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The impact of a birth story on you as a parent!

My name is Ilona. I was only 26 weeks pregnant when I was rushed to the university hospital in Groningen. Heavy bleeding occurred while I was at work as a family counselor and induced contractions. I feared for the life of my daughter. A resolute gynecologist gave me contraction inhibitors to stabilize the situation and administered lung maturation injections.

Preeclampsia

After a week of bed rest and numerous subsequent tests that did not show the cause of the bleeding, I became nauseous. I put it down to a half-eaten bag of M&Ms, but it turned out to be the first symptoms of preeclampsia and less than 24 hours later I was deadly ill. I was so sick that my daughter had to be delivered in a rush C-section.

My daughter was born at 27 weeks

A very teeny-weeny little girl came into the world with a birth weight of 735 grams. Our first contact was in the hallway, where I was able to put my hand into her incubator for a brief moment. I was on my way to the recovery room, and she was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit. Until recently, it was a large unit, with all the children arranged in a row, but nowadays, there are fortunately an increasing number of family-oriented suites available, where a family can have their own space.

"In shock, I looked at my underpants, soiled with blood, and ran outside screaming".

Carry on, carry on and then carry on some more

This was the moment where the action mother in me came alive. My head was working overtime, while I felt totally drained. What does my daughter need? Feeding, breastfeeding. Kangaroo care, I have to bundle up my baby. And of course, I also have a toddler running around. She needs me too. For her, “normal” life must go on. I have to be at the hospital every day. My husband is running his own company; after all, money has to come in. It all seemed so well organized from the outside, and I was able to handle it so well from a practical point of view.

“The way you manage everything is simply great! You even find time for fun stuff.” That’s what people told us time and again. It was a well-meaning compliment, but no one knew how I felt inside, and I certainly wasn’t going to tell them then and there, when I was just getting on.

Bringing a premature baby home

My daughter was doing well, despite the worries that come with a premature baby: fear of complications, concerns about her physical development and the many lurking viruses, and for her health that could change by the minute, especially in the early stages. Indeed!

After 4 months in hospital, we were allowed to bring her home connected to a feeding tube! Time to celebrate, you might think! But in fact, it was super stressful. I was no longer entitled to postnatal maternity care; these hours had already been used up during my stay at the hospital.

From a 24/7-hour setting with an alarm bell to completely autonomous parenting. Parenting that had to cope with extreme upheavals. Inside, we quivered and quaked. From the outside, everything appeared rock solid!

No right to extra leave when my premature baby came home

“No, you are not entitled to extra leave. Your daughter was born prematurely, you are not sick.” The words of the company doctor, whom I had gone to see a few days after my daughter came home, when my leave had ended, felt like a slap in my face. Fortunately, these rules were amended a few years ago, and now, your maternity leave only starts once you return home from the hospital. In my case, it took a kind doctor of the Employee’s Insurance Agency (UWV), who allowed me to stay at home for a few more weeks. Not enough to recover from the roller coaster of the birth and the impact, but it was a start.

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Impact on parents, but also on siblings

It turned out to be not nearly enough a few years later, when my eldest daughter, just 4 years old (who had been 2 years old, when her sister was born) at that time, showed all kinds of behavior which I as a mother did not know how to cope with and which affected me quite severely as a person, as a mother!
Eventually, I went to a “child interpreter” (mirror coach), who translated my eldest daughter’s behavior into my inner world. Getting to what was going on in me at a subconscious level. It was right in my heart, in my soul!
Where had I been all these years with my feelings? I had survived entirely on a rational level, switching off my feelings; and my daughter gave me a glimpse into my inner world through her behavior!

My mission for parents with a complex birth story

It was an eyeopener and the start of a mission. A mission, where we strive to create more awareness among care professionals about the impact of a complex birth story, such as a premature birth on parenthood!
Because more than one out of three parents develop PTSD. We need to bring this percentage down!