Giving birth unexpectedly at 32 weeks was not how I thought my journey into motherhood would start.
To say it was a hard time is an understatement. It was exhausting, both physically and mentally, and while the worst of it was my daughter being in SCBU, 12 miles away for a month (with me unable to stay with her) it took a long while after she was home for it to feel easier.
I then, three and half years later and after a difficult decision to have another baby, gave birth prematurely again.
One of the hardest things to cope with was the overwhelming feelings of guilt. Guilt because I had not kept my babies safe for long enough. Guilt that I had put my husband and family through tremendous worry and stress, and guilt because there were other babies in the Special Care Unit who were worse off than mine, and tragically didn’t make it home.
Mum-guilt arrives with the baby, whether you have given birth prematurely or not, but a preemie mum’s guilt is off the scale.
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Along with the guilt, I felt like a massive failure. I felt like I had failed the first level of motherhood and doing so twice was hard. I worried that if I couldn’t carry a baby full term, what chance of being good at the rest of motherhood did I have?
Sounds ridiculous, I know, but when people told me that I was silly for feeling this way, it wasn’t helpful. You see, people are often unsure of what to say to preemie parents, and while their thoughts and words are well intended, they can leave you feeling worse. Telling me not to feel guilty is one of five things that I was told that I wish hadn’t been.
“Make the most of all the sleep you’re getting” was another gem. This was in relation to me going home every night, leaving my babies behind. The thinking was that I would be going home and having a full night’s sleep. IF ONLY!
When you give birth prematurely, your baby is fed through a tube and you are encouraged to express milk. Every couple of hours, I would be hooked up like a milking cow to a breast pump, including through the night. “Sleep when the baby sleeps’’ is rubbish advice at the best of times, but it is really rubbish when you are a preemie parent.
My babies slept pretty much 24 hours a day; it would have been amazing to catch some zzz’s while they slept, but in a SCBU unit there are machines constantly beeping, people coming and going, and no bed or comfy sofa, so getting some shut-eye seldom happens. Plus, second time round, I had a three-year-old who also needed me.
‘’They obviously couldn’t wait to meet you.’’ This was one that I felt put the blame onto my children, and the overprotective mother in me got quite cross about. They were closer to me being in my tummy then they were in an incubator, but also I had to leave them to go home each night, which meant being separated anywhere from eight to 12 hours. I am fairly sure that they didn’t ‘choose’ to arrive early.
“You can start being a proper mum now.” Said to me when I took home my daughter. It made me feel that people thought I wasn’t a good mum and made my feelings of guilt and failure worse. How our journey started doesn’t mean that I am not a ‘proper mum’.
“You’re lucky you didn’t have to go through the end of pregnancy.” Missing the end was hard, I sort of grieved for it. Other new mums still have their bump for a few weeks after birth. I had what I would describe as a deflated balloon, and nobody would have guessed that I had just given birth if I saw them without my baby, which made me really sad.
I also would have much rather gone past my due date and brought my baby home with me, then go through giving birth prematurely.