Preemie-hood is a lot like regular parenthood (I think…?) I can only speak from my experience and being as I didn’t have a normal introduction to parenthood…here’s my personal insight into life raising a micro-preemie.
Like most parents with a newborn, in the beginning, we are all VERY CAUTIOUS and try our best to keep our babies environment as germ-free/smoke-free as possible. For us, however, when I say we were “very cautious” I’m talking…we had four to five Germ-X bottles scattered around the house (is that normal), made sure all sinks had soap & paper towels and literally everyone who came to visit had to be symptom-free (no sniffles, sneezes, itchy throats, – nada!) and smoke-free before coming over. If you’ve raised a preemie I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about and where I’m coming from.
But to most people, from the outside looking it seems insane and probably… WAY OVERBOARD. In our reality, though we are only doing what we have to do to keep our babies SAFE. (Thankfully for us, we have amazing family and friends, who all understood that 100% & that we were just being safe and doing what was best. I love you all for it.)
In the beginning for me, when we brought our daughter home I can honestly say that that time for me wasn’t as joyous as I would have loved for it to be. When I think back on those days, I realized that my being cautious and overprotective (which has most likely kept Scarlett from ever becoming sick – thanks be to God) has also paved the way for anxiety and fear to take root. My daughter is now 2 years old and to this day I still get very anxious during Flu/RSV season. I wished I could say that it has gotten better over time, (and to some degree it has) but for the most part, it hasn’t.
Because of this motherhood for me has been a little lonely and isolating. When she was younger, we stayed home a lot and as I said before were very careful around visitors. Anytime we went to crowded places (ie. grocery stores, playgrounds, parties…) I was constantly worrying and thinking about ways to prevent any of us from getting sick. We used the sanitizing wipes on every shopping cart and wiped down every area Scarlett could/would possibly reach. I carried hand sanitizer with me EVERYWHERE, and I also kept her covered with her car seat in order to prevent any unsolicited touching (seriously, it AMAZES me how many people think it’s okay to touch a strangers baby!!). I could be pretty assertive if you tried to reach for that opening to get a good look at her.
I remember one time I took Scarlett to the grocery store & it wasn’t crazy busy but there were enough people for me to keep Scarlett covered as I shopped. As I was standing in line waiting to check out I noticed the cashier had a bright red nose and a cough. (Seriously, I never thought I would become so aware of other people when they cough or sneeze. Something I completely attribute to Preemie-hood.) I was just about to leave the line when they reached for the basket (which had Scarlett who was covered in her carseat) and pulled it forward. I decided it was too late and went ahead with it anyway. I distinctly recall that this cashier had a used tissue in their hand the ENTIRE time while handling things from our basket. I was disgusted and honesty thought about just walking away – but I kept on. Until they decided to reach for the Carseat cover opening! This sweet little sick cashier was going to OPEN the car seat cover and poke her head/hand instead to touch Scarlett!! I CLEARLY remember thinking okay, that’s it! I told her politely, but VERY FIRMLY, “Do NOT open that, I have her covered for a reason.” The cashier looked clearly taken aback at the fact that I had just told her not to look at my baby and for a split second I felt bad. But, I was NOT playing around and I was NOT SORRY that I had spoken up to advocated for my daughter. She was only about 9-10 months old at the time and I was not about to risk her catching whatever it was this cashier had – even if it was “just allergies”.
As parents, no one likes to feel like they are being an over-bearing, over-protective person but…I don’t know… If you’ve ever had to spend any amount of time with your sick NEWBORN in the hospital (which I pray you have not or never have to), you just don’t care as much about what others think of you. Especially when it comes to protecting your baby.
For me though, what I really hate, anxiousness you feel the majority of the time & the constant overthinking that goes into ANY plans you try to make. Bringing my daughter home I was prepared to continue to advocate for her (something you learn in NICU) and do what I can to keep her healthy. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the constant fear that she would get sick no matter how hard we tried. Yes, I know babies get sick. I know it’s normal and that it’s actually good for them to get sick in the long run (helps to build up their immune systems). But when a premature baby comes home they are so immune-compromised (more so than your average newborn) and as their parent, I feel like it’s only natural for our protective instincts to kick-in. The last thing any NICU parent wants to happen is for their child to wind up BACK in the hospital once they’ve FINALLY escaped from it.
It’s a terrifying thought and for some families, it’s something that does happen. It happened to us (although not for any illness – again, thanks be to God.) But it’s happened to other premature babies of friends and family that we know and love…and just watching their babies fight and seeing how hard it is for their parents to see them… I just can’t imagine the level of stress and anxiety they feel. You don’t realize how fragile your babies truly are until you see them in a hospital bed struggling to breathe, unable to keep food down and with a fever of 102*F that just won’t break. It’s something no parent wants to experience. Which is why we are so cautious during Flu/RSV season.
Over time I’ve gotten a little less crazy. We still use the sanitizing wipes on shopping carts and I still carry around hand sanitizer. And when someone we know was recently sick we try and wait a few days before seeing them again. However, we are now in the “toddler years”, which means there’s not much I do when Scarlett’s decides to slide around on the ground after licking the floor. We do what we can though, right? But that anxiety is still very present and it’s something I personally deal with on a daily basis.
If you are in the beginning stages of “preemie hood” or you are a new parent yourself. I promise you are not the only one who feels crazy for taking precautions to try and keep you and your babies healthy. It can feel isolating and lonely; there will be times when people might think you are being “overprotective” and try to talk you out of your choices. But, you do what is best for YOU & YOUR FAMILY. Advocate for your baby’s health and don’t let anyone shame you for your parenting choices.
Be smart, give yourself grace and keep on trucking’. The ride only gets wilder from here!
As for the rest of us, let’s try to be a little more proactive and see a doctor when we are feeling sick, wash your hands, cover your mouths and if you have the Flu STAY HOME. Babies, elderly people and people with comprised immune systems are not as strong as people who have fairly strong immune systems. A simple cold for some people could mean days, weeks or (heaven forbid) MONTHS in the hospital.
Thank you so much for reading, you all have a blessed and beautiful day.