For this month’s issue of Plano Profile, I wrote about the 77 days my daughter spent in the hospital as a preemie. Of course, I could probably write a book on the subject (Chapter 2: That Time I Got Hit By a Car, Like, As a Pedestrian) (Chapter 8: That Time Our Hospital Issued a Code Gray and Our Nursery Had to Take Weather Precautions) (Chapter 11: That Time We Thought We Were Going Home But Didn’t), but until that book happens, you can read this article instead:
Parents of preemies definitely feel guilty about what may have happened to cause the birth to be so early. But what they tend to do when they visit the NICU day after day is rally around that little peanut in the incubator. There isn’t much time to feel guilty when they’re there, because the nurses encourage parents to feed, change, and hold their children as much as possible, except in the case of the most sickly kids.
I loved, loved this essay (“Preemies are not Props“) posted to Slate, written by Joel Keller. In it, Keller blasts the anti-smoking ad in which a mother attributes smoking as the cause for her infant’s preterm birth.
He’s a bit hard on the mother (she was young when she filmed the ad, after all), but I think he’s spot on about a couple of things, namely, a) that the anti-smoking ad campaign desensitizes viewers about the long-term effects of smoking by using shock-tactics b) that the ad itself risks desensitizing viewers to the particular challenges of preemies, and c) that while smoking is a risky behavior during pregnancy, there are a variety of reason why a baby is born prematurely–and many times, there’s no reason at all. In fact, “I did everything right,” tends to be a common refrain whenever parents tell their stories about their child’s journey.
On that note, I sometimes wonder about the discussion regarding prenatal care and prematurity. While I think access to proper, affordable prenatal care is essential in bringing down the preterm birth rate, I don’t think it’s going to magic away prematurity entirely. My concern is that mothers can be unfairly villianized when prematurity is discussed in such stark terms as cause-and-effect. Believe me, whether or not they have a reason, many mothers feel guilty enough as is, especially in the first few days after the birth, without an anti-smoking campaign or anyone else further adding to the pile.
There were signs about RSV posted at the main doors into our NICU unit–“It’s RSV Season!!!”–with special RSV visiting hours listed. A month later, new summer hours were posted, and siblings were allowed to visit the unit for a few hours each day–“RSV Season is Over!!!”
Fliers about RSV were posted on every bulletin board, near every sanitizing foam pump on the wall. We received an RSV brochure in our go-home packet from our unit’s social worker. Then, after discharge, as the summer drew to a close, our pede had a long conversation with us about RSV. ECI gave us information about it, as did our developmental pediatrician’s office.
All of which begged the questions: what the heck is RSV, and is it the fourth horseman of the apocalypse?
What is RSV?
It is not the fourth horseman of the apocalypse. It is, however, thought to be the leading cause of hospitalization in children under the age of 1. And for those who began their journey in a NICU, the thought of being re-admitted into a PICU can be a preemie parent’s worst nightmare.
Marianne Richmond’s If I Could Keep You Little is a sad-sweet little read and a wonderful gift for new and expectant parents. The rhyme scheme can be a bit clunky in a few places, but that hardly diminishes the book’s overall charm–like so many Pixar movies, If I Could Keep You Little is a gentle meditation on the passage of time as well as a mindful celebration of everyday moments.
And, I’ve got to say, it was a totally different book when I first picked it up about a year ago. Continue reading
A couple of minutes after I walked into the NICU and discovered my daughter wearing clothes (clothes!) for the first time, I sent out an email update to our friends and family list and attached a few pics of her in her super-cute pajamas (which, though p-sized, were still way too big).
A few hours after that, my grandmother called me, trying to hide the alarm in her voice. (My grandparents had dial-up internet; it had taken her all that time to download the pictures). Continue reading
You have definitely got everyone’s bullshit ‘what-I-did-over-the-weekend’ story beat. Oh, Really Carol? Skydiving, that’s interesting. I dropped a baby from my innards, and I was forced to leave it right there in the hospital for financial reasons, but go ahead, tell me what you had for brunch the next day. You had waffles? You’re incredible Carol, that’s a great fucking story.
