By Kate Morrow
This year as my husband and I put up the Christmas tree and decorated the mantle for the pending holiday, I could not help but reflect to this time last year. I instantly felt a lump in my throat. My heart started beating faster. I pushed those thoughts down and continued decorating.
Last year was the most traumatic year of my life. My twins, Jack and Lilly, were born too soon on September 14 at just 28 weeks gestation. We spent 76 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). I thought that was the worst of it, but as we were preparing to discharge, I quickly realized life after the NICU was going to be much tougher than life in the NICU.
As we made plans for discharge, we were being advised and told all of the things preemie parents hear from their NICU care team:
They cannot go to traditional daycare.
You need to isolate yourselves.
You can’t have unvaccinated caregivers in the home.
If anyone has a cough, spray them with Lysol and RUN. (Kidding, but they might as well have said this!)
As a preemie mom, you are constantly conflicted with the overwhelming blessing of having living miracles. You are grateful. You are thankful. You are in awe. At the same time, you are also conflicted with the selfish thoughts of, “I didn’t get what everyone else got.”
This selfish thought hit me most in two ways:
First on their birth date— In my mind, I would have two beautiful twins. We would snuggle in the hospital room while Daddy loaded us up with vending machine snacks and family filtered in and out of our room. We would dress them in beautiful outfits, take pictures, post sappy social media posts, and we would go home together. None of this happened. I didn’t get to see or hold them after their birth. And instead of taking them home, I went home with a hospital grade breast pump. All of my dreams and visions of being a brand-new twin Mommy went out the window in an instant. I was a NICU mom. That was a surreal reality.
Secondly, our first week at home. The whole time we were in the NICU, I dreamed about going home. I rationalized in my head that as soon as we discharged, life would be normal and I would get all of those dreamy things. Our friends coming over to finally meet them, having Sip and Sees to replace the baby showers we never got, and more. But instead, we discharged on the brink of one of the worst flu seasons and I learned that life after the NICU is just as precious and fragile as life in the NICU.
This hit me the hardest a week after we were home. My three best girlfriends came to town for our traditional Christmas shopping weekend. I couldn’t go, obviously, and they asked if they could meet the babies through the window. I thought, “Sure! That’s such a great ideas!”
After they left, I ugly cried harder than I had since September 14. “This is not fair, I thought!— My best friends should be in here ooh-ing and aww-ing over my babies. I deserve this. I want this! I am longing for this!”
And then it’s almost as if God himself came and tapped me on the shoulder and it hit me as fiercely as the cold air outside. This isn’t about me. It’s about them. It’s about keeping these two precious babies who fought so fiercely for their lives safe. It’s about ensuring that they have years upon years to live and enjoy life.
And so began the most isolated winter of our lives. I became Momma bear and I hibernated with my baby bears. We isolated ourselves. Everyone who came into the house had to “scrub in”. If anyone had been at a large gathering or around a sick person, they had to wait 72 hours in case symptoms showed. We ordered everything off Shipt and Amazon and for things that could not wait—we masked up. We hand washed. We bought more antibacterial hand sanitizer than you would think imaginable.
You, like many of our friends and family, may think this is a tad bit ridiculous. But it is not. We would be rich if I collected a dime for every time I heard, “Babies need to be exposed to build their immune system.” FACT! Preemies do NOT have an immune system. Especially micropreemies who missed the transfer of antibodies in mom’s third trimester. A simple cold or mild flu could be devastating and send a preemie back to the hospital. Especially for preemies who had chronic lung disease or were on a ventilator at any time during their NICU stay.
So, please, as we approach winter, help me out. Help me with the following so other preemie moms do not feel as isolated and alone as I did last year.
- Get your flu vaccine.
- Don’t kiss the babies! Any baby!
- If you have a sniffle, let your healthy newborn baby visit wait.
- If you’re the friend or relative of a newborn preemie, wait. Don’t pressure them. Assure them that, “When the time is right, you cannot wait to meet their bundle of joy!” Every parent in medical isolation with a preemie deeply fears that no one will be excited to meet their baby when the time comes. Offer to drop dinner off on the porch. Offer to run an errand so they don’t have to expose themselves.
As I write this, my twins are now 14 months old and have their very first sniffle. I wiped Jack’s nose and went about my day. My how things have changed as I put up this year’s Christmas tree.