This is the second part of a very long post I wrote about my twins premature births.
…I did everything I was supposed to. I went skin-to-skin with my babies, I pumped for America, I visited the NICU every day for six hours or more.
But I kept thinking that this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. My babies were born and immediately rushed to their incubators. I saw one of them for just a few seconds before he was spirited away (I remember what intense, dark eyes he had.)
The other not at all.
The following day, to prove that I was well enough to see them, the nurses had me walk across my room. That attempt resulted in me collapsing in a deep faint and waking up with my face buried in the very ample chest of the senior nurse. I didn’t get to touch the babies for nearly 48 hours after they were born.
I had been set up by our society and our touchy-feely culture to expect babies landing on my chest, nursing, feeling this overwhelming surge of love as oxytocin flooded my body. I doubt there is anything in What To Expect When You’re Expecting about the realities, especially the emotional realities, of having preemies.
I certainly didn’t know what to expect.
And I’m sure some women take a premature birth in their stride but I certainly wasn’t one of those. I felt angry when a class in infant CPR was a condition for taking them home. I could see the sense but it underlined what a fragile, and undesirable situation we were in. And the worry – we might actually have to use this stuff?
The idea of performing CPR on my baby made me feel ill.
I was overwhelmed with grief when one baby came home before the other. I irrationally felt I was abandoning the baby left behind and oh, how I had dreamed of being transported through the hospital lobby with two babies in my arms, graciously accepting the congratulations of passersby. I had planned to be so proud and here I was crying my eyes out not caring if anyone even noticed.
The grief I felt at losing my dream of perfect babies got channeled into producing milk. Mothers of preemies make extra-nutritious milk and I felt this was a massively important thing to do. So I pumped and pumped, seven, eight, nine times a day producing way more than was required.
We had to buy another freezer.
Exhaustion then hit as, on top of handling two newborns, one boy, the more fragile one, smiled once a day in the morning and then screamed for the rest of his waking hours. One day I discovered him blue and not breathing in his swing. The obstacles seemed to come in waves, one after another after another.
After the source of that problem had been found and rectified (reflux) and he was connected to a breathing monitor the same size as he was for twenty-four hours a day, the same boy then started fail to hit major milestones.
I felt like I was taking punch after punch with no chance to recover in between.
My response to this was typical. Intensity. Over the next two and a bit years, my guys received over three hundred appointments with physical therapists, occupational therapists, developmental play therapists, speech therapists, you-name-it therapists; they-got-it therapists. We also got words like autism, cerebral palsy and hypotonia.
Words that strike a cold, deep, white fear into a person like me.
I didn’t want excellence, I didn’t want brilliance; I wanted normal. Just normal. I’d have been overjoyed to know that normal was in my future. But of course, I didn’t know. I just had to do what I thought was the right thing, be educated, informed, proactive. Stare down anyone who tried to minimize our situation.
And hope for the best.
One of the best days of my life was the day my guys started preschool. They were two and a half. It was the first time they had been alongside a bunch of kids born roughly the same time as they. Singletons; full-term, no complications.
That was hugely significant to me.
They did great. They were indistinguishable from their peers. Except they weren’t their peers. Not really. But I knew they were doing great. Not ‘for preemies‘ but for kids. Regular kids.
We have come a long way since then and I have many more tales to tell. But yesterday I was transported back to those early, fraught days when the swimming instructor told me the news. That my son was doing great, doing something typical. That he was developing the motor skills and the coordination and strength he needed. Doing something age-appropriate.
Was I wrong to want ‘normal?’ Did you face disappointment in your not-so-perfect pregnancy? How did it affect your feelings about yourself? Do you feel society sets us up to expect a rosy pregnancy? Let me know in the comments.
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