One of the things that goes along with having a baby very, very early (i.e. before 28 weeks) is the lack of a third trimester. This is a fact that seems like it should be obvious but really isn't. It is also something that is truly devastating to the mother and it's sometimes hard for other people to understand. This is the thought process a lot of people go through:
Her baby is alive. All focus needs to be on the infant. At least she doesn't have to worry about a pregnancy at the same time. She won't have to get big and unwieldy while trying to care for a newborn at least. That's one less thing to worry about. And her health is fine now... why is she so sad?
I get that. And you know what? The baby DOES need to be the focus. Don't think the new mom doesn't know this too. In fact, it's unlikely she'll ever even mention the personal torture and devastation she's enduring from the untimely end to her pregnancy. She'll feel guilty and self-indulgent for even contemplating that she's suffering too. But she is suffering...
In the days following my daughter's birth four months too soon, I would wake up every morning and my hand would fly to my (flat) belly and I'd just want to lay there and sob. I had never even "shown". I had had precious few weeks of feeling fetal movement. I had really only just started to get past morning sickness. And it was done. Over. My next door neighbors never even knew I was expecting.
I wanted to just stay in bed. But I couldn't. My body would not let me forget that my baby was born and I needed to provide nourishment for her. I would roll myself off the bed (I couldn't sit up because of the c-section) and shuffle off to pump. As I sat in the chair, I would beat myself up...
How could I even feel sorry for myself? I wasn't the one whose life was hanging in the balance. And, so far, my child was even doing pretty well. I was SO very lucky compared to others. I needed to just get over it.
And for the most part, I did. As moms, we can push a lot of of our emotions and needs back when push comes to shove. We think we're doing the right thing that way, by martyring ourselves. In fact, we'd be better off to just face it, deal with it, and then move on, but that's hard to do.
It took me about three weeks to stop waking up that way... to stop being haunted by all I had lost out on. I wish I could tell you that you totally move past it with time, but I don't really think that's true. I'm still wistful about those sixteen weeks I never had. I still envy hugely pregnant ladies who look "about to pop". But it certainly isn't something that weighs me down or that I even think about every week. It comes and goes and I can handle the emotions that come with it...
In Part 2 of this series, I'll talk about handling those first few months... working through your own emotions and holding it together when faced with devastating comments and situations.