Being a parent can be stressful, scary and a little bit overwhelming especially if it’s your first baby. Being the parent of a premature baby is all these things and more. My son was born 10 weeks early and was very poorly. We endured a long 10 and a half week stay on the Neonatal Unit and then four days after being discharged he got bronchiolitis. He had to be resuscitated at home. This was when the realisation well and truly hit home; a simple cold had the potential to hospitalise our child. My defences went up and I wanted everyone to back off a little and give us some space.

Baby in a hospital cot with oxygen prongs on
Baby in a hospital cot with oxygen prongs on a few days after being resuscitated

My son was admitted to hospital for a further week where he was back on oxygen and was closely monitored. The picture below is one that I sent to Neil’s dad shortly after we were admitted onto the children’s ward. When Neil was discharged my husband and I got a little obsessive with keeping our already clean house spotless. Also I was really reluctant to have visitors so only immediate family were allowed.

I didn’t want to offend friends and extended family so I replied to their requests for visiting by asking them to give us a few weeks to settle in. I explained that I would space out the visits so that it wasn’t too much at once for us. Visitors were asked to wash and sanitise their hands, remove any outdoor clothing and if they had even the slightest sniffle they could think again about entering our house.

We were on lock down!

I was told a few different things from people (not close family or friends I will add!). Things like “you can’t wrap Neil up in cotton wool” and “he is going to catch a cold at some point” or my favourite “you’re so overprotective” followed by an eye roll and a mocking smile.

We were on lockdown. Photography credit: John Salvino
We were on lockdown. Photography credit: John Salvino

BACK OFF!

I know parents who had much worse. Personally I was never rude to people who made these comments. In my head I was screaming for them to back off though. As Neil is my first child I am well aware that others may have really valuable advice for me. BUT with all due respect they haven’t been through what I went through. I can’t wrap Neil up in cotton wool but I can limit his exposure to germs. Also I can give him chance to grow a little bigger and stronger so he has more of a fighting chance with a cold.

I’m over protective and I am very aware of this. I have seen my tiny baby boy fight so hard for life all on his own in an incubator. Now he is home it is my job to protect and help him as much as I can. I am not trying to be difficult or accuse you of being unclean when I ask you to wash your hands or remove your coat before picking up my son. I am trying to help him stay a healthy happy child and avoid a hospital stay. On the whole I have managed this well and I am proud of that!

Me and my little boy. Photography credit: Vivienne Guy
Me and my little boy. Photography credit: Vivienne Guy

My top 3 pieces of advice for approaching the “over protective preemie parents” are:

  • Wait to be invited. Text or call saying that you can’t wait to meet baby but make it clear you’ll wait to be invited. The parents will appreciate and remember this.
  • If you have nuggets of wisdom you wish to share, first think about what you’re going to say. You might think to do something a different way but preemie parents may be doing it this way for the health of their child.
  • Preemie parents are either still in or just left an environment where they are told when they can hold their child. When and how they should be administering medication. Not to mention when and how they should be doing cares (changing nappies, clothes and cleaning baby). They are finding their way so try not to judge how they do things. You can offer to help out though, just ask first if there is anything you can do.