This month’s Mama Story is from Parijat Deshpande, a California Bay Area-based Perinatal Wellness Counselor and mama to a micropreemie, born at 24 weeks gestation. Parijat will be diving deep into what it means to navigate postpartum after a high-risk pregnancy, bedrest, and while having an infant in the NICU – no small task!
Of the gobs of pregnancy information available, there are limited resources about what life with a preemie is like. I encourage you to share this post with friends, colleagues and loved ones who are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy or have a premature infant. Let’s all make sure that more info is available about this important topic!
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No one said a word.
Just a couple of moments ago the room was filled with a dozen medical staff, buzzing, bustling and chaotic.
Now it was silent.
The two monitors that had become extensions of my belly over the last 2 weeks had been removed.
My magnesium IV had been replaced by a pitocin drip to remind my uterus to contract back in.
I was 24 weeks and 5 days along.
My son was born and my pregnancy was over.
After eighteen weeks of bed rest, 15 of those days lying in trendelenburg, a new fight had begun.
The first step was sitting up
Immediately after the birth, I felt an intense wave of calm.
I remember thinking, “Wow I’m handling this really well!”
We knew my son would come early.
The pregnancy had been extremely complicated and risky.
But we didn’t know until 12 minutes before he was born, that this was going to be his birthday.
What I didn’t realize is that this “high” was temporary.
That calmness was a way for my body and mind to protect me from what we were faced with next: A long, hard, terrifying journey to bringing our son home.
Before I could even get out of bed, I had to relearn how to sit.
Having laid with my head below my feet for the last 15 days, raising my head just a few degrees above a flat bed caused me to feel faint and dizzy.
The whole process from lying down to sitting up took close to 2 hours. The next step was standing.
Because I had been on bed rest for so many months, I had significant muscle atrophy and couldn’t stand for more than a couple of seconds without my legs giving out.
From the delivery bed, they put me straight into a wheelchair, advising me against standing that day.
I needed to rest, they told me.
But when I saw my son for the first time, 3 hours after he was born, tiny and wiggling in his isolette, I couldn’t just sit there.
I pulled myself to stand, wobbling against the support of my husband and nurse who were holding me up.
It may have been just a few moments but it felt like an eternity.
I was standing for the first time in weeks.
Taking my first steps.
As my nurse settled me into my room in the Mother-Baby unit, she told me to take it easy that night.
The next day my journey to healing my body would begin because the next day they made me walk.
I held onto the railing that spanned the walls of the unit and concentrated hard as I put one foot in front of the other.
Two minutes in and I was ready to collapse from fatigue.
They wheeled me back to my room to rest before I had to try it again.
Through it all, I used my son as a source of inspiration.
If this tiny human could fight for his life fifteen weeks before he was supposed to be born, I could learn to walk again.
Over the next two days in the hospital, I slowly inched my way up and down the halls trying to build back stamina.
Recovering from bed rest can take months.
Recovering from bed rest while your baby is in the NICU is complicated but doable.
My son came home to us 109 days after he was born and even on his homecoming day I wasn’t 100% back to normal.
Whether you were on bed rest for three weeks or three months, it is hard on your body.
Here are a few tips on how to honor your recovery after bed rest:
Take it slow as you recover from your delivery.
Literally walk slowly for some time until you feel stronger.
There’s no rush to get anywhere.
Also, hold on to railings whether you’re walking on flat ground or up the stairs.
You may feel like you’re getting stronger but endurance takes time to build.
Be sure you have support to hold on to in case you feel like you’ll fall.
Listen to your body.
It’s always communicating with you about what it needs.
If you’re tired, sit, lie down or take a nap.
Don’t try to push through.
You’re trying to rebuild your resources and you need rest so that can happen.
Also, take pain seriously.
It’s your body’s way of telling you that you’re not ready for the movement that you just made.
If something doesn’t feel right or you feel like you should be getting stronger faster than you are, talk to your doctor about starting physical therapy to help you bring back your stamina.
If you’re recovering while having a baby in the NICU, here are my top 3 pieces of advice.
Be kind to yourself.
Self-care in the NICU is not indulgent.
It is critical to you being the best mom that you can be.
Babies in the NICU can actually tell when moms are overtired, stressed and overwhelmed so take time to rest!
Walk as you’re comfortable to build up strength.
Drink enough water.
And do your best to find peace through the ups and downs.
Talk to someone who gets it.
Reach out to moms in the NICU who have a baby at the same gestational age.
Talk to the hospital social worker.
Reach out to a professional who is an expert in postpartum recovery after bed rest or parenting in the NICU.
Emotional support is important to keeping your stress and anxiety low so you can be more present for your baby in the NICU.
It’s also essential to help you process the trauma you’ve experienced of a complicated pregnancy or delivery and having a baby in the NICU.
Ask for help.
There’s already a village helping you with your baby.
Create a village to take care of you too.
While you’re in the hospital, ask loved ones to do dishes, bring you food or do your laundry.
The biggest lesson I learned
So many moms feel like they failed their baby if they had a complicated pregnancy and/or a preterm birth.
I know I did.
But the biggest lesson I learned from my experience is that being Super Mom isn’t doing everything yourself without help.
It’s knowing how to accept support and delegate the right tasks so that you can focus on doing the one thing that no one else can do – nurturing and loving your baby with every fiber of your being.
Just take it one day, one step at a time.
You can do this!
Parijat Deshpande, MS, CWC, CSMC is a Perinatal Wellness Counselor who works with moms who are terrified during their high-risk pregnancy. Combining her professional expertise in clinical psychology and personal experience with a complicated pregnancy, she guides moms to help them lower their anxiety, overwhelm and guilt so they can feel more hope and confidence through all of the ups and downs.
Having trouble keeping your stress low during your pregnancy? Download the FREE Perinatal Wellness Toolbox for resources on how you can get through your high-risk pregnancy with less anxiety and more hope.