Preterm birth rates - babies born before 37 weeks - are on the increase in Canada and around the world. In this country, more than eight per cent of all births are now preterm.
BC Women’s averages 7,200 births annually, 12% of which require specialized care that can only be found at this NICU.
Michelle Peltier remembers her experience in BC Women’s NICU with her daughter Olive, who was born at 29 weeks.
“It all happened very quickly. I was in complete denial. But I remember the OB actually climbing on top of me with the ultrasound wand since we couldn’t find the heartbeat. It had been two and a half minutes… so they immediately rolled me into the ER…”
14 hours later, Michelle got to hold Olive for the first time and she described how her pain just washed away. Every day for two months, Michelle would take the bus to the NICU for 7:30 a.m. (right when the nurse’s shifts switched) and stay until 10:30 p.m.
Within three months of her discharge, Michelle, admittedly a busy-body, was already seeking out baby groups. But she found it hard to relate to the other families, “Breastfeeding, separation anxiety, it was all so different… it was hard for me to talk about my experience.”
She recalls one mother sharing that her partner wanted to take her on a date. This mom had felt panicked about leaving her nine-month-old for several hours for the first time. “And there I was… I had left my five-week old baby with complete strangers. I just wanted to yell, ‘do you know how lucky you are to be with your kid twenty-four-seven for nine months straight!’ But I knew that was just my own grief.”
So Michelle reached out to a few other families she had met in the NICU, just to sit together and talk. Today, Michelle’s meet-up has now grown to over 160 members, who connect in-person and online, in a Facebook group called “Vancouver Parents of Preemies.”
Olive always attends and is proud to be one of the oldest kids. “My favourite part is meeting other families… and the toys!” says Olive. The meet-ups feature occupational therapists, librarians who speak about literacy, and nutritionists who help address concerns with corrective age. But Michelle admits, “Even with these speakers… most of the time, the parents just want to talk with each other.”
“When you’re in the NICU, your discharge date feels so far away. You become so connected with your partner as your main support… and suddenly you’re alone and sent back into life.”
There are inevitable questions that doctors and nurses wouldn’t have the answers to, when they don’t have the emotional experience of premature birth as a parent. Michelle shares, “Things as simple as: what do you tell people… her corrected age, or that she was a preemie? It’s hard for other people to understand why your baby looks like a newborn when they’re four months old.”
Michelle feels incredibly grateful for the care she received at BC Women’s NICU, “When you’re in the Hospital with a preemie it’s all survival: the survival of your child, surviving financially, mentally, physically, your relationship with your friends, your partner, and your family.” Knowing Olive had the best care possible meant the world to Michelle and her family.
Olive proudly wearing purple on World Prematurity Day.