“Learning to love my baby”

This is such a brave and compassionate piece by Jessica Valenti, whose infant was born weighing a little over 2 pounds and spent 56 days in the neonatal intensive care unit. In showing compassion for herself and for her own turbulent emotions in difficult times, she performs a real service for many other parents.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

5 thoughts on ““Learning to love my baby””

  1. Jessica Valenti writes touchingly about her birth experience, and natal realities of premature birth. My ex-wife and I were surprised one night in the early stage of the third trimester during her first pregnancy, when her water broke. She ended up delivering a 3 lb. 12 oz. baby girl who was quickly carried off to NICU, where she resided for the next 16 days. We vigilantly attended our daughter’s residence, learning from the nurses how to be concerned parents. We took our daughter home at 4 lb. 9 oz. (below the weight of most NICU graduates who were kept for the most part until they reached a 5 lb. minimum) largely because we were there round the clock, insisting we do the scheduled nursing requirements as we lived right around the corner from the hospital. We must have given the staff the assurances they needed to bring our daughter home on New Year’s eve, under weight! The most important thing our doctor said to my wife and me was not to linger, for the sake of our daughter, on the pre-mature birth experience as a lens of protection for her. He assured us our daughter, once she caught up her weight and strength, would not only not need, but would not appreciate, our doting over her at every possible moment.

    Birth experiences are wondrous and frightening simultaneously, and all three of my children came to this world fast and furiously. It is rather difficult to bring life to this planet (3 miscarriages before the first live birth), and it is a shame we have politicos who would regulate such a womanly experience that most have no way of calibrating for themselves! They may have forgotten their birth mothers loved them, despite of all the uncertainties that came with the pregnancies that gave birth to them!

    Our lives, culture and society would benefit greatly should more women, like Jessica Valenti, openly telling their most wondrous, and frightening, stories!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story, kevo. The Valenti piece was also touching. I’m reminded how lucky we all are when things go right, as so much can go wrong. So far I’ve been very fortunate with my girls, aside from a brief (relatively) episode of childhood seizures. Our experience there reminds me of how important the words and bedside manner of a good pediatrician can be.

  3. Been there, done that, still bear the scars while getting him ready for first grade. Still remember the night my job was to scratch his foot call his name every time he stopped breathing (when you install a central line in a preemie, you’re starting the clock for sepsis, and betting you’ll be able to take it out before the time runs out). The other thing about preemies — after you get over the fear that your baby really might die in the immediate future — is that they tend to have other problems that make life not fun for them, and it’s hard to bond with a kid who is screaming in pain instead of smiling or giggling.

    Usually it gets better at some point. I’m in awe, though, of the courage and love of the parent for whose kids (take your pick among brain bleeds, retinopathy, gut dysfunction and a host of other longterm catastrophes) it doesn’t get much better.

  4. Now that’s a premie. My daugher was born at 34 weeks – 4lbs, 5oz. The NICU people (who were excellent, of course) weren’t even the slightest bit concerned. For them, she was easy.

    After the initial shock, their confidence was comforting. We knew that 34 weeks wasn’t super scary early, and we knew that odds were that she’d be just fine. Still, it was nice to see the professionals were sure of it (it wasn’t just their words – you can tell when somebody just plain isn’t worried). 15 days later we took her home and she’s been a-ok ever since.

  5. I should add that I see the guilt-of-not-instantly-loving-my-baby thing with my wife. The expectations put on women in particular are doubleplusungood. Being pregnant is hard. Giving birth is hard. Dealing with a screaming 2-month old that needs to nurse but is too worked up to latch on is HARD. The warm fuzzies come when they come. Don’t stress about it. Do the best you can.

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