A ‘typical’ pregnancy lasts about 280 days. 9 months. Thats the goal. And to be fair, you need that time, not only to grow a healthy baby, but to buy shit. Shit being the technical term for all the things you need for a baby. 9 months is the exact amount of time you need to get the nursery ready, to ‘baby-proof’ your home, and to mentally prepare for pushing an American football out of your fanny.

My pregnancy lasted 182 days, 4 hours and 24 minutes. Exactly. 100 days short of what is ‘ideal’. So that was fun.

There are absolutely things that you will learn while you are living in the somewhat detached bubble of the Neonatal Unit. Condensed into a few short points these are;

1. You’re baby will look like an alien and you probably won’t get to hold him/her after delivery. Jess weighed 840 grams. That’s 1lb 14oz. She is a ‘sugar bag’ baby. The only part of going though labour that makes any of it fun is that you get a baby at the end. It’s your prize, your pat on the back for you know, voluntarily ruining your fanny forever. Except when you decide to expel said baby from said fanny 100 days before she’s been cooked you don’t get the prize. Instead you get the same amount of pain with no reward. Jess was given 90 seconds in the room with me after she was delivered and then she was gone. I had no idea if she was alive, and I waited nearly 3 weeks for my first cuddle.  She also looked like an alien, but a perfectly formed one.

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2. When you leave you will know every single medical term that you never even knew existed. Think words like ‘Intracranial Hemorrhage’,’Apnea’ and ‘Nasogastric Tube’. These words will roll off your tongue like you were born to speak them, and I suppose in a way you were. You shouldn’t know them but you do, so try and absorb everything you hear. It will come of benefit at some point.

3. You’ll still have sleepless nights. Welcome to the world of expressing. About 5 minutes after you’ve had your baby you will be instructed that you need to express. And that will continue, as if you were feeding that baby yourself, until you can infact feed your baby. So every 3-4 hours to be exact. Even during the night. Unfortunately having a preemie doesn’t mean the sleepless nights get delayed until they get home.

But what you don’t tend to consider while you are in your detached Neonatal bubble is, that all the fun tends to happen after you are discharged. For example;

  1. They’ll get ill a lot more than normal babies. Normal under 2’s get around 12 illnesses a  year on average, so one a month. You can likely double that with your preemie. They are more likely to have respiratory issues and the like until they are around 5. They will grow out of it, unless there is an actual medical issue, but prepare for a pretty bumpy ride before they do. I’m not a advocate for immunisations in general, I have my own fairly strong opinions on them, but the flu vaccine is your friend, as is the noro-virus repellant. Your baby will pick up everything going and then some, they are so busy trying to just be alive that they aren’t really trying to fend off bugs. But they are strong and resilient and they’ll be ok. Calpol is also your friend.
  2. They might not meet their milestones when their peers do. I was reminded this week that she’s not quite the same as other 2.5 year olds. Namely when my friends 2.5 year old announced “I’m 2.5 too”. Well now. I’m happy that that cute little blonde boy knows how old he is. My wee girl on the other hand has NO idea of how old she is. She doesn’t have the capacity for that sort of dialogue and unless my questions are related to Paw Patrol or food she doesn’t give a shit. But she can count to 20, and she’s even pooped in the bath, so I reckon she’s getting there in her own time.
  3. You’ll spend a lot of time wondering – how? I look at her sometimes, and wonder just how is she here? How is she perfect and just…how? My brain can’t quite compute how something so small survived, it shouldn’t happen. I remember so so vividly what she looked like when she was born, she was tiny. She was grey, she was transparent and she would’ve sat in my hand. The very fact she can even demand to watch Paw Patrol naked is fine by me. She can do whatever the hell she wants as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care if she never learns how old she is, she is here and she is alive and she is healthy. And that is enough.
  4. You won’t ever forget. There will be nights that you wake up hearing the beeps from the machines. There will be nights you wake up in a cold sweat that something will happen to them. There will be days that you stand outside the hospital a little longer than you need to because you just can’t force yourself to walk into that unit again. That’s ok. The experience of having a preemie or a micro-preemie is life changing, utterly life altering. Let it change you, don’t ever forget.

Having a premature baby is hard. You have to place your trust in complete strangers to look after your baby, to know exactly what to do and when to keep your baby alive. But believe me, those doctors and nurses will become your angels and your heroes. They already know what to do, so while you’re in that Unit you do whatever you need to to survive.

Because all too soon, that tiny little scrap of a human is going to come home. And that’s when the real fun begins.

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