by Elizabeth Napolin
When I was 36 weeks and one day pregnant, we had some friends over for dinner. It had been a long work day and another one was scheduled the next day. I was not a happy camper when I noticed my water was leaking. In fact, I asked everyone to keep their fingers crossed that I had just peed my pants. I had a birth center to hospital transfer with my first and now here I was, once again looking at a hospital birth. So, I did what anyone would do… I started to brainstorm how I could convince the lovely midwives to break the rules and allow me to deliver early with them. They didn’t go for it (imagine that). My little guy showed up about 12 hours later in the hospital, healthy and content and sweet as could be. The truth is, though, he did need the extra monitoring. He also developed jaundice that would have been harder to detect and treat if we were at home. I believe it was Dorinda who said that “babies pick where they need to be born.” It was sad for me, and still is a bit, but I had to sacrifice the birth I wanted to give my baby what he needed.
My sweet baby latched on beautifully after delivery. He was a hearty six pounds, nine ounces and the nurses all compared his weight to a full-term baby. At that point I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a late pre-term baby. The first 24 hours, Sammy would latch and quickly fall asleep. I set up a preventive appointment with Katie Madden to check in but, honestly, I didn’t even think I would need it. I was a second time mom, after all, and I knew what I was doing this time. About four days after he was born I was shocked when the pediatrician said his weight dropped over 10%. I was exceeding the daily nursing goals and he was getting more wet and dirty diapers than he needed. Even though Katie had warned that “late pre-term babies are the great impostors,” I was still shaken and confused. He was acting as though he could handle the whole ‘out of the womb’ thing, but he was just falling further and further behind. He was a great faker. Hmm… Now this is feeling a bit like being an adult (more on that later). I felt awful that I had been tricked. Here I was, going through the motions and feeling like we had it all together, but we didn’t.
Katie and I came up with a plan on the phone. It involved nursing my little baby bird every time he opened his mouth. I was nursing over 20 times a day (no joke!) for 30 seconds to three minutes at a time. I learned something very cute, though: Babies apparently hold the nipple in their mouths with their cheek fat. My baby bird didn’t have any fat; in fact, he had no butt, just a butt crack. (If you’re ever wondering what is happening the last four weeks of pregnancy, babies are getting cheek and butt fat. Kinda cute.) Two days later, though, Sammy had not gained an ounce. I couldn’t understand it and the frustration creeped back in. So, we made a new plan. It involved nursing, pumping, and bottle feeding. Even though Sammy could latch, I even started using a nipple shield just to make suckling easier for my tiny guy. Thank God this little guy was my second newborn. It helped so much to remember how short the awful phases are. I learned from someone at work that if you add “for now” at the end of something crappy, it doesn’t feel as overwhelming. That’s what I did: Every time I thought the plan was too crazy or hard I reminded myself, “This is the plan… for now.”
My little guy might have been over six pounds, but he seemed so fragile to me. He was way less baked than his brother, who was born at 40 weeks and five days. I felt intensely protective of him. I was open with others holding my first, but with Sammy I didn’t feel comfortable when he wasn’t with me. The truth was, he didn’t feel comfortable when he wasn’t with me either. I wanted to keep my ‘cool as a cucumber’ act going and pass him around to family, but then I felt like the ‘great faker’. What I needed to do was listen to a friend who said to trust my mama gut. I needed to protect this little guy the way he needed me to; he was not his brother. This also meant, though, that I wasn’t free to do a lot of the stuff I thought I could (remember I was nursing 20 times a day). I couldn’t go through the motions like I had it all together. This little late pre-term baby really was more fragile and even though he looked like a full term baby, it was okay to ask for help and be more protective than I might have been otherwise.
Sammy’s birth wasn’t what I had in mind, and the first few weeks were hard. Three months out, though, and it almost feels like a distant memory. Being a mom is intense (understatement of the year!). I’ll close with a lesson I learned with my first: If you’re in the beginning stages of new motherhood, hang in there, call a friend, take a shower, drink some water, and remember: just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.