Adopting Prematurely

By Christine Anderson

Looking forward to my adoption experience, I didn’t imagine part of it would include a premature baby. We knew and understood the adoption side of the experience, having adopted previously. But we did not know what to expect from the hospital now that we were suddenly in the role of parents of a preemie. I also wasn’t prepared for how the experience would teach me about the human spirit and resiliency. Though each adoption is unique, perhaps your adoption may involve an infant born prematurely. Maybe our experience will prepare you for your journey.

I will never forget the first time I heard my little boy’s squeaky cry and saw how tiny he was. I knew he couldn’t be more than a few pounds. He was born at 33 weeks and weighed just under 4 pounds. He was quickly passed through a window to a caring NICU nurse who started to check his weight, take his measurements, and assess his overall health.

Feeling like a surgeon prepping for the operating room, I scrubbed my hands, fingers, fingernails, and arms in a large basin in the NICU reception area in order to meet my new baby. Not knowing what to expect, I was led to his room.  There lay a tiny little creature with skinny arms and legs. He seemed birdlike opening his mouth, and had tubes and wires connected to him. There were several machines monitoring him. He looked so tiny in his bed (that actually looked more like a table than a bed). I wasn’t sure how to respond. Could he hear my voice? Would he know who I am? Could I hold him?

The birth of a baby is often called the most joyful and difficult experience. For parents with a premature infant it is a completely different experience. It is one of shock, hope, fear, and uncertainty.

I sincerely hope others do not have to experience the NICU but there are some ways to cope with the experience.

  • Take a deep breath – breathe. 
  • If you have questions or are unsure have the courage to ask questions. 
  • Let your nurse know what you are feeling. Maybe you’re scared, hopeful, excited.
  • Say hello to other parents when you are scrubbing at the basin.
  • Find ways to involve yourself in your baby’s care, whether that be attending medical provider discussions about your baby’s care, helping with diaper changes, temperature checks, or helping to prepare feeding fluids. 
  • Decorate your child’s hospital space (crib, bassinette, isolette) with pictures of other family members, posters, etc. This is your child’s nursery. It will help you feel a part of the process and feel a sense of ownership about the space. 
  • Find ways to bond. You may not be able to hold your baby but there are ways to bond using other senses. Express your thoughts or emotions. Sing to your child, read poetry, create a scrapbook page, etc. 
  • Celebrate and cry with other families. You are not alone in this experience. Celebrate successes like weight gain or transition from an isolette to a basinett. Don’t be afraid to share set backs such as delayed discharge with others. 
image by cw

What if it isn’t you but someone in your circle of friends and family who is going through the preemie experience? How you can support parents with a preemie in the NICU?

  • Recognize that even though the baby arrived early, it is a child, lovingly hoped for and adored. 
  • Offer support. You may not know what to say, but just acknowledging, “I don’t know what to say but I am hear to listen,” can help parents feel supported.
  • Although adoptive parents aren’t recovering from a birth experience, they are caring for a baby, have had some sleepless nights, and have been through an emotional experience. Offer to bring a meal and assist the new family. 
  • Sometimes families are so focused on their little one they forget to take care of themselves. Offer to bring a meal, invite them out for a short visit at a coffee shop. 
  • Volunteer to help with household duties or errands so that the family can focus on time at the hospital or time with other siblings. 
  • Make a donation to the NICU. There is always a need for cards, scrapbooking supplies, baby items, gift cards for restaurants, or monetary contributions that can be used to support a family. 
  • Make a care package – Notebook to write thoughts, experiences or questions for the medical staff, water bottle, some change for vending machines, nutritious snacks (protein bars, fruit bars), lotion to soothe oft-scrubbed hands, and a note letting them know how you love and support them during the experience. 

A premature birth can be a difficult emotional time but with compassion and support the family can begin to understand the implications of premature birth and how to cope.

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One Response to “Adopting Prematurely”

  1. December 19, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Brings back many memories for me. :)