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January 30, 2019

Mental Health for Preemie Parents #BellLetsTalkDay

7 years ago tomorrow, on January 31, 2012, I knew there was something wrong with my pregnancy. What I didn't know was that within 24 hours, I'd give birth to teeny tiny Isabelle, at 30 weeks and 2.5 pounds, via emergency c-section. I've written a lot about our experience, and if you want to do some reading, just search "Preemie" in the search field on my blog. 

I read the baby books (MANY baby books) and had a healthy textbook pregnancy until that day, but the universe and the angels definitely had my back through our very traumatic experience (and the outstanding medical teams at our local and regional hospitals).

While I knew we'd spend a long while in neonatal care, I didn't know what that experience would be like. Combine that with hormones and lots of uncertainty and mom guilt and all the rest, and you could say I may not have been in the right frame of mind. What frame that is, I don't know.

You see, there are no flowers in the NICU. There are no balloons or gifts delivered. There are lots of beeps and wires and as a parent (especially a brand new one), you don't really know what to do. You may find it interesting that I didn't even post online that Isabelle was born for over a week. I didn't post photos (we took a million), but I didn't share. Very few visitors were allowed in, and even then, no one could hold her. I don't know why, not sure there was a rationale. 

Sure, this may be typical behaviour for a new mom with a sick baby. And I read about post-partum depression, which I didn't think I had. I wasn't particularly sad, have baby blues, cry regularly. On the contrary, I was almost in warrior mode -- I knew I had to protect my baby and I was going to spend as much time every single day doing that. And I think that took its toll on us.

As pre-term parents, you don't really follow the rules of a "typical" new parent, just as your baby doesn't follow the rules of a "typical" newborn. And that said, no baby books really ever discussed the mental state of a pre-term mom. The worry, the fear, the 'want' to be happy and excited, but the realization that it's not time to celebrate....yet. Years later, one of my friends suggested I had a form of a PTSD, and I think that's probably the closest to the truth. We went through trauma, both physically and emotionally, and it weighed on us for a long while.

I believe the phenomenal NICU nurses could sense the anxiety; they encouraged Donny and me to have date nights and enjoy our weekends. It was only until we visited months later that they could see that we were almost different people, from the time we were in the NICU. 

With today being Bell Let's Talk Day, it's a perfect opportunity to remind everyone to share your stories. Speak to others, because there may be someone who can help. And if you see someone who isn't quite behaving like their "normal", gently reach out. 

And for the preemie parents out there, you are certainly not alone. From the time Isabelle was graduated from the NICU, I promised myself I would advocate, not only for her but for moms and dads like us, who have to visit their babies in the NICU. Unless you've been there, you'll never quite understand, but even if you need to refer them to another preemie parent, it could be exactly what they need. If any preemie parents need or want to talk, I'm here to listen.

Time to end all these stigmas. It's time to talk.

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