Giving birth to a premature baby is a life-changing experience on multiple levels. Right from the start, mum and dad are facing something that most other parents will never experience. Between the shock and very real medical problems that need immediate attention, parents are quickly caught up in something that is, at times, virtually indescribable.
If you are only a few days or weeks into the premature experience, be aware that this is just the start. Your premature baby will absolutely change your life. What you should know is that those changes can be good changes if you let them be. Despite all of the struggles that come with parenting a premature child, the many joys and positive experiences far outweigh the negative. The life you share with your baby moving forward will be whatever you make it.
How will your premature baby change your life? Below are five things for you to consider:
It is normal for parents to grieve over the fact that they have given birth to a premature baby. That grief can be especially profound in cases where the baby doesn't make it. What is unusual is that it often takes time for the mind and heart to actually catch up to the events parents have experienced. It can take days or weeks before the stress of the initial birth catches up. In cases where there are serious medical issues to contend with, parents may not begin to feel the grief for months.
When that grief does come, don't try to fight it. It is normal. Embrace it, understanding that grief is a built-in human mechanism that will help you deal with the stress you are undergoing. Let the grief run its natural course so that you can eventually be freed from it and turn your attentions back to life. If you do need professional help with your grief, counsellors and support groups are ready to help.
Speaking with parents who went through the premature journey years ago is a very revealing experience. They will tell you about all the things they did along with all of the things they learned on their own journeys. And guess what will be common among these parents? Over time, they became experts in caring for and raising premature children.
You too will become an expert at premature baby care. You will have to. Over time, you will learn incredible amounts of information about feeding, sleeping habits, growth and development, and any specific physical challenges your baby is subject to. Should your baby suffer some sort of disability as a result of premature birth, you will find down the road that you have become an expert on that disability.
The parents of premature babies find that they quickly become advocates for their children. Once again, this is out of necessity. Hospitals and clinics can only go so far in providing the support parents need. For better or worse, that support is not all-inclusive. Parents have to take the responsibility of advocating for their own kids to ensure these get the healthcare and additional services they need to live happy, fulfilling, and productive lives.
Many parents discover that the mindset of advocacy carries on in other areas as well. It's not long before they are advocating for their friends and their children, and sometimes even complete strangers they meet at the hospital or the GP. It's part and parcel of caring for a premature baby.
Caring for a premature baby requires a tremendous amount of love and sacrifice. You may wonder how you are going to cope during those early days, but you will also find that it just comes naturally. It is something that is built into parents by nature. Over the course of weeks, months and years, you will discover tremendous things about yourself. You will come to realise that there is not much you cannot accomplish if you set your mind to it.
While caring for your premature baby, you will learn that it's okay to cry. You will come to understand that just because there are days when you need to get away and take a break does not mean you are a bad parent. It means you are human. Above all, you will learn what self-sacrifice really means.
It is unfortunate to have to say that we live in a culture that places less and less emphasis on the value of life with each passing year. As the parent of a premature baby, your outlook on the value of life will change. It's one thing to hear stories about other parents struggling with caring for a sick child; it is entirely different when that child is yours – and that child is eight or 10 weeks premature.
Through all of the holding, crying, feeding, and nurturing, you will come to value your baby's life more than anything else. That will eventually transfer into a much higher value of life in general. You will ultimately understand that every life is precious; precious enough to fight for.
Giving birth to a premature baby is absolutely a life-changing experience. It's true that some of these wonderful children don't make it. When that happens, caregivers and family members alike mourn the loss of a tiny little life that meant so much. On the other hand, those that do make it can go on to live full and productive lives thanks to modern medicine and numerous avenues of support.
If this is all new to you, please know that you are not alone. Don't hesitate to ask hospital staff for advice and help. Between what they can offer and the support of family members, friends and others who have experienced the same thing, you can make it through this challenging time.