People often compliment my premature son because they haven’t seen a 1-year-old so active.
I always smile, and with wholehearted joy, I explain that my son is actually 2 years-old. And then I say, out of habit, “He’s just small.”
But he’s not just small.
My son was born at 31 weeks of gestation after many complications with my pregnancy.
As a first time mom, I didn’t know what to expect, but as a preemie mom, it got downright scary. Wonderful, of course, but scary.
Preemies are, as I would soon learn, not just small babies.
They have to wrap up their development outside mommy’s womb. A premature baby has to adjust to the light, sound, breathing, and many other things before a baby born at full-term.
If you are a new mom, I wish that our story can help you by giving you hope, and by giving you just another reason to ponder on how wonderful and strong your baby is!
An Unexpected Pregnancy
Doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to have children unless I was willing to undergo a lengthy (and costly) treatment.
I was 15 years old, and, although the diagnosis was devastating, my mind was far away from these matters.
As the years went by, the diagnosis persisted. Fourteen years later, my husband and I were visiting our OB-GYN to start the fertility treatment.
During our first appointment, as the doctors looked at my blood tests, she smiled and said, “Well, it looks like you won’t qualify for treatment after all.”
I was pregnant.
It was, to us, a miracle!
We were ecstatic with happiness and we barely heard the rest of what our doctor had to say. As it turned out, what he had to say was very important. Because of my infertility diagnosis and my hypothyroidism, it was probable that our pregnancy was high-risk.
Which brings me to my first piece of advice, always triple check an infertility diagnosis.
A High-Risk Pregnancy Diagnosis
The first months were typical. I got the dreaded morning sickness (ugh! To this day I can’t smell cinnamon without feeling queasy!), I got cravings, and I was weirdly into Hitchcock’s movies!
I watched them all while eating popcorn and shamelessly letting my husband pamper me!
At 12 weeks, the doctors confirmed that my pregnancy was delicate due to the high-risk of developing pre-eclampsia. But this was no more than a diagnosis in a paper.
It became real at just 20 weeks. My husband and I were leaving the movie theater when I got a really bad headache.
I was diagnosed with early preeclampsia and admitted to the hospital.
My blood pressure was off the charts, my ankles and face were swollen, and I couldn’t take 10 steps without fainting.
A high-risk doctor team assembled by my bed and told me, just shy of 21 weeks, that they had never seen a preeclampsia case so early.
They suggested that I gave up on my pregnancy to save my life.
My husband and I barely shared a glance without rejecting their suggestion in unison. The doctors, then, labeled my pregnancy as non-viable, gave it two weeks before they had to intervene, and told me to brace for the worst.
After three weeks I was stable, my baby wasn’t growing as well, but at least my preeclampsia was still manageable. The doctors hadn’t seen any case that lasted as long without developing into something much worse, but they were willing to work with it.
One of the happiest days of my life was the first day of my 25th week of pregnancy.
A doctor came in with a needle (at this point I was pretty much over my fear of needles), and told me that my pregnancy had just become viable. She then gave me a steroid shot for my baby’s lungs.
From that moment on, everything changed for the better. My boy was studied from head to toe.
I had two ultrasounds a week to understand the baby’s weight, height, and blood flow. The doctors then formally diagnosed my son with Intrauterine Growth Restriction.
He was basically not growing much because he wasn’t getting that much blood from me.
As a first time mom, pregnancy complications can be very scary, but trust your instincts! My instinct told me to keep going, not to give up.
And the day my baby was labeled as viable made everything worth it!
The Day My Premature Boy was Born
After 3 months in hospital bed rest, my OB-GYN came to me and told me I was showing signs of developing HELLP syndrome.
My liver and my brain were compromised. She smiled sweetly and congratulated me for hanging on for so long. She assured me that Oliver had then a better chance outside the womb and scheduled a C-Section for the very next day.
When Ollie was born, he wasn’t breathing. The medical team had to resuscitate him.
To this day, they tell me every time we visit that they took a couple of minutes to make him breathe. It felt like forever to me. It was the scariest moment of my life until I heard him crying.
It was a very low cry, almost audible, but it was there! I wanted to see him right away, but he was immediately put into an incubator and rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
I didn’t get to see him until 20 hours later when I stubbornly went to the NICU with a reluctant nurse.
He was small at 1150 grams, but he was miraculously breathing room air (although that didn’t last long), and he was moving his arms and legs all over his incubator.
Most first-time moms dream with the perfect labor, not with a difficult C-Section. But, trust me, no matter how your child is born, you’ll cherish that moment forever!
A NICU Stay
Oliver spent 43 days in the NICU.
He developed a lung infection and was intubated shortly after he arrived. He had two interventricular holes in his heart that would need surgery later on if they didn’t solve on their own.
Yet again, we prayed for a miracle. At first, Ollie had a catheter for nutrition, but he also had an ng tube to feed him milk when he was ready.
The first book I read to him was The Little Prince, and then Harry Potter.
That, and pumping to get him as many drops of breastmilk as he would tolerate, was all I could do for him until he was three weeks old. A big day.
Most preemie moms remember the day they first held their babies.
Which isn’t usually the day they are born, because of the wires and the risk of infection.
The first day I held Ollie he was almost three weeks old.
I was very nervous handling all his wires, but it worked out wonderfully. We did a lot of skin to skin, and he snuggled with me for hours at a time.
As a first-time mom, you’ll sometimes feel helpless. Just remember, as you lay awake lulling your baby back to sleep, that the love you hold is the greatest comfort they can get.
Life after the NICU
A premature baby has two birthdays: the day she is born and the day she comes home.
Ollie graduated from the NICU after a month and a half, weighing barely 4 pounds. He was on oxygen for the first 4 months of his life and got more shots, tests, and specialists appointments than any person I know. But he was there with us, and he was a happy baby!
His prematurity didn’t end after NICU, of course.
When we got home we had to keep him in kangaroo care all the time. My husband and I took turns sleeping, eating, going to the bathroom, and cleaning the house.
At 4 months old, the cardiologist told us that the holes in his heart were bigger.
He also stopped moving his arms. We immediately called a physical therapist who came every day to our house until he was 18 months old.
Due to the physical therapy, he crawled, walked, and has met his milestones so far within an acceptable time frame. When he was 15 months old, the holes in his heart healed completely!
It was more than we could dare to hope, and we had a big celebration at home!
As a preemie mom, I don’t take things for granted.
Sometimes, us first-time moms get so caught up in our own worries that we forget to pause for a moment and just enjoy the miracles that are our babies. The next time you feel overwhelmed, think about how wonderful it is that you are able to be there, with your baby and enjoy the moment.
A Small Baby with a Strong Will
Oliver now goes to nursery school and runs and plays all day.
He still wears 12-18 months clothing at 23 months and has minor trouble here and there when painting at school. But he’s a smart, happy toddler who drives mommy and daddy mad!
The challenges that Ollie has faced in his short life have made him stronger.
When I look back and remember the days I spent in the hospital, praying for my baby to survive, I can’t help but feel grateful and wonder on the strength that babies have beneath all those layers of cuteness.
Yes, my son is small, but he isn’t just small. He has the biggest hearted and the strongest willed person I’ve ever seen! My son is a preemie, and I couldn’t be prouder!
Every baby is different, but they are equally wonderful! And us mommies learn that tough times do make us stronger!
Do you have a premature miracle? Share your story in the comments!