I have kept a blog over the past three years, and while doing so, have met some pretty incredible women.
One of these women is Kristin. Through the poignant transparency of her own blog, I have caught glimpses here and there of her story as a preemie mom. Not only has my heart been touched by her story, I have also been inspired by the work. Kirstin has gotten involved in, helping other preemie parents.
Kristin agreed to be share her story when I asked her for an interview. “I guess in hindsight you could say I was one of the lucky ones,” Kristin told me. “We knew far before Zach’s birth that something was wrong and that he would more than likely be premature.
“On January 31, 2006, my husband, mother, and I, went in for my first sonogram. We were excited to find out the sex of the baby, which we found out was a boy. “We could tell that there was something wrong by the sonographer’s face, however, shortly into our appointment.
She left to get the doctor, who then came in and told us that we had been pregnant with twin boys. One had already died. While sad, we were still relieved that we had one baby. “They sent me to a high risk OB just to make sure that things were okay.
This was probably one of the best decisions they could have made. I was 23 weeks. It was there that we discovered that the baby was not growing like he should be and was only measuring 20 weeks instead of 23.
I wasn’t exactly sure what this meant (it’s amazing what you learn when you go through this stuff!) but I could tell that it was bad news. Immediately the doctor started talking about doing genetic testing in addition to other testing to determine what the problem was.
I consented to all but the genetic testing, citing that if something was gravely wrong I would still like to carry the baby to term instead of having an abortion. “They ran every test imaginable on me, only to have negative results on all of them (negative means the baby did not have any of what he was being tested for).
The doctor suspected Trisomy 18, but had no proof due to lack of genetic testing. “The Doctor did finally diagnose me with Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR), which we learned after Zach was born was severe. Basically that meant that he was not growing in my womb like he should have been.
“We continued on through the weeks, making trips to my regular doctor, my high risk OB, and occasionally to the hospital, which is where I spent Easter weekend that year.
I was 27 weeks and they really wanted to take him then, but I didn’t feel in my heart that it was time. We went through the tests, the Biophysical Profiles, the Non Stress Tests, and finally, the dreaded Amniocentesis at 36 weeks to make sure his lungs were developed. They were, and it was finally time. “I was induced on a Saturday morning, and had a c-section later in the afternoon. Labor was too much for his heart, and we wanted to be on the safe side.
Zach was born at 5:39 p.m. weighing 3 lbs. 1 oz. and 13 3/4 inches long. He stayed in the hospital for 23 days, coming home at 4 lbs. 3 oz. “He now weighs 25 pounds and is a healthy, happy 2-year-old. They say the memories fade after awhile, but these have yet to go anywhere.
“My pregnancy summed up?
8 Months of pregnancy
33 Doctor appointments
3 Trips to the hospital
8 Hours of “labor”
1 Perfect baby
It was all worth it.”
After hearing the story, I went on to ask Kristin how it was different for her, being the parent of a preemie, than it is for other mothers who deliver when they are supposed to. “It was hard going to the hospital to be induced because I knew that he was going to be premature. I always imagined when I gave birth that it would be this wonderful day and we’d all be so excited to see this new life.
Instead, I was being warned that there was a chance that he would die shortly after birth, and if he did live, he’d be small and have to stay in the hospital for awhile. “One of the things I did consent to was steroid shots, a set of shots that helped develop his lungs while he was in utero. After being induced, they discovered that he was not tolerating the contractions very well, so they decided a c-section was in order.
He came out screaming (thanks to the shots no doubt!) at 3lbs. 1 oz. “The worst day was 4 days later when I was discharged and had to go home while he stayed in the NICU.
I cannot think of a more empty feeling than going home without your baby. We were back up at the hospital 2 hours later.” When I asked Kristin to describe the emotions surrounding her son’s birth, she replied that she experienced just about all of them. “I went through feeling fear, being in shock, being angry, experiencing angst, feeling upset and sad, and mostly wondering why.
Why did people who didn’t go to the doctor, people who smoked a pack a day, and people that didn’t care about their diet or taking their prenatal vitamins, get to go home with big healthy babies? Here I had done everything I could have done and still came up short.”
She went on to add, “You blame yourself a lot. You wonder if there was something that could have been done to change things.”
I wondered how Kristin got through all of those emotions. After all, giving birth brings about a roller coaster ride anyway for a new Mama. I just couldn’t imagine having the normal post-pregnancy emotions on top of everything else she told me she had to go through.
