That first moment. You never forget it. It’s engraved in your heart forever. But holding your baby for the first time takes on a new meaning when you’re a preemie parent. The constant beeps and alarms hum through the dimly lit room. Wires, tubes, and monitors are being juggled between half a dozen nurses. In the middle of it all is a tiny, fragile baby, born too soon. A baby who shouldn’t be alive.
While I always knew I would be a preemie parent, I never expected what unfolded in 2013. Being pregnant with triplets, we knew that a stay in the NICU would be mandatory. But, I pictured that happy moment when we would get to meet our three perfect babies, making our life complete. As we soon learned, life doesn’t always go as planned.
I never got that dream moment shortly after birth–the picture you see so often with a baby being placed in the mother’s arms. Nope. Not me. My triplets were born too early, more than 17 weeks premature. My first born passed away in my arms shortly after birth. In the chaos of a terrifying delivery, my other two babies were whisked off to the NICU before I even realized they were alive. I didn’t get to hold my daughter, our lone survivor, until she was one week old. It was close to two weeks until I held my son. I finally held the two together when they were six weeks old. It felt like an eternity, but the wait was well worth it.
As the team of nurses carefully moved wires, I sat in a special chair, tears welling up in my eyes. Excitement, fear and anxiety consumed me. I watched as the nurses slowly unhooked the chords and brought my one pound babies toward me. One at a time, they gently placed them on my chest and worked quickly to reattach every wire and tube. As they covered my children up with a blanket, they leaned me back in the chair, reminding me not to move. Any sudden movement could cause a significant emergency.
Reality sank in as I was overcome with emotion. I was finally holding my children together, their skin touching mine for the first time outside of the womb. Their hands brushed each other, then intertwined on my chest. It was a surreal moment. The wires and tubes disappeared as I closed my eyes, the sounds of the machines and alarms pushed out of my mind. I had waited for this moment for years. I finally felt like a mother.
As a preemie parent, that motherly instinct is often pushed aside in the NICU. My children were weak and delicate and so tiny that I was even afraid to touch them in their first few days of life. As I soon learned, though, there were simple things I could do to be involved as the doctors and nurses cared for my micropreemies. From changing diapers to taking their temperatures, I got to know my babies in a unique way. But the best feeling of all, was the warmth of their bodies, their hearts beating with yours.
You never forget the first time that you held your child. It may not be in that hospital bed. It may not be that Kodak moment. It may not have been exactly how you planned, but for preemie parents, it’s a magical feeling…picture perfect in every way.