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Micro Preemie Parenting: What No One Tells You
by Jodi Klaristenfeld
Everyone knows that when you have a baby, your life gets turned upside down. Your priorities shift, your sleep schedule changes, your routine starts to revolve around your little one, and you experience deeper and more wide-ranging emotions than ever before.
When you have a preemie baby, these changes are only amplified.
On top of experiencing the typical overwhelm of becoming a new parent, you’re thrown into a frenzy of doctors, medical jargon, and beeping machines in the NICU.
Now, if you were to take the fear and uncertainty of being in this situation and multiply it by 10, that’s what it’s like to have a micro preemie. Micro preemie babies are born before the 26-week mark and usually weigh less than 1.6 lbs. Due to their smaller size and underdeveloped organs, their medical needs tend to be more complex. In fact, according to Verywell Family, micro preemies are also at risk for more short-term and long-term health concerns, such as Sepsis, various respiratory diseases, and cognitive problems.
In my experience being a NICU parent and helping other NICU parents, I’ve learned that moms and dads are not prepared for what they face when get to the hospital. Though nothing can ever truly prepare you, my goal is to equip micro preemie parents with helpful statistics, facts, and personal anecdotes so that they aren’t left in the dark. With that said, let’s get into six things that no one tells you about having a micropreemie.
Your NICU Stay May Last Longer Than Others
The average NICU stay for a preemie baby is 13.2 days, but for a micro preemie, it can last up to several months. (For reference, my daughter Jenna was born at 28 weeks and stayed in the NICU for 77 days.)
Micro preemies are very fragile and usually need more treatments, attention, and tailored medical care. An article from Sonas Home Health Care explains that as a parent walking into the NICU, you can expect to see one or more of the following equipment:
● Respiratory Support
● Intravenous lines
● Nasogastric/Orogastric tubes
● Endotracheal tubes
● Machinery to monitor their blood pressure
● Machinery to monitor oxygen levels in their blood
This can feel extremely overwhelming when you walk into the NICU for the first time. I always recommend that parents ask questions to better understand the purpose of each machine, any routine checks that are taking place, and general health concerns they might have. Facts are your friend. The more you know, the more comfortable you will feel.
There May Be a Greater Emotional Toll.
Unfortunately, the earlier a baby is born, the more complications they have and the higher the risk that they won’t make it. Even though more than 90%* of micro preemies born at 26 weeks survive, this adds a lot of additional stress on the parents. As amazing as the medical staff is, they can’t be responsible for both the mental health of the parents and the physical health of the child. Fortunately, there are more and more resources popping up for micro preemie parents everywhere. Your emotional health is extremely important. If you’re looking for someone to talk to, I recommend finding a professional counselor. You can also reach out to me (a fellow preemie parent who would be honored to walk this journey with you).
You’ll Need Extensive Support Systems
One of my most grateful moments was in the early days after Jenna was born. I remember watching her with her therapists and thinking about how thankful I was to be able to curate her team. All of the therapists, doctors, and fellow parents I connected with in the NICU formed an unbreakable support system. I knew that if I had a problem, felt overwhelmed, or had a question, I had someone to go to. It reminded me that I wasn’t alone–I didn’t have to go through this journey all by myself. Everyone’s support system looks different, but I recommend finding people who encourage and help you advocate for your micro preemie baby. Find the people who have your back, have a vested interest in you and your child, and are there for you when things get hard. This is a vulnerable time, and you need as many people in your corner as you can get.
You Will Discover More Strength in Yourself Than You Ever Thought Possible
If I can make any guarantees it is this. You will discover more strength and resilience in yourself than you ever thought possible. I recall so many times when I felt defeated and unsure about whether I had the strength to carry on. But somehow, I found it in myself to put my fears aside and check my feelings at the door of the NICU. Too often, we underestimate our strength. Even when you are totally depleted, exhausted, and scared, you’d be surprised at your ability to rise to the occasion. You are much more capable than you think.
You Get To Create Extra Special Bonds With Your Baby in the NICU
An underrated benefit of the NICU is the intimate time you get to spend skin-to-skin with your micro preemie. You’ll get to bond with your child in a way that most parents don’t. You’ll get to hold them for hours on end. You’ll get to witness all of the milestones, like going from a C-Pap to a nasal cannula, transitioning from a micro-preemie diaper to a preemie diaper, or seeing your child hold their own body temperature for the first time. It is completely magical in its own way. All of these moments create a lasting bond with your baby, and potentially your partner too.
You Will Inspire Those Around You
Perhaps most importantly, you will be in the unique position to encourage and inspire other micro preemie parents around you. There is something to be said about having someone in your life who has truly been through it. Without even trying, you will become a source of comfort for others on a similar journey. Part of the reason I was able to be so strong with my daughter was because I had the opportunity to witness other NICU parents on their journeys. This is ultimately why I created FLRRiSH. I believe more preemie and micro preemie parents need to share their stories and shed light on their experience.