When a baby is born extremely premature, prior to 30 weeks, it is normal for everyone to ask why. What happened? Often there are no answers. For the mother of a micro-preemie (a child born weighing less than 1 3/4 pounds) it can be torture.
Mothers bear a special responsibility and burden during pregnancy. Even the most cautious and attentive women can have something mysteriously go wrong. We can be under a doctor's care and still get broadsided with an infection or illness from out of no where.
I met many mothers of extremely premature babies while in the NICU with our premature daughter, Lily, who was born at 25 weeks gestation. Speaking with these mothers openned my eyes to realizing we were all doubting ourselves and our worthiness as mothers, and that as hard as it was to accept, there was no simple answer. None of us had done anything to cause our children to be born early, though every one of us wondered and accused ourselves.
One young mother was mentally beating herself up because she had danced ONE dance on her birthday and the cord was wrapped around the baby's neck. Her grief was so extreme that I asked a counselor to speak with her. Despite our condolences, she still felt it was her fault somehow.
I understand her only too well. A few days after our daughter was born, it was discovered that I had a massive infection in my placenta. The doctor's could not explain how it got there. I felt as dirty. What did I do to deserve this? I wanted answers. How does this happen? But there were no answers.
The good news was that my body was actually doing what it was supposed to do. My baby was born early so that she wouldn't be infected. If she had stayed in any longer, she would have gotten an acute necrotizing virus and been stillborn. This news did not relieve my self doubts however.
Well meaning friends and relatives do not ease the self-guilt with questions of "Do they have an answer yet?" or comments such as "Lay still and keep your legs together." People do not realize how hurtful their attempts at humor can be. I'm facing the life and death of my child, and someone is making jokes?
With the exception of one unfit mother who did cocaine while pregnant (her baby died after 5 months in the NICU...Rest in Peace, little Dusty Rose), it is fair to say that none of the mothers I meant deserved the anguish they inflicted on themselves. It is sad we were robbed of the joy of being new mothers.
However, we were now mothers. Every one of us could now look at a little being and feel unconditional love. We are so fortunate that we live in a time when there is such excellent medical care for premature infants.
Some people wonder whether it is correct to keep a child born prior to 25 weeks gestation alive when the odds are so heavily against their having a healthy full life. I myself wondered if it was fair to keep my daughter alive hooked up to all those machines. But the answer is oh so obvious. Yes.
Lily had a 65% chance of surviving and a 90% chance of severe complications. But she is the exception, the survivor and thriver. There is no doubt now that we made the correct decision. Today, Lily is a happy and perfectly healthy 20 pound baby who will be celebrating her first birthday in 3 weeks.