There wasn’t anything that prepared me for the birth of my son Evan 10 weeks early. At that time, my husband had just received a job offer, requiring us to relocate almost 500 miles away. We quickly packed up all of our belongings and made the move to San Diego. Four days later, living in a hotel and just a few weeks before Christmas, I suddenly went into preterm labor and delivered Evan three hours later, weighing just 3.3lbs.
Shocked and unprepared, my husband and I soldiered on with multiple trips to and from the neonatal intensive care unit where Evan was being monitored and tube-fed for eight weeks because he had issues swallowing. According to our medical team, the NICU was a necessary measure as preterm babies are at greater risk for breathing problems, feeding difficulties and sudden death syndrome–among others.
Dealing with this—coupled with raising a toddler and my husband acclimating to his brand-new job—created an emotional toll on my entire family. Luckily, everything worked out for us and Evan is now 18 months old, nearly the same size and weight as if he was born at-term. Going through the experience of a preterm birth was not an easy one, but we are thankful that our story ended on a happy note.
Through my experience, I was able to learn the following about preterm birth, which I think is important for all expectant parents to take into consideration during their journey to parenthood. Miracle Babies and Sera Prognostics recently conducted a survey, and the findings reinforced many of the life lessons that I learned from giving birth to a preterm baby. I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my personal takeaways in an effort to help and prepare other expectant parents:
Empower Yourself With as Much Knowledge as You can
During my first pregnancy, I delivered 10 days late. I had a second pregnancy but it did not last long, and I miscarried at eight weeks, six months before I found out I was pregnant with Evan. With my third pregnancy, I had no morning sickness, and for the most part, it was an enjoyable experience…until it wasn’t.
When Evan was born preterm, it came as a complete shock to me. Was there more that I could or should have done? Were there any interventions I could have researched to prolong my pregnancy? Was I eating right and exercising enough? Maybe I shouldn’t have lifted heavy boxes during our move…Should I have been monitored more frequently because of my previous miscarriage? Would it have made a difference?
The survey findings show that 95 percent of expecting parents would have liked to know that their baby was at an increased risk for premature birth. Other findings further showed that of the 95 percent who answered yes, 97 percent of them still would have liked to known, even if there was nothing that could have been done to prevent it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Speak to Your Doctor Openly
An interesting finding in the survey is that more than half of respondents said that they did not discuss preterm birth with their healthcare provider. How is this even possible? Being that 1 in 10 babies in the United States is born prematurely, there seems to be a communication barrier among parents and healthcare providers in discussing preterm birth.
With that being said, I can’t stress enough the importance of being proactive during routine exams. Doctors may not touch upon the discussion of preterm birth during office visits. Identifying a woman at risk for preterm birth earlier allows for proactive administration of interventions and development of a pregnancy care plan, so it’s essential to over communicate with your healthcare provider.
There is even a blood test that can help determine an asymptomatic woman’s individual risk for preterm birth: the PreTRM® test is the first of its kind and is a clinically-validated blood test to accurately predict early in pregnancy the risk of premature birth. Early prediction may allow parents and healthcare providers to better plan individualized treatment and care for preterm babies.
Be Your Own Health Advocate
If there’s one thing that I learned from my experience, it’s that you are the most important member of your medical team. After speaking with your doctor, why not arm yourself with more information to bring up at your next appointment? Interventions may be applied for women who have been identified at increased risk; research this online and bring it up in conversation with your doctor.
There are also some known factors that have been associated with premature birth including: prior miscarriage, IVF, family history and health/lifestyle factors. Familiarize yourself with as much information as possible to help determine the risks of preterm birth; Miracle Babies, a non-profit founded to support NICU babies, provided me with an abundance of resources and information. Knowledge is power, so be sure to do your homework.
No One Is to Blame
For much of the time my son was in the NICU, I felt extremely guilty. Prior to his birth and during the move to San Diego, I was actively getting organized, packing, helping move around furniture and whatever else was needed for our new home. I had convinced myself that because of this, Evan was born early. I realized that this was not true at all. You cannot blame yourself, or anyone, in this instance. The most important thing to do is take all that blame and guilt and throw it away so you can focus on the health of your baby and yourself.
Don’t Be Afraid to Reply on Your Family for Help
Between my husband’s new job and having a toddler at home, it was difficult for me to get to the NICU to visit my newborn son. It was flu season so anyone under the age of 18 was not allowed in the NICU. I could visit Evan for an hour while my other son Andrew was in preschool before I needed to turn around and pick him up again. At night, I would have to wait for my husband to get home from work to visit Evan.
If we didn’t have a family member to help stay home with Andrew, only one of us could go to the NICU. There were several days we couldn’t get to the hospital at all, which made me feel very guilty. It became increasingly difficult to spend time with my family. However, during this whole process I realized how much support family can provide.
Whenever I would start to feel disheartened, I would turn to my husband, friends and family for extra support. Having people to speak to and rely on is an important part to make it through your preterm birth. I had an amazing support system and made a decision to accept help early on–and in doing that, I was less stressed and able to focus on more important things.
Every day can be a challenge, so it is necessary to have a “clear head” throughout the process.