During pregnancy you begin the process of bonding with your little one. You envisage your baby, who she will be and what she will look like. You see yourself as a mum or dad and begin the process of becoming a parent. In addition you have an image of your birth and the way in which you will meet this precious person. Underlying these emotions, possibly on a subconscious level are the fears that go along with becoming a mum or dad: will the birth be safe, will my baby be healthy and will I love her, the instant I meet her? When your pregnancy ends prematurely (before 37 weeks) and your baby is born under conditions of trauma, all your worst fears are realized and your dreams are shattered. Over the next few weeks you will begin a process of healing that at times may be very frightening as you lose control and experience strong emotions.

Adjusting your dream

Everyone is different and the birth of a premature baby will elicit diverse emotions in you and your partner. Some parents may feel anger or sadness, while another may experience denial and be detached or emotionally removed from the situation. Whatever your response, you will have a period of adjustment ahead of you.

When you lose a loved one, you go through the process of grief. In the same way, when your baby is born prematurely, you are grieving on two levels – firstly you grieve the loss of your dream birth and perfectly healthy newborn. Your dream will no longer be realized and you may feel sad or even angry that your dream has been shattered. Secondly if she is in a precarious medical state you may fear that your little baby may die or be disabled and when contemplating the worst case scenario, will be preparing to grieve the loss of a healthy baby. This grief is an overwhelming emotion at this time.

Another very strong emotion, especially for you as the mum, is one of guilt. You may find yourself feeling that you have not been an adequate incubator for your baby or have not met your own expectations of delivering a healthy baby. Of course, added to these feelings are the complete confusion, worry and lack of control that being a parent in a neonatal unit evokes. This chapter will help you in the process of healing.

By understanding your prem baby’s basic needs you will start to know how you and the medical team are catering to these basic needs; medically, emotionally and developmentally. In this way you will resume your relationship with your baby and understand how to relate to her and how to give her the best start possible in these suboptimal circumstances.