By Megan Ueckert
I never really stopped to ask myself why this happened to me, but more so became upset that it was happening. My husband Joe always would remind me that we’re a strong couple and there’s nothing that we can’t handle, and that God would only give us what we could handle, which became almost a mantra that we repeated through the IVF journey, and when I was admitted into the hospital on bedrest at 21 weeks pregnant when my daughter’s sac ruptured, and when our twins were born at 23 weeks 4 days, and during our 157 days in the NICU.
While I also felt the truth of this, I couldn’t help but feel slighted or angry that things didn’t work out as I thought they should have from the way we got pregnant, to the loss of a full-term pregnancy and all of those experiences, to all the ups and downs of having NICU babies.
At times the anger would be directed at different parties. I was upset with work, thinking that the stress of my job put me into early labor, but who knows if that’s true. I was upset with my doctor that she didn’t more closely monitor me or allow me to see a neonatologist even though I asked several times. I thought that she should have caught some sort of signs that this was going to happen and do something to prevent it, especially since I was a high-risk pregnancy to begin with. I was upset with her when I went into labor and had to have a c-section because the on-call doctor had told me they would do everything they could to delay the delivery and then once my doctor was involved, we were quickly moving to a c-section.
I don’t know to this day if it could have really been delayed or if my doctor just wanted to get it over with and have the c-section. There were times I was angry with the NICU doctors for not being able to tell me what was going to happen with my babies and feeling like they weren’t doing everything they could to help them. I was angry with the NICU nurses for being more of a mom to these babies than I was.
I am a planner by nature, and the entire journey caused me significant anxiety. I hated that everything was unknown and that one day the babies would be making amazing progress and the next day they would be two steps back. At one point, I sat down with one of the NICU doctors and he said to me that he could see that I was a type A personality kind of person and he said that he is too. He continued to state that the NICU is hard for people like us and that you need to think about it like reading the Odyssey. It’s a big book and you have to read each page in order, one at a time to understand the story. Sometimes if you just try to skip to the end, you miss the story.
This resonated with me and really helped me to change my ways in trying to control everything and learning that sometimes you really do just have to take it one day at a time. I’ve noticed that this has impacted my view of things and I’ve really started to try and let go of the control. Life is messy and isn’t always going to be perfect and no matter how hard I try to control it, there will be times that I just have to go with the flow. Before this experience, if something bad happened I would get caught up in “this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be” and ask myself why? I’ve learned that I need to reframe my thinking and look at the positives in the situation and see the growth that I experience through challenges.
I wouldn’t wish the NICU on anyone, but for the moms that delivered a premature baby, I would say to take your time to mourn the loss of your image of what your pregnancy should have been, but don’t get lost in feeling sorry for yourself because there are lessons you will learn along the way that will change you into a stronger person than you ever imagined you could be.
Know that the road is long, hard, and bumpy and that as much as you want to have the answer to the question everyone will ask “when will your babies come home”, that you just have to take it one day at a time and celebrate the successes and let the realities of the challenges set in. It’s also easy to lose yourself in the process, but as you are there doing what you can for your baby, it is equally important to take steps for yourself as well.
While my twins were in the NICU, I took the time to see a counselor to help me process all the emotions of everything going on. It was helpful to have someone to open to even though she didn’t understand all I was going through so that I didn’t constantly feel like I was dumping on my husband.
It also allowed me to heal mentally from the trauma…. yes, a premature birth is a trauma for both you and your baby. You may continue to have PTSD when you learn of a friend who delivered a healthy baby or hear an alarm or noise that brings you back to a memory from the NICU, or when you drive down the same roads you once took to visit your baby at the NICU.
I’m not sure you ever really heal from the NICU experience but doing what you can to prepare yourself mentally to be the best mother you can be when your baby does come home is so important.
Although I don’t know what the future holds and what challenges they may continue to face, I try to remember the advice of the neonatologist, when I asked when I can “stop worrying” as I sat in my hospital bed at 23 weeks pregnant uncertain of what the next few months would look like. She said that I will worry about my kids until the day I die. I know deep in my heart that while some days are harder than others, Lane and Grace will continue to be fighters their whole lives and will continue to teach Joe and I many life lessons.
Megan Uekert is mom to boy/girl twins. Her husband Joe and their family reside in Texas. This is the sixth and last part in the part series.
If you or anyone you know is struggling after having a premature birth, please reach out to Graham’s Foundation for support and resources. www.grahamsfoundation.org