I was ridiculously organized in preparation of giving birth to my first baby to ensure it all went exactly as I wanted it to. Everything I received from my baby shower was put in place the day I got home from the party. My hospital bag was thoroughly packed way in advance. Three copies of my birth plan were printed out, and I e-mailed a digital version to my husband and ob-gyn, too. I was ready for everything to go exactly as planned.
Oh, how adorably naïve I was! Seriously, that crazy pre-kids version of me was cute as a button.
Now a longtime mom of two, I know that not much goes according to plan when it comes to when or how your baby decides to arrive. My advice is to go with the flow, but keep in mind what the truly important parts of your birth plan are.
Moms of preemies will tell you that of all the things they know for sure, the biggest is that every little bit of help and support is greatly appreciated. Want more of their insight? Here are 21 things every mom who has had a preemie knows:
1. The beeping of a heart monitor can be both the most wonderful and most terrifying sound to listen to.
2. You will find an inner strength you never knew you had. It’s an ongoing dance of two steps forward, one step back, but you never lose hope that the day will come when you simply keep dancing forward.
3. The first time you see your other kids after delivering your preemie, you’ll wonder how the heck they managed to grow 72 inches taller since the last time you were together.
4. You pick up medical-speak more quickly and thoroughly than you ever picked up French, even after four years of it in high school. (And the phrase “The ABCs” will never, ever mean the same thing to you again.)
5. NICU nurses are AMAZING. Like unicorns who giggle sunshine and sparkle like glitter while making everything and everyone around them better in their presence. They don’t just look after babies: They look after everyone who loves them.
6. How to scrub up like a main character on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Hand washing every time you come into the unit makes you feel like you’re prepping for surgery. Because of this, cracked, bleeding hands are how you roll now.
7. Changing your first preemie diaper? You’re legit freaking out that you will somehow manage to break that child into a bajillion pieces. Changing your tenth preemie diaper? You are a rock star who can do it blindfolded, even with all the wires and leads getting in the way.
8. While you might love losing a large percentage of your body weight with one poop, it’s way more terrifying when it happens to your 3-day-old daughter.
9. You just might find yourself sleeping with a lovey stuffed in your cleavage every other night for months, in order to put something with your scent on it in the incubator with your baby.
10. While it’s lovely to hear how cute or beautiful your baby is, it pangs you that it only comes after the comment, “Wow, she’s so tiny!” because most people have absolutely no idea what to say when they see such a small human.
11. No matter how many times the doctors and nurses and other preemie parents and loved ones tell you it’s not your fault, you will at some point feel guilty, like it was somehow your fault that your baby came early.
12. Kimono onesies with buttons are the most glorious invention ever, when you’re trying to dress a preemie with all sorts of wires and tubes attached to her.
13. If you want to make a nurse happy, gift her with hot coffee, fresh fruit, and an endless supply of Sharpies.
14. Coming back to the NICU only to find a volunteer holding your baby will make you feel everything from rage (WHO IS THIS STRANGER AND WHY IS SHE TOUCHING MY BABY?!) to gratitude (thank you thank you thank you for being here for my baby) to jealousy (but I wanted to be the one she bonds with!).
15. The friendships that happen with the other moms in the NICU are sweet and fast and often last a lifetime.
16. Having a weird sense of humor can keep you sane.
17. When strangers ask how old your baby is, you’re never quite sure whether to tell them her real age or her adjusted one. This pause will make the strangers think you probably need a nap since you don’t seem to know how old your own kid is.
18. Leaving the NICU doesn’t mean your experience as a preemie mom is over—even if your friends and family think “it’s all over now.” You have to be on the lookout for any prematurity-related challenges that might come up as your baby grows. (Yes, this is frustratingly unfair.)
19. All you want is to bring your baby home. Then all you want is to bring your baby back to the NICU as an excuse to see all the nurses you now miss terribly.
20. You laugh and cheer the day you realize your baby has gained enough weight to have those yummy baby rolls you can bite.
21. Even years later, catching the scent of hand sanitizer or certain brand of soap in the air can bring you right back to your time in the NICU, making you feel so many things that only another preemie mom could ever understand. (And definitely deserving of a hug.)