Wear your purple today in honor of Prematurity Awareness Day!
There are so many lasting effects of premature birth that it’s hard to list them all. Not only do you have the ones that make themselves known around birth (low birth weight, breathing assistance, etc), you have all the things that could happen in the NICU (blood transfusions, surgeries, infections, caffeine, TPN, PICC lines, specialists, etc). Then you can have all the things that happen after the NICU, like early intervention therapies, more specialists, more surgeries, developmental delays, etc. Even in the best hospitals with all the available treatment, sometimes that isn’t enough to save the baby. Some are simply too early, too small, or too sick.
The other unseen effect is what happens to the parents. Seeing your child hooked up to wires, unable to breathe on their own, fighting infections, needing surgery… these things take a toll. The rate of post partum depression is up to 70% in NICU moms, compared to just 16% in the general population (Graham’s Foundation study). PTSD is also a concern, with 53% of mothers and 35% of fathers developing it (Pediatrics Journal).
The final effect of prematurity is the What If syndrome, as I like to call it. It starts out with self-blame at the early arrival of the baby: what if I hadn’t had that cup of coffee each day? I know it was within the limits of caffeine, but what if I hadn’t? What if I had eaten more fruit and vegetables? What If syndrome then morphs into a trip through all the horrible things that can happen in the NICU: What If the baby catches a cold? What if the baby gets an infection? What if the baby has more desats and bradys? If the baby comes home, What If syndrome likes to go nuts: What If the baby stops breathing at night and we don’t know because there’s no monitors? What if someone comes over and they are sick and then the baby gets sick? What if the baby isn’t catching up to their milestones? What if they aren’t eating enough? What if we end up back in the hospital?
The final question that I’ve seen other Preemie moms deal with is: What If it happens again? The cause of many premature births isn’t known. Sure, I had preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome and those are probably listed somewhere as the cause of delivery. But how did I end up with that? Could I have done something to prevent it? No one knows. Aspirin looks to be a big help in delaying preeclampsia, but it doesn’t always work. The same goes for things like incompetent cervix, premature labor, early water breaking. No one knows why these things happen. There are some treatments to help, but nothing is guaranteed.
Prematurity can happen to anyone. I’m so glad that we had such a good outcome (even with our 3 months in the NICU and the hydrocephalus diagnosis and surgeries). There are many people who aren’t as lucky. And I’m glad that I’m working toward being able to care for those babies (and parents) who find themselves in the world of the NICU.