What did your baby hear during his first few months of life? Did you startle him with beeping noises all day and night?
What did your baby see? Did you overpower her crib with beaming lights? Did you allow strangers in your house to stare at her?
What did your baby eat? Did you withhold food for weeks at a time?
What did your baby feel? Did you keep him alone in a box for the majority of the day? Did you continuously pierce his skin with needles? Did you stick tape to his cheeks and connect boards to his arms?
When I tell people my twins arrived at 34 weeks, this is what I hear:
Oh, that’s not bad.
Great job, Mom!
That’s almost full-term for twins.
This is why we need Prematurity Awareness – so people will understand the challenges and trauma our most fragile babies must work so hard to overcome.
My twins spent six weeks in the NICU. That’s six weeks they heard continuous beeping sounds, instead of soothing lullabies. That’s six weeks they were blasted with bright lights, instead of being comforted by a soothing lamp.
That’s six weeks of enduring heel pricks, PIC lines, x-rays, and incubators – instead of rocking in a comfy glider with mom and dad.
Nick was born relatively healthy for a 4 pound baby. But he needed a little help breathing, so they put him on forced air and inserted a feeding tube. That meant I wasn’t allowed to breastfeed.
As the days went on, he developed a serious intestinal infection. They stopped feeding him altogether and threaded a tube from his arm to his heart. That catheter was how he received nutrition.
For the next two weeks, the doctors performed multiple x-rays and loaded him full of antibiotics. I wasn’t allowed to hold him, so he stayed in his box, alone.
After the infection cleared, I held little Nick for a couple days and they started feeding him through a feeding tube. But the infection returned, and we started the process all over again.
Jay was much weaker when he was born. He wasn’t able to breathe on his own or regulate his body temperature. The doctors put him in a separate room of the NICU reserved for the most fragile babies. He was placed on a stronger breathing machine and given nutrition, but no food.
During Jay’s first week of life, he wasn’t held, wasn’t fed, and was barely touched. Thankfully, he pushed through and was moved to an incubator right beside his brother… where he developed the same intestinal infection. (Here we go again.)
Jay’s infection wasn’t nearly as bad as Nick’s. Sometimes I think his gut was just sympathizing with his brother’s.
With the help of the doctors and nurses, my babies made it home after six weeks – right before their due date. I will always be grateful for their hard work and dedication. They have some of the most important jobs on Earth.
The twins turn six this month. They’re both healthy and happy, but struggle with anxiety and communication.
I often wonder how their experiences affected their emotional and mental health. Did being deprived of touch contribute to their sensory issues? Did the bright lights, noises, and needles contribute to their anxiety? Do they struggle with PTSD?
I will always refer to Nick and Jay as ‘NICU babies.’ That title not only lets people know how much they’ve been through – It shows people how strong they are, and how much they’ve overcome.
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