Big Preemies are Still Preemies


The girls were still mistaken for newborns when they came home from the NICU. They were just over a month old; one was five pounds, the other was seven.

I decide what I say to strangers based on the level confusion I can see on their face. So when I say the girls are a month old, I usually follow up by saying they were born premature.

If I’m lucky, that line ends the conversation and I can be on my way. But that isn’t usually the case.

“How early?” 

I respond that they were born at 33-weeks, so seven weeks early.

“How big were they?”

Here we go. 

I wish I was the type to stop these conversations before they start, but I’m just too polite. So I stay and respond, ignoring my need to get my errands done to satisfy the curiosity of a stranger.

As soon as 4lb7oz and 5lb3oz come out of my mouth I get the look. It’s the look people give you when they catch you in a lie. And then I get the shpeal about the numerous babies that this stranger knows that weighed something similar at full-term. Like how dare I label my giant babies as premature. They aren’t one pound miracles. Their lives were never held in the balance. They aren’t the subject of a March of Dimes infomercial looking for donations. 

What comes next varies, but I’ve heard things like, “they must have been pretty healthy,” or “you’re pretty lucky.” Assumptions and implications, all of it. On the surface it is all relatively harmless. But here’s what I don’t explain to strangers. If they spent just one fraction of a second in my shoes they would understand that their comments, though well-placed, are still hurtful. 

Imagine being told at your first ultrasound that your babies only had a 50% chance of surviving. Less than one percent of twins are momo twins (monoamniotic and monochorionic) and somehow you drew that lucky straw. Imagine spending every day for ten weeks driving to and from the doctor to be monitored for your high risk pregnancy. Even on Christmas. Or having to tour the NICU because there was no question that your babies would be admitted should they make it to delivery. Imagine the gut-wrenching heartache when you are discharged from the hospital and your babies can’t come home with you. What about not holding your babies for two or three days after they are born? Or having to send your eleven month old to day care so you can spend all day at the hospital with your twins. Watching your babies with IVs, in incubators, with feeding tubes and nasal cannulas. Or feeling guilty when you ask the nurse to help with all the wires so you can hold the babies to your chest for just the briefest of moments. You know, that thing that most moms get to do seconds after their baby is born. Imagine the heartbreak when, for the third time, one of your babies is not able to go home on their scheduled discharge day because she stopped breathing during sleep the night before.

Yes, they were *big* when they were born. But that doesn’t mean they were ready to come out. They missed out on seven weeks of growth and maturity. 

Maybe we didn’t have as many fears as parents of those born earlier or smaller, and we survived the journey when many do not, and for both we are thankful. 

But playing the ‘my preemie is more of a preemie than yours’ is just asinine. 


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