I take a quick look at Facebook and I see a timeline that includes pictures of proud parents presenting their newest arrivals. We ‘like’ photos of cute little bundles, post congratulatory messages and send cards as we share in the joy of new mums and dads. And that is how it should be; a joyous occasion, the arrival of a new precious life, one to be treasured and celebrated. Parents of premature babies are just as proud, but for them the reality is very different.
There is no etiquette, no right or wrong way to celebrate the birth of a baby born small and fragile, but sharing the news of a premature birth is often done with caution. When our son was born with little warning at 30 weeks we told just family and close friends. We found it a difficult to convey that our baby was on a ventilator, that he needed a lot of medical support and would be in hospital for weeks or months, when at the same time not wanting to overly worry people. We sent out a message that our little baby needed help with his breathing, that over time he should grow stronger and would eventually come home near his due date – which to us seemed like a life time away.
My husband telephoned my work to let them know I wouldn’t be in the following week (having a very premature baby means you are still often weeks away from going off on maternity leave). My colleagues were excited – ‘wonderful news’ ‘so pleased for you’ ‘can’t wait to meet the baby’ – until he explained the reality of birth at 30 weeks. We found it strange to hear people describing the sudden birth as wonderful news, yet at the same time felt a loss at not being able to celebrate or have others celebrate our new arrival.
Our first post on social media (facebook) was when Sam was five days old, he’d come off the ventilator that afternoon and was now on CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). It was a simple message updating our wider circle of friends who had begun to hear the news. We didn’t post any pictures, with photos reserved only for our closest family. I remember a friend gasping when I showed them a picture of Sam aged 6 weeks; he still had his nasogastric tube in. I decided not to show them any earlier photos!
My husband and I spoke at length about sharing photos, particularly when we had a request to include a picture of our new baby in a work newsletter. We talked about waiting until all the breathing tubes had gone, but we were so proud of our little boy taking each day in his stride that we decided to do what other proud parents do and sent in our photo. We don’t know why our picture wasn’t included in the newsletter, but for us it felt like another reminder that having a premature baby In hospital is so very different from what anyone expects.
Three years on we have shared our pictures through the Smallest Things to help raise awareness. Yet three years on the nagging feelings of hurt, loss and jelousy still creep in when I see photos announcing the arrival of new bundles of joy – pictures that spring out at me of babies with chubby rosey cheeks, cradled in their mothers arms. These feelings I know are shared by other parents of babies born too soon and in that and the work we are doing to raise awareness I take comfort.