just broke my heart -- I wasn't pregnant anymore. This sounds stupid, I know, considering I had two babies to think about.  But after all of those years of trying so hard to get pregnant, I just wasn't ready to not be pregnant. I felt like my body had failed the babies and I thought a lot about what I could have done to prevent such a premature birth and to keep the twins from having to stay in the NICU.

Just the other day, I read this:

"Having a premature baby has been likened by some experts to experiencing the death of a child. Parents grieve the loss of the healthy full-term newborn they pictured they'd take home, as well as of the normal pregnancy, delivery, and birth they were expecting. Don't forget that your parenthood, too, was premature, and you probably missed out on some important and meaningful social rituals that would have helped prepare you to take your baby home. You may not have completed your parenting class, had a baby shower, exulted in a celebration after delivery with your family and friends. Most parents of preemies don't realize how deep their deprivation is, or if they do, they may feel guilty about it. It doesn't feel right to mourn an imagined baby, or your own unmet needs, when you have a baby alive, and at home."
From "Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies" by Dana Wechsler Linden, Emma Trenti Paroli, and Mia Wechsler Doron, M.D. [This book is an excellent resource, by the way.]

Reading the above quote gave me some validation for how I felt those first several weeks. I believe I had known that I needed to emotionally prepare myself to not be pregnant anymore and I think it was on my mental list of things to do before I reached 36 weeks (along with things like finish the nursery, get caught up on thank you notes, read up some more on breastfeeding, etc., etc.). Not being  prepared to let go of being pregnant -- knowing I may never be pregnant again --  taught me how much I truly loved being pregnant. (A surprise to me, because as we struggled to beat IF and we considered all of the options, I said I wasn't the kind of woman who needed to experience pregnancy to feel like my life is complete.) Sure, my pregnancy was physically challenging in a variety of ways and toward the end I was pretty miserable with the swelling in my legs and feet. But I still loved it. I loved the anticipation of what was to come. I loved the excitement that people had for us. I enjoyed the success we finally achieved, after more than three very long years of trying to conceive. I treasured how "charmed" our CCRM experience had been. And I celebrated with each passing week that I wasn't on bed rest and seemed to be doing so well.

Of course, I realize as I write this that I can still enjoy our success and treasure the CCRM experience. Premature birth doesn't take that away. Nothing can!

During those first weeks, I could only talk about my feelings with DH because I figured anyone else would think I was crazy (and dear readers, if YOU think I'm crazy, please don't comment and tell me I'm wrong for feeling this way). Eventually, I think he gently said to me, "I think you need to let this go" -- or something like that -- and I realized he was right. I couldn't dote on the fact that I didn't get what I wanted. I needed to accept what had happened as part of this journey and move on. After all, that's life, right?

I've definitely begun to put aside the feelings of disappointment and failure and I've also begun to see the positives of not being pregnant anymore -- for starters, I'm 50 pounds lighter and can move around easily again. As we watched the babies grow and thrive week by week in the NICU, it helped to count those weeks as if I were still pregnant, especially as we surpassed 36 weeks. And we reached 40 weeks last Saturday -- what a milestone!

I know this is an awfullly introspective  (and some would say selfish) post, but I needed to put it out there. Perhaps it will help someone else. All of this certainly caught me off guard. I had no idea I would feel most of what I've described.

Until next time,


  1. I can't imagine ANYONE with IF experience trying to tell you how you SHOULD feel. I don't doubt that there's some grief involved with being a preemie mom; you describe it eloquently. You'll get nothing but support from this end!

  2. I am sorry you struggled with this; it is completely understandable. There must be a feeling of robbery when the conclusion wasn't what you expected. And I don't doubt that just accepting that is not as easy as it sounds. I'm glad you're starting to feel better about it and hope that your babies are doing well! : )