Babies born prematurely are completely remarkable and inspiring. Besides my beautiful Hugo, born at just 24 weeks, I have heard many other stories of preemies’ huge character that belies their tiny size.
These preemies demonstrate a strength and bravery to put grown-ups to shame. They scrap and fight with every scrap of their being to stay alive.
Thanks to medical advances, many premature babies do grow to be bigger and stronger and eventually go home with their proud and grateful parents. These babies are inspiring, as many stories on the internet such as this one from the Huffington Post outline. The thing that really irks me about these sorts of articles is that implies that all preemie babies get to go home and live happily ever after. That only these babies are inspirational.
Hugo fought so hard for 35 days. He died in my arms, as a result of extreme prematurity and chronic lung disease. It is why point three in that particular article (‘…and their lungs totally transform’) made me particularly cross, because Hugo’s did not despite every treatment being tried. He inspired his parents, as well as so many people across the world, people who never had the opportunity to meet him.
Hugo is an inspirational baby. He continues to inspire others.
I am sure such articles do not intend to offend or irk bereaved parents of premature babies. These articles give hope, and celebrate the happy outcomes that all NICU parents dream of. It’s all part of Prematurity Awareness Month, and anything that raises awareness of the battles premature babies and their parents face is a good thing.
But we need to reflect that not all stories end happily ever after. Bereaved parents suffer enough without also feeling that their baby was not inspiring because they did not have the opportunity to develop their brain, their lungs, to gain weight – to go home.
So, here are my five reasons why ALL premature babies are completely inspiring – with focus towards those who do not make it home:
1. They can show a sense of character that can show adults what determination means
Many of these preemies are tiny – Hugo weighed only 420 grams at birth. These babies are strong, they cling on, they fight. They find ways of telling you what they want and what they do not want. They are determined.
Yes, it is a Mummy’s pride, but I was in constant awe of Hugo’s (‘the Boss’, as he was nicknamed by his nurses) physical strength, such as shaking off his arm splints, and by his determination to be in the position where he was most comfy – his tummy.
2. They recognise their parents’ voices
Ok, this is one point in the article I did agree with. Research has shown that preemies do better when their parents read and sing to them. Babies recognise their parents’ voices, and it is their parents’ voices that help calm them and aid their brain development.
We sang and read to Hugo every day, and it was amazing to see how he responded to our voices. Our voices – mine in particular, being his Mummy, really helped calm him when he was distressed. I particularly enjoyed watching him boogy to my singing – it offered beautiful moments for us to bond. This is especially important when you are separated from your baby because of the incubator and all the equipment.
3. They show us the value of the simplest things
Hugo showed us that the simplest things were the best: him gripping our fingers, feeling his skin against our skin during a kangaroo cuddle; changing his nappy, giving him his milk, helping wash him, seeing him open his eyes to peek out at the world, watching him boogy to my singing.
Even just watching Hugo in his incubator was a great pleasure, marvelling at the miracle of the perfect little being I had helped make. Even at that early gestation besides his lung development Hugo was a flawless, immaculate baby – complete with a full head of dark hair. So handsome.
4. They know when enough is enough
Towards the end, and knowing difficult decisions would soon have to be made, one of Hugo’s nurses told us that Hugo himself would tell us when he had had enough.
Sure enough, he did. His morphine dosage had increased, and his oxygen was maxed out. Hugo was clearly in discomfort, and for the first time he was pulling at his ventilator tube.
The end was indescribably heartbreaking – I did not want to admit to myself that Hugo’s fight was over, but I had to do my best to be a good parent and attend to my son’s needs.
Like many preemies, Hugo hated being handled. Hugo showing us that enough was enough meant he could spend his last moments with the people who loved him most – his Mummy and Daddy. Hugo breathed his last snuggled between my breasts listening not only to me telling him how much I love him, but to my heartbeat too. The first sound he would have heard in my womb was also the last.
5. They continue to inspire others after they have gone
So many premature babies like Hugo who did not make it home continue to inspire long after their journey has ended. Not only do they show their parents what true love really means, they inspire friends, family and strangers with their strength.
We want to make sure that our babies have an impact on the world. That their lives mattered.
The many parents who fundraise in their babies’ names, and set up organisations in their memory ensure that their legacy lives on.