A Preemie Mama's Touching Story

Suzanne Murray

baby hospital


photo by madfoot

I was fortunate enough to have my baby arrive the day before she was due. At 9 pounds, 3 ounces, she was big and healthy. I use to "complain" about how big she was, but no more. There are many moms here on CafeMom whose babies came a lot earlier than they were expected, and they've had to deal with all the ups and downs of caring for their tiny bundles of joy. If you're mom to a preemie, there are several groups devoted to sharing their amazing journeys, such as Moms of Preemies!, Preemie Moms, and NICU Graduates - Preemies.

My friend Cafe Melisa wrote about madfoot's (Amy K.) story in A Dramatic Preemie Delivery (That Turned Out Fine). Amy K. was due on January 2, 2009, but she gave birth to a baby girl on October 23, when she was just almost 30 weeks pregnant. Penelope weighed 3 pounds, 7 ounces, and according to her mom, "looked smaller than a butternut squash." I checked in with Amy K. to see how things have been going with her and the baby since the delivery.

What was it like leaving the hospital without your baby?
They discharged me exactly two days to the hour I delivered. It seemed so weird that this was my baby. It had happened so quickly that it was hard to connect that this helpless skinny little creature, with tubes and wires coming out of every piece of her, was the fish that had been swimming inside me for so long. I had not had a chance to bond with her at all. And I was too scared to trust myself with her care. It was comforting, actually, to know she was staying with these great nurses and doctors.

How has Penelope been doing?
When she was first born, her lungs worked so she only had a little mask on her face. Her face was swollen from the oxygen being forced into her. After a few days she was put on a nasal canula—the little tubes that go up your nostrils. Then she was on plain old nose power, no assistance, just monitors checking to make sure she kept breathing, and a nurse standing nearby. Then she got an infection. One day she was fine, the next day she was sleepy and then lethargic, and the next thing I knew she was gray, mottled, and on a respirator. It was a strep infection that became meningitis, and then a yeast infection, which is a big deal—it can spread to the heart, kidneys, eyes. When I showed up at the hospital to find her in that state, I was in shock. But she got better as quickly as she had gotten sick. She's now on four antibiotics, two for the strep and meningitis, two for the yeast. The doctors check her kidneys for damage from the medicine, and try to bring her down off as many of the medicines as they can while making sure the infections stay at bay. It's quite a juggling act. But she is doing astoundingly well.

What's Penelope's environment like?
She's in the NICU, in an isolette, which keeps her warm and protected. There are portholes on the side, and the sides and top also open up when necessary. There are two drawers underneath for her personal items (and stuff like my robe). She has two stuffed animals that my husband and I slept with so they'd smell like us, pictures of us, the lyrics to a David Bowie song that I used to sing to her when I was pregnant ("Kooks"), a Yeats poem called "Brown Penny" that my mom sent, and a piglet from her half-brothers. The isolette—or the leads connected to Penelope—are attached to a monitor.

How has Penny's early arrival affected your plans to breastfeed?
This is the source of my greatest anxiety. I was so pleased when right after the birth I hooked up to a pump and immediately had colostrum. But it is so wearing to hook myself up to that thing every 2-3 hours. I am supposed to do it in the middle of the night, and to my great shame, I am not. It hurts, it feels weird, it releases my hormones and I have nowhere to put them. I have never produced more than a pathetic ounce or two per session. I just want her here, not this stupid green machine. I'm worried that my production won't match her needs; it's a common preemie-mom problem.

What are your days like?
I've gotten into a routine: wake early, pump. I do things around the house to get it ready for her—all the stuff I would have been doing in my third trimester. When I get to the hospital, I "scrub in," like a surgeon. I try not to look at Penelope too much before that, because it's overwhelming, the need to just go put my hands on her. As soon as I can, I sit down and I put her on my chest so that she and I can share body heat and she can hear my heartbeat. Then we just sit like that. She just curls up exactly as she did when inside me, flexing her arms and legs sometimes, shifting her weight back and forth sometimes, but mostly just sleeping. I know we are bonding but we're also shortchanged. I definitely fear that once I get her in my arms for good, I won't put her down till she goes to college. Do they make an Ergo that goes up to 120 pounds?

How are you coping with the fact that your first few weeks with your baby have not been as you expected?
Most of the time I just exist in total denial. You know, crisis mode: "This is what my life is today, so I am dealing with today." The fact is, she's healthy, she's doing great and gaining weight, so she'll be home soon. So however difficult it is, it could be a lot worse, and I remind myself of that constantly. But when I walk in and see her little body in that white isolette, my heart just drops through the floor. Whenever I feel like this is too hard, I remember that Penny isn't even supposed to be out of me yet, and everything is hard for her, even having me touch her skin (I have to hold, but not stroke, because stroking overstimulates her). So whatever I think is hard, she deals with a lot worse. I owe it to her to cowgirl up and deal with everything.

Any advice for friends of someone who has had a preemie?
If a friend of yours has a preemie, here's what you can get her: ten hours with a personal organizer, healthy delivered meals, a deep houseclean, a laundry pickup/drop-off wash-and-fold service, and handy healthy snacks.

What's the first thing you're going to do with Penelope when you're finally home together?
I am going to plop her in the middle of my bed, lie down next to her, and hold her for about three days straight. No interruptions. Did I say three days? I feel like I want it to be three years.

If you would like to continue following Amy K.'s story, check out her blog Rated PeeGee.

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