It's something that I don't think you can ever truly understand until you have had your own full-term baby to compare your premature baby to. In my last pregnancy I gave birth at just 29 weeks to three small but perfectly formed babies. This time at 42 weeks I gave birth to one large and perfectly formed baby.
Quinn is now nine weeks and one day old, I've had her with me almost from the start and there has been very little time since her birth where we have been further than a few feet from each other.
A really heartwrenching moment came to me this morning while I was in the shower.
Quinn is exactly the age that Zarek and Ayla were when they finally came home from the neonatal unit.
All this time I've had with Quinn, all the long nights, early mornings, snuggles, cuddles, chats, gurgles and the hours I've spent just looking at her while she sleeps, all of that, I never had with my triplets. They were in incubators or temperature controlled cots at hospital being looked after by nurses. Nine weeks didn't seem so long then, not with all the hours spent visiting, expressing milk, feeding, changing and holding them when we could. but every night we would go home to our empty house, exhausted. We would eat, watch a film, I would express over and over again and we would feel saddened and incomplete.
Suddenly seeing how long that time has been, in terms of Quinn's life absolutely breaks my heart. How I ever coped being so far apart from my babies for so long is suddenly overwhelming. We spent so long just taking each day as it came that I don't think the length of time ever really hit home. Nine weeks before I could tuck all three babies up in a cot at night, nine weeks before the true bedlam of triplet newborns began, nine weeks of trekking back and forth trying to bond with babies encased in boxes, covered in wires and attached to beeping monitors that would interrupt the most private of moments.
The contrast is shocking.
Where at birth I never even saw my trio, let alone knew they had survived and was therefore quite hysterical, Quinn was immediately shown to me (something I had insisted on before I agreed to surgery) calming my pre-section hysteria. Throughout this pregnancy I had been so afraid of my baby being whisked away as the trio once were, not knowing where to or what was happening while paralysed on a table being stitched up. It was vital for me and the hubster to know that this time we would get to have a "hopefully" normal birth with our baby and ideally get to hold him or her before anything else happened. The staff at our hospital worked hard to give me that birth and for that I am eternally grateful.
But the differences don't stop there;
The hubster and I often say how advanced Quinn seems for her age; cooing, smiling and holding her head up. But that's because last time it took twice as long to receive these special moments from our triplets. What maybe took Quinn eight weeks to achieve out of the womb, took our trio nineteen weeks to achieve. In reality they did it all at the same pace in terms of gestation but we never realised how much slower these things took place last time. Perhaps it was the sheer crazy non-stop time of having three newborn babies to keep alive that distracted us, or maybe as they were our first children we figured it all happened at some point and weren't sat waiting expectantly for milestones to be achieved. All I know is Quinn is constantly surprising us, and that with some of what passes, it leaves a slight sadness behind it.
But then I remember that I have four wonderful healthy children, who, despite a slightly rocky and unusual start are happy, loved and flourishing.
To all the mums of premature babies out there, you are INCREDIBLE. You endure more than any new mother ever should. You have nerves of steel - with all those beeping machines and scary procedures, the courage of ten lions -to walk away each evening and trust strangers to take care of your most precious cargo until you return tomorrow and the patience of a saint -every step forward can feel at times like two steps back, but time passes, your child grows and your patience pays off.