I didn’t know it at the time, but this was one of the most uninformed statements that anyone would ever say to me. Though the NICU was harrowing, traumatic, and unforgettable, I was even less prepared for what being a “Preemie Mom” truly meant.
Our journey as parents began in February 2017 when I was admitted to the hospital at 27 weeks pregnant with a very sudden and severe onset of preeclampsia - a serious complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys. I had a very happy, healthy, and unremarkable pregnancy up until that point, so when testing results came back abnormally elevated it came as quite a shock. I was put on hospital bed rest while they tried to stabilize my condition and keep my quickly rising blood pressure under control. Prematurity is one of those things that you read about or see on television, but don’t think it’s ever going to happen to you. In fact, it was mentioned in one of the many books I faithfully studied during my short pregnancy, but I skipped over it thinking that it would never pertain to me.
It is rare, but an estimated 450,000 babies born prematurely each year in the United States, that’s about 10% of pregnancies that end in delivery before 37 weeks gestation. Our family became a part of this statistic when Flynn Reilly Mulligan was born at 28 weeks via emergency c-section.
In February instead of May, in Winter instead of Spring, before any baby showers, sweet baby bump photo sessions, or maternity clothes shopping sprees. He weighed slightly over two pounds and was just over a foot long - and we were in love with every ounce and every inch that made him. For the next seven weeks following Flynn’s delivery, I witnessed countless struggles. I witnessed deterioration. I witnessed indescribable courage and strength. I witnessed the life of the NICU. I also watched my son survive, change statistics, beat the odds, defy all expectations, and finally come home.
With our family finally whole and in one place, though we were anxious to be caring for such a fragile life without the help of doctors and nurses, we were overjoyed. We quickly settled into our role as parents and a routine which involved scheduled feedings with meticulous instructions, lots of sleep for baby, lots of planner-filling for mommy, and countless appointments with doctors, specialists, and therapists. The NICU is just the beginning of preemie life and discharge is a major step, but it’s not the end.
We’ve since become very familiar with the offices of audiologists, ophthalmologists, physiatrists, neonatologists, developmental pediatricians, neurologists, gastroenterologists, pulmonologists...you name it, we’ve done it. Flynn sees his teachers - his physical therapist, special instruction teacher, occupational therapist, and speech and feeding therapist - for ten hours each and every week, regardless of snow, rain, sleet, or tantrum. The offices are near, far, and everywhere in between and we make it happen. It all comes with the territory of being a preemie parent.
“You must be so glad to be out of the NICU and have those preemie days behind you.”
Of course, I am endlessly happy to be out of the NICU. All things considered, our family is one of the lucky ones to witness a true miracle. As for those preemie days? We’re in them full- throttle two years later with no end in sight. Our obstacles change, our goals change, our family learns and grows, but we will always be in these preemie days.
This story was written by Kristina Mulligan for our Hello Parents series. Our mission is to create a community of extreme inclusivity. Appreciating what makes us different and what we all have in common. No judgment. Just a village of support.
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