Pregnancy is full of emotions- happiness, wonder, and even a bit of anxiety. Some pregnancies are easy from start to finish, and others are absolutely awful- extreme morning sickness, pre-eclampsia, and other issues that make it almost impossible to get to 40 weeks.
The Merry-Go-Round of Pregnancy and Childbirth
I’ve been pregnant three times. I went 2 days past my due date with my oldest and I was extremely cranky- pre-eclampsia is not something to mess with, and I was induced. My second pregnancy was typical- the only bad part was that I was due in the middle of July. Anyone who has a summer baby can understand this- the extra weight can make you feel very uncomfortable and I cannot imagine how much more uncomfortable it would be if you’re carrying multiples. My third pregnancy was the hardest from start to finish- I had an issue that both my OBGYN and I were unaware of until I became pregnant, I went into premature labor twice and I had issues with bleeding throughout the pregnancy.
According to 2008 standards, a full term pregnancy is 37 weeks. Lily was born at full term- barely. She was born at 37 weeks and one day. It’s almost as if she knew she had to hang out the extra day to make it to full term, but it was not easy. She and I were lucky, but many others are not. My nephew, Chase, was born at 31 weeks. He is 13 and didn’t have a single issue related to his premature birth.
It can be hard to know what to say or do when you hear that a baby was born prematurely. There are so many questions- don’t worry, the mother is already questioning herself. It’s an automatic reaction as a mother- asking yourself what you could have done to prevent something from happening to your child.
I had many questions and thoughts running through my mind after Lily’s barely full term birth and not all of them were pretty. My sister in law blamed herself- she developed gestational diabetes and Chase was born shortly after she found out. The family joke is that he didn’t like the adjusted diet.
How Can You Be Supportive?
Everyone likes to help when there is a new baby because babies are awesome and the parents could use the help (meaning sleep and a shower) but in the case of premature babies, there may be other ways you can help.
Offer support. This may mean lending an ear to listen to the parents if they need someone to listen, childcare for other children (if there are any), making meals, cleaning the home, running errands, etc. This may take the stress off the family and give them more time to be with their baby.
Be aware of health needs. If the parents bring the baby home and it’s flu/RSV season, they may not want a lot of visitors. This isn’t them being overprotective or mean, they are trying to protect an infant with a delicate immune system (along with other possible medical issues) from getting sick. They may end up re-hospitalized if they get sick. Even if it’s the middle of summer and the parents don’t want you kissing the baby all over, respect the fact they may not want a lot of germs all over the baby at this point. Don’t smoke near a premature (or any) baby.
Don’t offer advice. Unless you have been there yourself or have been asked specifically, do not give advice. It may not be helpful- it may be hurtful. Just listen. That may be the best thing you can do.
Respect the parent’s decisions. Premature babies have a different set of health needs than babies born at their due dates. They have to be watched carefully for illness, developmental delays and other issues. Parents work closely with doctors and specialists to make the right choices for their child. Even if you don’t agree, respect the choices.
Lily was developmentally delayed as a baby and toddler, and she was evaluated around her first birthday for those delays. She spent the next two years in services to help her walk, talk and develop other skills. My husband’s family was not entirely happy about this and was very rude about this. It wasn’t helpful at all and made me feel a lot worse than I already did. Parenting is full of hard choices, sometimes starting from day one. Don’t put down a parent for choices that they really struggle with.
Be patient. It may take a while for parents to engage with others again. Don’t give up after repeated “No” replies to going out for coffee or even requests for help. These parents have a lot going on- going back and forth to the hospital, recovering from childbirth, possibly other kids, going back to work, and so on. Let them have time to sort their lives out and deal with their feelings about their child. It takes time.
Donate. If they have a Go Fund Me, donate to it if you can. If you’re a co-worker of one of the parents, try to donate paid time off if you’re able to. Either can be very beneficial to the family- it also takes some of the worries away from them. Gas cards can help- those back and forth trips to the hospital can get expensive.
This is just one of the unexpected events that occur during parenthood- with many others to come. Parents of premature babies need extra support in the beginning. As their child grows, so will their confidence. You can be one of the people in their village. A little support can go a long way.