She replied that most days she would simply just live through the motions of the day. She would get up, get dressed, and go see Zach. She said that if she was really honest, she really didn’t deal with any of the emotions. At the time, the last person she was worried about was herself. She was focusing all of her strength and energy on her tiny son.
I wanted to know what people did or said that added to her hurt and burden during the time she was waiting for Zach to come home from the hospital. In response, Kristin shared her heartbreak that no one said the words every mom longs to hear, “Your baby is beautiful.” Instead, most of their visitors just gasped. “I suppose I can’t blame them,” she said. “They were expecting to see a little baby; but that’s not what preemies look like.
Zach had a small body, a large head, was red and still covered with hair all over his body. He was hooked up to countless machines and monitors and he looked limp and tired. He had biliruben lights on him (for jaundice) so he had a blue tint to him as well.
“Now when I go visit the NICU, I make a point of telling the parents how beautiful their baby is!”
Kristin also shared that some well-meaning but non-thinking people would actually say things like, “At least you can get some sleep at home!” or “He wasn’t due yet anyway, he’ll be home then right?”
“They didn’t know. It’s really a situation, that unless you’ve been there, you just don’t know.”
However, there were some people who did really touch Kristin and her family during that time. Some came to visit Zach in the hospital and others sent preemie outfits since he didn’t have anything he fit into (even the preemie clothes were too big for him).
“By far, however, the best thing that was done for me [was] when people listened to me. They listened to how I was feeling, listened to what was going on that day, how many grams Zach had gained, etc. Listening was everything.”
I asked Kristin what someone like me could do to help out a parent that has given birth to a preemie baby. Having never walked that path myself, I honestly didn’t know what the best thing I could do was.
She told me that parents of preemies are usually shocked to even find themselves in that situation in the first place. One of the most helpful things I could do would be to do the everyday little things for them. “Do you have even 30 minutes?” she asks. “Use that time to mow their lawn, make dinner and take it to them, clean their house, or do their laundry. Offer to babysit the other children so the parents can go to the NICU.
“Buy gas cards because the gas is expensive with all the trips to and from the hospital — especially if it’s in another town. While you’re buying a gift card, buy a couple for restaurants near the hospital.
“You can also buy them a journal so they can record their thoughts. “And please don’t be disappointed or angry if the parents are protective of their baby. They have every right to be.
Don’t persuade them that it’s okay for them to go out during RSV season and don’t create a scene if you’re a smoker and they ask you not to smoke around their child. “All of these are little, yet big ways you can help out the parent of a preemie during one of the most difficult times they will ever go through.” I asked Kristin what the long term effects were on Zach’s life, due to his being a preemie.
She stated that she and her husband are blessed to have not discovered any long term effects as of yet. Although he was late with his sitting up, crawling, and walking, he has thoroughly mastered all of those milestones now at 26 months.
He hasn’t really become much of a talker yet, but they are sure that it’s just a matter of time before he hits that milestone as well I wondered if Kristin would be willing to go a step further and share her heart about how this has affected her and her husband’s desire for more children. She transparently shared about this. “We are scared half to death to have more children.
Our first pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage, and with Zach we were pregnant with twins but lost one in utero. We would love another child down the line, but it’s really hard once you’ve been through a preemie [birth] to trust that things are going to be okay with another baby.” One of the things that I have grown to deeply respect and admire in Kristin is her willingness to embrace her story and use it to help others.
She is now on the founding board of the NICU’s Family Advisory Council in the hospital where her own son was born. This board focuses on making the NICU experience better for other families of preemies. “We offer a sympathetic ear to parents. Most just want to hear that it’s okay to be scared. For me this was the best thing that I could do, take my experience and try to help others.
Like I said before, unless you’ve been through it, it’s hard to know what they are going through.” I wrapped up our interview by asking Kristin what we can all do to get involved in helping premature birth awareness and support. She strongly encouraged me and our readers to donate to the March of Dimes. A donation of money or time can both be used. “Look up your local chapter, they always need help”, she encourages.
She went on to say that we can also donate rocking chairs to our local NICU so the moms have a comfy place to rock their babies. Some may even want to volunteer their time because a lot of hospitals have a “cuddler” program where all you do is go in the NICU and hold the healthier babies: “Zachary was at a Level III NICU — the highest level — and they serve all of Kansas.
We were lucky enough that we could go see him multiple times a day, but some parents only get to see their baby once a week. “And don’t forget even the little things like bringing the nurses cookies!” Kristin adds. “Even that can be a big help because it brightens their days.”
After all, they are caring for our most precious babies.
Pic of the Day: Belly rubs over everything