Reach­ing out to pre­emie par­ents

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

Un­til my son was born two months early in 2015, “pre­ma­tu­rity” was a for­eign con­cept. I knew ac­quain­tances who had pre­emies, but did I think it would hap­pen to us — with our first child? Never. But who does? When my hus­band and I took a child­birth class last March, we were the cou­ple with the fur­thest due date (early June). Ev­ery­one else looked ready to pop. In re­al­ity, as I de­vel- oped se­vere preeclamp­sia just weeks later, we prob­a­bly de­liv- ered first. Oliver was born at 32 weeks ges­ta­tion weigh­ing 3 pounds, 9 ounces.

We’ve come a very long way from that April day, but Oliver’s pre­ma­tu­rity is of­ten on my mind — es­pe­cially come Novem­ber, which is Pre­ma­tu­rity Aware­ness Month. An in­fant is con­sid­ered pre­ma­ture if he or she is de­liv­ered be­fore 37 weeks ges­ta­tion. Of the near- ly 4 mil­lion ba­bies born in the U.S. each year, ap­prox­i­mately 380,000 ba­bies are born early, ac­cord­ing to the March of Dimes. More than 15 mil­lion are born pre­ma­turely glob­ally.

Oliver ar­rived early af­ter I de­vel­oped preeclamp­sia, a po­ten­tially life-threat­en­ing preg­nan- cy com­pli­ca­tion char­ac­ter­ized by high blood pres­sure and signs of dam­age to the kid­neys or other or­gan sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to the Mayo Clinic. Left un- treated, it can lead to seizures, stroke and ma­ter­nal and fe­tal death. The ex­act cause is un­known. The only “cure” is de­liv­ery of the baby and pla­centa, which of­ten re­sults in a baby’s pre­ma­ture ar­rival.

Most pre­emies will spend time in the NICU, the in­ten­sive care unit for in­fants re­quir­ing sup­port af­ter birth. Our son was hos­pi­tal­ized for al­most a month be­fore he was ready to come home.

That ex­pe­ri­ence stays with you. If you know a pre­emie par- ent, now or in the fu­ture, here’s how you could help.

Make them a meal

Our son was de­liv­ered at a hos­pi­tal al­most two hours away, which meant a ton of driv­ing. The most frus­trat­ing part of daily life in­volved feed­ing our- selves. Cook­ing was largely out of the ques­tion, so we sur­vived on take-out and hos­pi­tal meals.

When ba­bies are born, friends and fam­ily of­ten form a “meal chain” for the ex­hausted new par­ents. Even if their baby isn’t home, pre­emie par­ents still need that love and sup­port. Bring them din­ner: a casse­role, lasagna, soup — some­thing they can eat and re­heat.

Food is about more than nour- ish­ment. For a pre­emie par­ent, it sym­bol­izes com­fort and com- pas­sion. If you’re not a cook, of- fer to meet them at the hos­pi­tal for a meal or to take them to a lo­cal restau­rant. As time wore on, Spencer and I craved com­pan­ion­ship and sup­port. We needed a dis­trac­tion. Com­pany pro­vided that.

Reach out, but give them grace

If your texts, calls and emails go unan­swered, don’t take of- fense — but don’t take it as a sign you should stay away, ei­ther. Though I didn’t al­ways have the strength to re­spond to mes­sages, I read each one. Know­ing peo­ple were think­ing about us was a great source of com­fort.

State­ments like “I’m here if you need any­thing” are kind and well-mean­ing, but it’s bet- ter to be spe­cific. Say, “I want to help. Can I give you a ride to the hos­pi­tal this week? What night can I bring you din­ner? Do you need help with laun­dry or yard work?” If they have other chil- dren, of­fer to come spend time with them, help with home­work, etc.

Bring a care pack­age

Life af­ter an early birth be­comes a study in com­mut­ing, sit­ting and wait­ing. “Real life” is put on hold. Con­sider putting to­gether a care pack­age with items like in­di­vid­u­ally-pack­aged snacks, bot­tled wa­ter, hand san­i­tizer, un­scented hand lo­tion, mag­a­zines or gift cards for gas, food or cof­fee. Not only is the thought nice, but the prac­ti­cal items will be a help.

Con­tinue to be there

Re­mem­ber their jour­ney doesn’t end when their child comes home. He or she may face con­tin­ued health is­sues — ap­nea, feed­ing prob­lems, oxy­gen sup­port, etc. — and will likely be iso­lated at home, es­pe­cially for the first few months. That means your friend will be iso­lated, too.

Don’t take it per­son­ally if you’re not im­me­di­ately in­vited to see the baby. When their child is dis­charged, par­ents face du­el­ing emo­tions: ex­cite­ment and joy that their baby is com­ing home, and fear at the thought of car­ing for them away from the NICU staff.

The risk of in­fec­tion — es­pe­cially dur­ing cold, flu and RSV sea­son — is es­pe­cially scary for pre­emie par­ents. They may se­quester their child, let­ting him or her get ac­cli­mated with lim­ited ex­po­sure to oth­ers for weeks or even months. Germs can be se­ri­ous.

If your friend is able to take a break from the needs at home, of­fer to meet them out for a quick lunch or just to help run er­rands. Check in oc­ca­sion­ally. Sug­gest some light come­dies for them to binge-watch on Net­flix.

More than any­thing, just be there. The fer­vent prayer of the pre­emie par­ent is that, with time, love and pa­tience, their ba­bies will grow into healthy, happy chil­dren. Ev­ery­thing takes time.

Be a friend to us on that jour­ney. We need you.

For more in­for­ma­tion on pre­ma­tu­rity, go to mar­chofdimes.org. To learn more about preeclamp­sia, go to preeclamp­sia.org.

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