The Preemie Parenting Experience

The preemie parenting experience is like no other. From the unexpected early dive into parenthood, to the steep learning curve that comes with learning how to care for your preemie, parents of premature babies are in for an emotional rollercoaster. Feelings of guilt, anger, and sadness are part of the package. But as you find the courage to walk into that NICU each day and witness your tiny miracle gaining strength and meeting milestones, those feelings morph into immense pride, gratitude, and joy. 

The Preemie Parenting Experience is Hard

There’s no way around it – giving birth to a premature baby is traumatic and downright terrifying. Every parent expects their baby’s birth to be an event filled with pure joy and celebration, but going into labor prematurely can elicit overshadowing feelings of dread and grief amidst hopeful anticipation. It’s essential to feel everything that comes up for you. Anger, grief, rage, and fear are all completely normal and healthy responses to becoming a preemie parent. The one feeling you definitely don’t need to add to the mix is guilt or self-blame. Premature birth is beyond anyone’s control, and happens to one in 10 babies. You are not alone. 

Being a preemie parent is mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing. For many mothers, their own postpartum healing is overlooked as the focus shifts dramatically to their preemie’s complex medical care. Please remember that you need care, too. Rest, high nutrient meals, hydration, postpartum comfort measures, and deep emotional support are absolutely essential. You cannot pour from an empty cup. 

The Beginning

Soon after delivery, you’ll find yourself in a real-life crash course on NICU terminology and policies. Your baby’s gestational age and stability will determine the level of care they require. You may find yourself tearfully asking if you can touch your own baby. Things you never wanted to think about will now take center stage in your mind – terms like apnea, desat, bradycardia. You’ll learn about the different ways preemies are kept breathing, from ventilators to CPAP to nasal cannula. You’ll understand the different routes to giving your baby nutrition, like via IV, NG tube, or eventually, by breast or bottle. After a few days when you are discharged home, you may find yourself up in an empty house in the middle of the night, pumping breast milk for your baby who is miles away, steadfast. 

You will learn about health risks and developmental delays, therapies and medications. You’ll know the range of normal vital signs for your preemie by heart and see the monitors still blinking in your sleep. While the rest of your prenatal yoga class friends are raving about baby showers and complaining of swollen feet, you’ll be in that same chair by your preemie’s incubator, thinking you’d gladly welcome a lifetime of heartburn instead of this heartbreak. 

The Metamorphosis 

But all the while, something deep in you is shifting. Your priorities, your resilience, everything is metamorphosing under the surface. And when you find yourself staring up at that hospital and thinking you can’t possibly handle another day of the stress, uncertainty, and fear – you’ll take a deep breath and walk through those doors anyway. 

You’ll find yourself changing diapers amidst IV tubing and pulse oximeters like a pro. You’ll lock eyes with the newbie NICU mama in line for the elevator, saying without words – I’m sorry. And it gets better. You’ve got this. The team of medical staff who once felt like strangers will now feel like family. No seemingly small milestone will go uncelebrated – every 5-gram weight gain, day without desats, each new moment of your baby’s quiet alertness, taking in your radiating love. You’ll find yourself permanently in awe of the miracle of life, the ingenuity of science, and the astounding ways we care for one another. 

The Preemie Parenting Experience – Chapter 2

And when the day finally comes that you get to take your sweet baby home, the preemie parenting experience will turn to Chapter 2. There will be relief and disbelief, excitement and downright terror. Will you be able to cope on your own? How will you manage parenthood without the 24/7 nurses and monitors? What will “normal” life be like? 

The answers: Yes, you will find your way, and it will be gloriously, uniquely yours. Just like that little fighter, finally in your arms at home.