The pain, and unexpected joy, of a preemie parent

. February 22, 2013.

When Stephen, my high school sweetheart and husband, and I began our parenthood journey, we didn’t know what was ahead. I became pregnant and assumed the only challenge would be motherhood itself; instead, I went into premature labor at 6 months. Our son Christopher spent time in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and, thankfully, we brought him home soon after his birth. It was scary, being a first-time mom and seeing what my preemie son was going through, but we made it through.

At the time, I didn’t realize I would be facing the issue of premature birth again.

An expressway birth
I traveled with my husband to a business conference in Chicago during my second pregnancy. The week before I’d gotten the okay from my OB-GYN to take the trip — I was six months along and was being extra careful after the experience I’d had with Christopher’s birth. I had back pains all weekend, but I just thought of it as the normal aches and pains that come with pregnancy. On a Sunday morning, we climbed into our car and left the hotel at 11:45 am. I remember turning to my husband and saying “I feel like something’s wrong, like I’m going into labor.” I wasn’t in pain, I just had a feeling.

By noon, I’d given birth to my daughter in our car on Chicago’s Eisenhower Expressway.
We wrapped her in a blanket we had in the car and frantically called 911; before an ambulance arrived, TV news crews had shown up. Our daughter Sydny was transported to the hospital; the doctor told us they weren’t sure if she would make it. We weren’t allowed to touch her because she was in an incubator, and commuted between Chicago and our home in Bryan, Ohio to visit her. They’d recorded our voices to put near her so she could hear us. She made it through all that, thankfully. After about three months in a neonatal intensive care unit we brought her home.

We had to buy doll clothes for her, because it was a challenge to find preemie clothes then. She was so tiny. I have a picture of my husband’s wedding band all the way up her arm. There were emotional setbacks, as well as physical ones — it’s exhausting and tiring during those first months because you don’t know from one day to the next what’s going to happen. And one of the biggest hurdles is accepting that the path you expected for you and your baby, the idea that you’ll come home right away and get to share that happiness with your family immediately, that isn’t your path. It’s a world that’s full of risk, and emotions, even financial strain.

When Sydny was 8 months old, I found out I was pregnant with twins. I was pregnant for five months and ended up losing them. It was a very hard experience. It’s like you lose some part of you. You go through all the emotions — the loss, the bitterness, the anger — and then you come to the point in your life and say it was meant to be. I’m not a religious person, per se, but I am spiritual. It was in God’s plan. I had two other children that needed me and I was able to heal through them, because I focused my energy on raising them, instead of focusing my energy on what I had lost. It’s ten years later, and I still struggle with it.

Unavoidably early
When I was pregnant with my fifth child, I felt cautious because of my past experiences. We didn’t travel anywhere— my family was homebound. I thought by avoiding all of those things I would avoid a premature birth. Despite all those precautions, my daughter Jasmine was born a month early by emergency C-section. My doctors discovered the medical reasons behind my struggles: I was born with two uteruses, which meant all of my pregnancies were a challenge because there was less space for my children to develop than in a typical pregnancy. I was shocked — I didn’t even know that was possible. It was a relief to know why.

After all I’ve been through, I was inspired to support other parents of preemies, so I got involved with Graham’s Foundation, to help parents who’ve gone through the same thing. Sometimes they don’t have time to clean the house or take care of themselves or even their other children. Those are the challenges my family went through too, and that’s why I volunteer. I think it’s vitally important to make more people aware of micro preemie and preemie babies, and to support parents. Now that my kids are much older, I’m so thankful for all of them, and I can give my energy and time. Premature birth problems are a global issue. I don’t want parents of preemies to feel that they’re alone. They can relate to and know that someone else has walked in those shoes.

I look at it as different seasons of my life. Christopher is a freshman at St. Francis now, and an avid swimmer — though he was premature, he developed normally. My daughters, Sydny, 10 and Jasmine, 8, are doing wonderfully, too, but they struggle with sensory processing disorder and some educational challenges. There are days that are great, and there are days that are a little rougher. I feel like I went through dark times, but now I’m in the happy season of my life.

Each year an estimated 13 million babies are born prematurely worldwide. On Sunday, March 10, local preemie parent support organization Graham’s Foundation will host its annual Parents of Preemies Day, with sponsorship from The Elizabeth Scott Community, at the Health Care REIT campus, 4500 Dorr St.
The event is free and open to the public. Noon-3pm. 888-466-2948.
*This story has been amended. In its previous version, the date, time and location of Parents of Preemies day were incorrect.