A premature baby is just that – it was born before its time
On our latest trip to the hospital for bronchiolitis with James, the doctor asked for any relevant medical history. I told her that James was born prematurely and when she asked how early, I replied “only 10 weeks”. She looked at me with a shocked expression and said “only 10 weeks? That’s significant!” Later, I found myself questioning why I had said it this way, and realised that it’s because I see these teeny tiny micro-prems and find myself downplaying our journey. James had a very smooth NICU journey, and I feel almost guilty for that when I see other premmies fighting so hard for every breath. But then I remember the 5 weeks of back and forth trips to hospital, where we only came home to sleep (and then hardly did). The anxiety and tears when he took a backward step. The yearning to hold him whenever I wanted. The powerlessness and fear. The lonely nights when I woke to my ‘pump’ alarm, and not my crying baby. The guilt of not being able to carry him to term. The feeling of my heart literally breaking in my chest every time we left those walls without him.
And this is when I realise that although the road may have been smoother for us, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t as difficult in many other ways. I’ve had a lot of parents throughout the past year say similar things to me, such as “our baby was born at 34 weeks, so definitely not as bad as others”, or “our baby was only 5 weeks early, so not really premature” and I find myself getting defensive for them! Umm, no, you were meant to carry that baby an extra 5 or 6 weeks – that’s a bloody long time that your baby was meant to grow and develop in utero. I find it upsetting that parents of late preterm babies (and even me!) feel they need to minimise the difficulty of having a baby too soon. A premature baby is defined by the World Health Organisation as “a baby born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed”. Yes, there are sub-categories based on gestational age, such as extremely preterm (less than 28 weeks), very preterm (28 to 32 weeks) and moderate to late preterm (32 to 37 weeks), but a premature baby is just that – it was born before its time.
What comes after this, no matter the gestation, is so varied. Extremely preterm babes generally have longer NICU stays, along with a higher risk for health complications and developmental difficulties, but I have also met 25 weekers who have absolutely breezed through with no ongoing concerns! And yes, late preterm babies generally have better outcomes, but I have also seen 35 weekers who have had devastating long-term complications related to their prematurity which have required extensive medical intervention, and even resulted in death. I guess what I’m saying is, as always, we just shouldn’t compare. I have seen what I can only call bullying in some of the premmie support groups, where parents have disregarded others’ comments and even belittled their feelings because that baby was ‘almost’ full term. The premmie village is the most amazing community I have been a part of, but I feel like this needs to be said. Everyone’s journey is different; every premature parent is vulnerable and scared, and we all cope in different ways. But we all have to cope - which means we are struggling...with something that we never expected, and something that is devastating. Let’s remember that. And the next time I’m asked about James and his early arrival, I will say ‘he was born 10 weeks early, and it was hard, but we are extremely lucky that he is happy and healthy.’
Photo by A Mother's Love Photography