November is Prematurity Awareness Month. That makes this a good time to talk a little bit about preemie stuff. I get asked frequently how people can help support preemie mom and dads, so I’m going out on a limb and sharing some ideas you may never have thought of.
Even if you haven’t given birth prematurely yourself, the odds are very good you know someone who has. Maybe it was your cousin or your neighbor or your sister-in-law. Maybe your child’s teacher had a baby way too soon. Maybe someone from your church. No matter who you are or where you live, prematurity has likely touched you in some way, shape, or form.
Quite often, I get asked questions about the best ways to support preemie moms and dads. “What can I do? What should I bring? What should I say? What’s actually helpful?”
These are all excellent questions, and I’ve addressed most of them in the past. Today, I want to talk about a typically overlooked way to support preemie parents in a beautiful way:
Honor Varying Choices and Methods
So, what do you mean by that, JL? What does that even mean? I just wanted to make a casserole or something…
Well, honestly, one of the kindest and simplest things you can do is sometimes just shut your mouth. And here’s what I mean by that.
Don’t criticize c-sections.
I get it. The c-section rate in this country is too high. Many could perhaps have been avoided. There exists a handful of moms out there who schedule c-sections for their own convenience and no other reason. It’s “not natural.” It’s “not best for mom and baby.”
I GET IT.
But here’s the thing– every birth is unique. From the mama to the baby to the doctor/midwife to the setting to the timing to the you-name-it, there are just a boatload of variables happening. No matter how knowledgable you feel like you are, you simply can’t know that a certain birthing method was the right choice. So, that, right there, would be a pretty good reason to just keep quiet.
But, if that’s not sufficient, let me be very blunt with you– the preemie mom is already beating herself up more than you can imagine. She is wondering what she did wrong. She is fretting that it’s her fault. She is going through all the hormonal upheaval any new mom faces coupled with crippling guilt and upset. The odds are pretty good that this isn’t how she planned her birth to go. She may very well have imagined soft music, unmedicated labor, and a supportive coach, but, instead, got an OR, blinding lights, and terrifying statistics. Being told her birth method is inferior? Is unnecessary cruelty.
“Oh, but we don’t mean that! We’re not talking to THAT mom… we know there are rare circumstances where it might be necessary. We’re talking to all those OTHER moms…”
Look. I honestly don’t think the majority of people fault me for my classic c-section at 23w6d gestation. I mean– seriously. A vaginal birth would have been traumatic on a 1 lb 5 oz baby. But, when I hear the scathing, judgmental remarks? It still hurts. A lot.
Those “other moms”? The ones who demand scheduled c-sections to avoid any labor and to pick their baby’s arrival date? They don’t actually care what you have to say about it! You can list all the reasons traditional birth is better until the cows come home and they will remain steadfast in their choice and they’ll happily ignore you.
The moms who hear you? Are often the moms who desperately wish it could have been different for them. But, instead of feeling like their stories are important and valid, they’re made to feel inferior.
Let’s stop that already.
Honoring different birthing methods supports the parents who work so hard to bring healthy babies into the world.
Stop freaking out about formula.
Again, I get it. Breastfeeding is better for both mom and baby. I know this. I agree. I absolutely loved nursing my daughter and, while I didn’t love it even a tiny bit, I dutifully pumped for my other daughter so she’d still get breastmilk. That worked for us. And that’s wonderful.
But, here’s the thing– in too many cases, babies are born early not because there’s anything wrong with the baby. They’re born too soon because something’s gone wrong with mama.
Blood pressure soars. Edema sets in. Kidneys fail.
Bad stuff, people.
Hopefully, once the baby is delivered, the mother’s health starts to improve. Even so, it may very well take a few days. And sometimes? That’s enough to completely derail all well-intentioned breastfeeding plans.
Do you need me to tell you about the woman who lived down the hall at the Ronald McDonald House who would sob in the bathroom after pumping for 45 minutes and producing only 5 mL? She’d finally gotten back on her feet after dealing with the horror that is HELLP Syndrome and that’s all she could do.
“But of course, that’s not what we mean! We’re not talking about those women who try so hard. We’re talking about those horrible mamas who DON’T EVEN TRY.”
I know. I do know this. But, again, let me let you in on a little secret. As one of those mamas who “didn’t even try” and just fed my first baby formula? I honestly didn’t care very much about your opinion. I had made up my mind and I was good with it. The people who actually take pause and focus on your words? Are those who probably didn’t have that same choice. So, basically, here’s what happens when you start listing all the reasons formula is horrible:
- You’re going to get a whole lot of “Amen, Sister!”s from those other moms who believe in and were able to breastfeed.
- You’re going to have a large population who doesn’t give a flying fig what you think.
- And you’re going to have a group that does care what you think and feels like junk because of your words.
I’m guessing this is not the intent of most “lactivists”, but it is often the sad result.
If you want to make a difference, speak out against the marketing of formula. Let your voices be heard when it comes to all the ads and mailings and hospital freebies. Be critical of the manufacturers, if you must, but not the mothers.
Honoring various feeding methods and choices allows parents who truly are doing the very best they can feel validated and accepted.
At the end of the day, one of the best ways you can support preemie parents is by ensuring you don’t make them feel lousier than they may already feel. Like you, the parents of babies born way too soon are doing their very best and trying so hard to provide the best start for their babies. You can honor that by honoring different methods and choices.