Today is World Prematurity Day. I have written in the past about how Olivia was premature. There was no reason for it. I was 24, in good health and medically I had the perfect pregnancy. No issues, no problems, no complications. Olivia arrived 5 weeks early and spent 6 days in special care. Now 10 she has no long lasting health conditions except for the opticians linking this as a possible reason for her having virtually no sight in her left eye.
I want to share a guest post with you from Catriona from the The Smallest Things on her experiences of being a mum to a premature baby.
Today, 17 November, is World Prematurity Day. A day to celebrate, remember and raise awareness of the 15 million babies born too soon each worldwide.
For me, World Prematurity Day is an opportunity to raise awareness and increase the understanding of a journey that does not end when you bring your baby home from neonatal intensive care.
For example, did you know that a mother’s maternity leave begins the very day after premature birth, often months before she will be able to bring her baby home?
Or did you know that 40% of mothers who have spent time in neonatal intensive care develop post-natal depression, (compared to 5-10% of mothers delivering without complication at full-term)? Or that more than half of mums who have had a premature baby experience anxiety as well as symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
I can still recall the moment I first felt panicked and sick with PTSD; I was returning to the neonatal unit for a routine 4 week follow up. Walking out of the car park and into the hospital I could hear and feel the sound of my heart pounding in my head. I could hear the beep, beep, beep of monitors and the motion of the ventilator as air filled my son’s lungs. If I closed my eyes all I could see were wires and the mechanical rise and fall of his tiny chest. I felt sick to the bottom of my stomach and although I felt as if my body would completely shut down there was nothing I could do to stop it.
I’d spent eight weeks visiting my baby in neonatal intensive care. Eight long weeks before we were able to bring him home. No one warned me about the risk of flash backs, with PTSD often presenting itself after the acute phase of neonatal care – when you are alone. The support network of the hospital disappears overnight and you are left to wonder how on earth you made it through. Family and friends with good intention assume that the difficult times are behind you and the idea that discharge would be the end of your neonatal journey suddenly seems farcical.
The usual routes where I may have sought support seemed closed to me. Clinics and parent groups were initially out of bounds due to the infection risk to premature lungs and mum and baby groups led to a host of well-meaning questions that instead brought back painful memories. “The longest hour of my life” is how one mother recently described an NCT group to me – “I wanted to run and hide” said another. The reality of becoming a mother in NICU is so far removed from the ‘norm’ that mothers become isolated and simply cannot connect with the experiences of other families. I know I did.
Many believe they are alone in their thoughts of loss or anger and remain quiet about the flashbacks or anxiety they experience. Again, I did, I remained quiet… until I read a blog. It was written by a mother of a premature baby, just like me. Another mother who ‘got it’, who made what I was feeling ‘normal’ – another member of the ‘Preemie Club’!
I came to realise that my thoughts and feelings were entirely normal and that you cannot underestimate the long-term impact and trauma of neonatal intensive care. It is a journey that stays with you and one I know write about as part of The Smallest Things Campaign so that others may find the support that they need after premature birth.
You can read more about Catriona’s campaign at www.thesmallestthings.org