How We Handle It: Our Preemie

by Gianna Papa, as told to Sharon Mazel

How We Handle It: Our Preemie

My twins, Mia and Sofia, were born on August 28, 2002, over four months early. At 23 weeks, one pound each, less than a foot long, they were just on the cusp of “viability.”

I got only a glimpse of my baby girls before the nurses whisked them to the NICU. When my husband, Tony, and I saw them two hours later, I was devastated. They were skeletal, with eyes fused shut and translucent skin. I couldn’t believe it. Only a few hours before, I was having an uncomplicated pregnancy  — and now I was looking at my daughters through incubators. Three days later, Sofia died. The feeling of loss was mind-numbing. Not only were we grieving for her, we were also desperately hoping for Mia.

After three weeks, I held Mia for the first time. She was so tiny, I could cup her in my hands. The next day, the nurses laid her on my chest, skin to skin. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. But there was still much to come. Mia spent four months in the NICU. Like most babies born as prematurely as she’d been, she went through lots of scary moments  — open-heart surgery to close a valve, a serious brain hemorrhage. Yet we knew the doctors and nurses would do everything they could. We viewed them as partners in her care  — that’s what really helped us get through it all. Every step of the way, we followed their instructions, asked tons of questions, and did our own research (through books and websites). Mia came home on December 18. She was a little over five pounds. The doctors told us that if she got even a cold it would probably turn into pneumonia and she’d need to be rehospitalized. But she never got sick. We didn’t let other children near her for four months and insisted that everyone wash their hands before coming close.

At 16 months, Mia is crawling and making strides toward walking, though she’s still lagging behind children her true age. Her language skills, however, are much closer to those of her real age. We started reading and talking to her every day in the hospital, and now she loves books.

It’s been stressful for Tony and me. But we stayed focused on the here and now. And it’s paid off. If you met Mia, you’d never guess that she’d been a preemie.