Every year, an estimated 15 million babies are born prematurely (before 37 completed weeks of gestation). Premature births can lead to health complications for the baby, and months of anxiety for baby’s parents.
To honour World Prematurity Day this November 17th, we chatted with Ashleigh, a Joeyband™ user, about her experience as a preemie mom, how it’s shaped her journey through motherhood, and advice she would offer to other parents of premature babies.
Can you explain a bit more about your pregnancy and birth story? When was your due date and how early did your babies arrive?
Our pregnancy was a surprise gift - and ended up being a double! It was a bit of a shock to find out we were having surprise twins, and I was a little overwhelmed thinking about having to bring home two babies at once.
Our due date for the twins was September 25th, and when I went in for a routine ultrasound at 28 weeks I was rushed to the hospital! After a hospital change and settling in for the night, I begged the nurses to let me go home and be on bedrest at home with our toddler.
They finally agreed, as I had no indications of early labour - my water hadn't broke, I wasn't having contractions and I had no pain. During the discharge exam, they felt a foot in my vagina (yup, you just read that right!) and immediately prepped me and took me in for an emergency C-section. My twins then arrived via emergency C-section at 28 weeks.
Did you have any indication your babies would be premature, or did it take you by surprise?
None really! We knew that there was an increased risk of premature labour and birth, since we were having multiples, but so many people pregnant with multiples make it to full term that I wasn't overly worried about it.
All of my exams and ultrasounds leading up to that day had been perfectly normal - the only indication was the week before, when I was certain I lost my mucus plug. But the doctor I saw wasn't concerned (and didn't even give me an exam) so I tried to carry on normally.
What was the hardest part of being a preemie mom, and what did you learn from the experience?
The NICU, and balancing it with "regular" life. There was a lot that happened after the twins came - we moved from Toronto to Ottawa a week after they were born, we changed hospitals more than once, we had to house hunt for an entire month before we found a place, and I heavily depended on public transit to get to and from the hospital.
It all was made so much harder with the NICU involved. It wasn't easy to feel comfortable, I was scared of having to handle two very small humans, I was too nervous to ask for help, it was super lonely and having to leave them behind every night was horrible.
Every moment I wasn't in the hospital, I was left feeling guilty that I wasn't with my babies and every moment I was in the NICU I would feel guilty that I was spending so much time away from our toddler, who had to go through so many changes out of nowhere.
Being a preemie mom just left me feeling permanently worried, scared and overwhelmed on top of the usual woes of the fourth trimester.
What was the biggest challenge for you since being discharged from the NICU?
Feeling peace with the experience. I'm still working through the traumas and guilts I faced, and I wish I had had a therapist to work through it sooner.
Bringing home a baby in general is really hard, but being in the NICU allowed for a certain amount of ignorance towards the situation. But once they were home, the exhaustion kicked in and I felt really overwhelmed.
How did the Joeyband™ help you in the first few weeks and months as a mom to premature babies?
I received our Joeyband™ a few weeks after they were born, and it was a complete game changer for me! I regret not having one for our first, and I wish I had had it from the beginning with the twins.
The Joeyband™ allowed me to hold both fragile newborns at the same time, while being hands-free to get stuff done on the computer or tablet. It allowed me to safely give the twins an incredible amount of skin to skin time, which was a big priority in the NICU!
Wearing the Joeyband™ grew my confidence in holding and cuddling the twins and being able to go home with that little bit of confidence was really important. I think the Joeyband™ should be part of everyone's hospital bag, preemie birth or not, but especially for preemies. Kangaroo care is an incredibly important aspect of the NICU and helping newborn preemies thrive and survive!
How are your babies now, and how has your experience as a preemie mom shaped motherhood for you as they grow older?
They're now just over two years old and doing amazing. So far they have had no major complications, and you'd never guess they popped out at 28 weeks! I find that having preemies has made me a more anxious and worried mother, but equally it has inspired me to do more for new moms.
What advice would you offer to other parents of preemies?
Ask for help. Being a preemie parent presents so many difficult aspects, especially on mental health.
Don't stop kangaroo care once you're out of the NICU.
- Take photos and notes in the NICU! It never felt right to do it, but looking back I wish I had more photos of the experience, and that I had taken daily notes of how they were doing - for example any NICU milestones they hit and how I was feeling as their mom.