In this clip on the week before last’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, profiled mom Selena Allen describes how she had to return to work just days after the birth of her premature infant in order to delay using her maternity leave until he came home from the hospital.
I’ve been wanting to write about how ugly maternity leave can be when it comes to prematurity–because it’s a total disaster. And it’s hard to explain exactly why it’s so terrible without getting too technical, too boring, or too personal. But at the risk of never writing about it at all… Continue reading
Here in Texas, the legislature is considering a bill which, if passed, would allow public school teachers to take small breaks throughout the day to pump breast milk. Unfortunately, it’s being met by a lot of opposition (and most surprisingly, by women legislators, one who believes that if she could make it work, others can too).
Here’s the thing, though: while making small accommodations for breast-feeding mothers is a very basic ask, for working mothers of preterm infants, these small accommodations are supremely vital to the health and well-being of their child.
I can write pages and pages about how maternity leave, FMLA, and short-term disability are pretty effing lousy as benefits and public policy whenever they intersect with prematurity. But for now, let me just say this: pumping at work is not so much a hypothetical for preterm mothers as it is an actuality. Continue reading
Similac Expert Care NeoSure is pretty much the go-to formula recommended by pediatricians and pediatric specialists to treat low birth weight (LBW or SGA) and failure to thrive (FTT) in preterm infants. In addition to a higher calorie load (22 cal/fl oz), NeoSure is also fortified with more vitamins and minerals than other leading formulas (which is unfortunately why it smells like dirty pocket change, especially when it’s spit back up).
NeoSure is especially critical in the nutritional program of preterm infants who are unable to nurse or need a higher calorie intake than what they’re getting from breast milk (human breast milk varies from person to person, but tends to clock in at 20 cal/fl oz). For example, we were directed to fortify our daughter’s bottles with NeoSure to up her calorie intake to 24 cal/fl oz.
Because it is a specialty or “therapeutic” formula, it retails a bit higher than the basic formulas (and crazy-higher than the store-brand formulas). At our local Kroger, a can of NeoSure costs about two dollars more than a can of Similac Advance (don’t even look at the price tag on the Alimentum brand–just don’t). On the face of it, a two dollar difference seems kind of meh, but also bear in mind that preterm parents are also juggling more copays and medical expenses that first year than the average term parent–and those two dollars per can really start to add up.
With that in mind, there are a few things parents can do bring down the cost of the family grocery bill: Continue reading
So this may come as no surprise to women who know things (or to the fans of Real Housewives of Atlanta), but Sip and Sees (or Sip ‘n Sees) are an actual thing. Personally, I had no idea what a Sip and See was until a day or so after my daughter’s birth, when my shower hostesses, women of the South who are much posher than me, dropped by to visit me in the hospital following my emergency c-section at 29 weeks. That conversation went like this:
“We thought it best to cancel the baby shower, but what do you think about a Sip and See instead?”
“What’s a Sip and See?”
“It’s like a baby shower, but you’ll get to show off Our Girl. Also, you’ll get to drink champagne.”
And that is what a Sip and See is. Whereas a baby shower is a celebration of the baby-to-come, a Sip and See is a celebration of the baby-that-is. It’s a homecoming. And it’s far less presumptuous than a traditional shower where attendees celebrate a baby’s birth with monogrammed linens or engraved trinkets before the baby is actually born.
Although “preterm” and “premature” are used interchangeably to describe infants born before 37 gestational weeks, there are slight differences between the two terms that are well worth noting.
I might not have ever thought twice about it, but back in the NICU, I was talking to one of our clinicians and tried reaching for a word to describe, you know, babies who aren’t premature, you know, the eight-nine percent. It was on the tip of my tongue to say “regular babies,” but I couldn’t quite bring myself to say it. “Mature babies” didn’t sound right either, because it sounded like a value judgement. The neonatologist sensed my mental hiccup, and gently suggested I use the term “term” to describe babies who were carried fully to term, and “preterm” to describe infants who were delivered a little bit (or a lot of a bit) early.
Since then, I’ve come to favor the word “preterm” as opposed to “premature” when I write about the topic, but I will still use “premature” for random strangers at the mall. That’s why I thought it might be helpful to note the differences between the two words and their usage. Continue reading