I’ve been writing and rewriting this post in my head a zillion times. I don’t want to be ungrateful for the many things we have…a loving family, the ability to spend time with all of our family, plenty of food and shelter, and enough left over to spoil our kids a little at the holidays. Don’t get me wrong, the kids had an amazing Christmas. Everyone loved meeting the twins, and my 4-year-old had a blast with his cousins. I, however, was on anxiety overload and still am.
I’ve definitely learned some things from this Christmas, and I want to share them with you. I was going to make a list, but it all comes down to one basic fact, and one basic mistake that I made:
Don’t assume people remember what you’ve told them about Premature babies.
Prematurity is not something a lot of people have experience with. Some just think that your baby was born a little early, but that now they are fine. If you haven’t experienced having a premature baby, how would you know any different?
Obviously, I’ve had the experience, so I know all too well the differences between a full-term baby and a preemie. My first son was born at 38 weeks, which is 2 weeks early, but still considered full-term. He was born in October, and we took him to Thanksgiving and Christmas with all the relatives that very year. I was still worried a little about germs because he was a newborn, but I was so sleep deprived, I was happy to pass him off to anyone who wanted to hold him.
My twins were born at 25 weeks 5 days. That is approximately 15 weeks early. They missed an ENTIRE trimester in my belly. They did not have a chance for their lungs to develop fully, their skin was very fragile, and their eyes were still fused shut when they were born. They could not be held right away, or even stroked because it was too hurtful for their skin and too much stimulation. They were used to a warm, dark place where they could float freely, and instead were shoved into an artificial womb made of plastic, covered with a blanked to block out the light. They did not have the ability to regulate their temperature, and there was no more umbilical cord to feed them, only tons of lines and wires to help them breathe and eat.
I watched my babies fight and struggle in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 91 and 93 days. They each went through surgery, had numerous ultrasounds, blood transfusions, were poked, prodded, had tubes stuck down their noses and throats, and even an IV in their head. Most of the early days were pure torture for me. It hurt me to see them struggling, and it hurt me to be at home away from them. I tried to distance myself from them just in case. I still remember the Doctor telling me the odds of 25 weekers coming home from the hospital. I can’t remember the percentages….I think I blocked them out….but there was a very real chance they wouldn’t.
But they did. We were very lucky. They are so strong and such fighters, and I am so proud to be their mom.
But because of that fight, and because I don’t know if I could go through another hospital stay like that, I am very protective of them. As I mentioned before, we were under pretty strict isolation last winter during flu/RSV season. What may seem like a normal cold to a child or adult, can be deadly to a premature baby. Their lungs are still not fully developed, and honestly, may never be the same as a full-term child. We were lucky not to come home on any Oxygen, but it still doesn’t mean their lungs and immune system are fully functioning. Our doctors and developmental clinic told us the twins should ideally be caught up by 2 years old, but that’s not a guarantee. We still need to be careful about germs. They are not a full-term child that you need to “expose” to germs to “strengthen” their immune system. Their immune system is still developing on its own, and needs time to grow without having to fight anything off.
Since we were under that strict isolation for a season, and since I explain to everyone that comes over the need to wash hands and sanitize, I figured we were in the clear for the holidays this year. I figured people would be especially conscious of washing/sanitizing, and stay away if they were sick.
I was wrong. There were so many people congested, coughing, etc., that I had to excuse myself to the bathroom so I didn’t have an anxiety attack. I tried to keep the twins from those people, but it was nearly impossible. Especially when they don’t think they are doing anything wrong. They think they are just being friendly and loving to their relatives.
I should have spoken up. I actually should have talked to everyone beforehand to make sure no one was sick, but with the excitement of taking them out to their first Christmas, I didn’t. I did try to talk to a few people and remind them about their fragile immune systems, but everyone was in party mode, and I didn’t want to ruin the holiday. I tried wiping things down without anyone seeing, and I was constantly wiping their hands, but it was a losing battle.
So, now everyone in the house is coughing. And a little snotty. I’m on hyper alert for anything sounding too bad or a fever breaking out. I’m also mad at myself for not asserting myself better, and making them understand how serious the twin’s health is…even if they think I’m a lunatic.
So, since it took me so long to get this post out, and tonight is New Year’s Eve, I am stating my resolution for everyone to see. In the New Year, I am not going to be afraid to tell sick people to stay away from my babies, even if it’s a relative. I’m also not going to shy away from telling everyone to wash or sanitize their hands before touching the twins’ hands. We stayed out of the hospital for 2013, and I’m going to make darn sure I do everything to stay out in 2014.