By: Gabriela Gerhart

Prematurity Day is quickly approaching and a recent visit from a sweet couple whose babies were born premature was a reminder of just how overwhelming having a preemie can be. Meeting with them really showed what it’s like to have a premature baby. The couple was pretty open about their feelings and emotions. Their babies were not only premature, but also had some other problems after delivery, including infections and allergic reactions to medication.

As I was showing them around the Center and sharing the many services The Motherhood Center has to offer new families, I asked the parents how they were doing. After a second or so, they replied fine. I repeated the question, but asked, “How are you really doing?”The mom burst into tears and the dad panicked a little. Since we had other clients visiting and shopping at the center, I invited them to come to my office to visit for a little bit.

When we all sat down, I told both of them that I’m not a therapist or counselor, but I can see you have a lot on your plate. They both nodded and after talking with them for a few minutes, a vivid picture of what it’s like to be the parents of premature babies was revealed.

The mom was overwhelmed, not only by hormones, but she had just delivered multiples a few weeks before their due date, was recovering from major surgery (a c-section) and seeing her babies experience complications. All of this happened over the course of a few days. She was also pumping and storing milk for babies while driving back and forth between the hospital (where she is trying to spend quality time with each baby – skin to skin contact) and home. She also has a private practice, which is temporarily on hold. She told me she’s also feeling guilty about the lost income related to that temporary hold. On top of all of that, the couple also has an older child at home who is still needing mom and dad.

As I was listening to her story and noticed little comments here and there about her husband maybe not really understanding her needs, I turned to the dad and asked how he is doing. With a tear in his eye, he told me: “I’m just trying to do what I can – spend time in the hospital, spend time with our older child, cook dinner and still be at work at 7 am to give us some financial security.”

I reassured dad that he is doing a great job. When a couple is barely sleeping, worrying about the well being of their babies and concerned about financial situations, among other things, words can be exchanged that aren’t meant or that could be said a little differently.

After sharing a laugh with the mom, she reassured the dad that she still loves him and can’t imagine living without him. The dad agreed the hunting trip he had scheduled may need to wait till next season. Both parents began to feel a little better.

The mom revealed that one of the biggest struggles was leaving the babies in hospital – the guilt issue she had when she wasn’t with them. I told her how normal her feeling were and how important it was for her to get rest and quality sleep and nutrition. She can’t take care of her babies if she doesn’t take good care of herself. She also was reassured that the babies are in good hands with the medical staff at the hospital. In the meantime, the couple is considering renting an apartment closer to the hospital for few weeks to minimize travel time.

This scenario is not unusual for families who have premature babies. While we focus on those very young babies, we cannot forget their parents, who are spending sleepless days, weeks and sometimes months without their babies at home. They only get to hold their precious children for a few minutes at a time, or only a few hours a day. Moms who are determined to breastfeed, to give their young babies the precious “liquid gold” have additional challenges since many premature babies cannot yet latch. Moms must pump and hope their supply holds up until their baby can successfully latch.

November is Prematurity Awareness Month – let’s all be thinking about what we can do to prevent premature births and how we can help families and babies who are going through this experience.

I was so thankful and honored to spend time with this wonderful couple, who clearly have so much love for their babies and each other. Toward the end of our conversation, the mom looked at the clock and realized they had to hurry to the hospital to pump and hold at least one of their babies before the shift change. They mentioned how thankful they are to the medical staff taking care of their precious children.

I look forward to an update on the babies and meeting them soon – hopefully in the next couple of months.