11/19/2014 01:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Ghosts That Haunt This Preemie Mom

My daughter, Jane, was born at 32 weeks gestation.


On Memorial Day 2011, I traveled to the hospital hoping to hear the same thing I'd heard from all of the other moms: "Oh, that's normal. Those things happen in the third trimester." I almost felt foolish for going in, but that changed quickly when my Southern doctor in his country drawl uttered, "Honey, your bag's broken." This translated into PPROM, or Premature Rupture of Membrane, and I was told that labor would commence soon. I hadn't had a baby shower yet. The nursery was a painted room filled with boxes. We hadn't even taken birthing classes yet; they were scheduled for the following Tuesday (Jane would be a week old by then).

Memories are spotty, but one thing I remembered being particularly worried about was her lung development. They gave me the first round of steroid shots to help strengthen the lungs, but they warned me that since I would probably give birth before the second round could go through, it was a real possibility that she would have lung problems. I remember kicking myself for not going in sooner... how maybe, if I'd come in just 12 hours prior, I could've saved my child's life. I couldn't think rationally as they pumped me full of drugs to stop labor. Then drugs to quicken labor. There were oxygen masks. My husband asked if I was going to die.

Then, this perfect creature in miniature was there. Labor wasn't difficult at all. She was so tiny. Jane was born at 4 pounds, 6 ounces, and all I remember is that when she was born, she cried. And crying was everything. Crying meant working lungs.

I did not anticipate the other preemie problems (like feeding, weight gain, apnea, jaundice, all of which Jane had). How could I? I'd never known anyone to have a premature child. I was healthy as a horse, and here was my tiny progeny with an i.v. that sprung from her paper-thin scalp. The nurses would make us leave the room when they had to change the line, and I remember hating that effing thing for everything it represented. That goes for the incubator too. All of the things that I'm now so thankful for, these advances in medicine that help to keep these babies going, I hated them because they were symbols. Symbols of my own shitty uterus and my failings as a mother (already!).

Jane had apnea. Three times. In front of me. What this means is that she stopped breathing in front of me three times. I cannot express the gravity of watching this happen. What's so crazy about a premature baby's apnea is that it happens without a whisper. The babies are so tiny anyway, and their breathing is so quiet, that I didn't even know when her tiny breath had stopped. I was forced to depend on a screeching alarm from the many tubes attached to her. I won't even go there about the trauma of bringing baby Jane home without monitors, the haunting fear of knowing that I didn't have an alarm like that anymore. That I would just have to physically watch the child every second of every day. In my waking nightmares, I am time-warped back to those days, watching the child, praying that the breaths wouldn't stop for fear of what the world would possibly be like without those breaths and how I could ever survive it.

Jane is three now. We are past the point of calculating her adjusted age. She's just three. She has no health problems associated with prematurity. No developmental delays. We are lucky. This is not true of all of her suitemates. And though my husband and I can find the benefits in a number of ways about Jane's early arrival (the incredible nurses, the other NICU parents, many of whom have become some of our best friends, the overwhelming gratitude we extend to the universe for blessing us with a preemie who could survive her circumstances, the extra seven weeks of our lives we've been able to enjoy this blessing), I would not wish prematurity on any parent.

People actually told me things like, "Oh, wouldn't it be nice to have nurses do the feedings and diaper changes in those early weeks so that you can rest?" Really? I'm haunted by those early weeks in the deepest and most sacred ways anyone can experience trauma. I'm grateful for those nurses, but I sure wish that I could've held my baby after she was born. That I could've nursed her during those early days when she was fed intravenously. That I could've touched her without scrubbing in. That I could've rocked her to sleep without the jumble of cords. That she could've simply heard my song instead of the constant beeping of monitors. I am haunted by what I had to miss in the earliest weeks of my child's life. What she had to miss.

I hope there will be a day when the wires and syringes and the incubator and the shrill monitor signals leave me at peace. When the ghosts of prematurity finally find their resting place. But, I don't think they ever will.