|By: Mara Tesler Stein, Psy.D. and Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D.|
When you set out on the road to parenthood, you become an honorary member of an exclusive club. Other parents will start sharing new personal information with you, and you listen more closely to stories of pregnancy, labor, delivery and parenting. You anticipate completing your pregnancy and embarking on parenthood, buoyed by the knowledge that numerous others have survived this experience.
When parents get together, discussions often involve the grittier aspects of pregnancy and parenthood. How much weight was gained? How long was labor? What was pushing like? How much sleep deprivation can a human being tolerate? Parents also love discussing details of their babys characteristics and development. They compare notes on birthweight, clothing sizes, diapers, feeding, napping. Announcements about babys first smile, first rollover, first scoot, are shared and received with enthusiasm. Sharing and comparing are part of being accepted into a community of parents. Having something to contribute to the discussion means that one has "joined the club." Discussing pregnancy, labor, delivery and parenting experiences is a way for parents to share what they know, and also to show that they understand.
So, as you approach each hurdle and reach every milestone, it is natural to compare your experiences, hopes and fears to those of other parents. Unfortunately, when you deliver prematurely, when your pregnancy, labor and/or delivery do not fit the norm, these kinds of discussions may leave you feeling very, very alone. You hang back when other parents start telling their "war stories" about pregnancy, delivery and early parenting. You wonder what others will think when you tell them that you only gained 10 pounds during your pregnancy because you delivered at 25-weeks. You hesitate to tell people (who used to understand you perfectly) that you can't remember the first time you saw your baby. You anticipate uncomfortable silences and pity if you were to tell them about your babys hospitalization. You imagine that they wouldn't be able to relate to your experience, because you certainly cannot relate to theirs.
You may also hang back to protect themand yourself. You may find yourself censoring what you tell others because dont want to hurt them, scare them, or highlight your differences. You might avoid telling your story in an effort to protect yourself from stunned silence or astonished expressions. You might discover that you feel silly when you cry with joy over milestones and accomplishments that other parents take in stride. And perhaps inevitably, you feel quite inferior when you compare your experience to theirs.
Having a premature baby IS different.
It is natural to seek out others with similar experiences. You want to join a club where you do not have to explain yourself quite so much. Its members are like you, the parents of premature babies.
In the preemie parent club the topics and emotions are different. Shock upon early labor contractions, struggles with bedrest and drugs, deliveries filled with fear and dread. Gestational age in weeks and days, birthweight in grams, growth patterns, kinds and durations of medical interventions, length of hospitalization. Developmental milestones are not taken for granted here. When you share the news that your baby is smiling, turning to your voice, or tracking objects, your baby can get the standing ovation she deserves. .
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