Alex and Sebi – just out of the hospital. Two months old. They weigh 4 lbs each. You can see where their hair was shaved off for the intravenous needles. Alex (on the left) is slightly bigger than Sebi.
My son is taking psychology and he’s in the middle of doing a report on the effects of prematurity on a person’s life. I told him to use his own experience, but he went to the library and got lots of books, so I’ve been stealing them off his desk and reading them.
The twins were born at exactly 6 months gestation – around 24 or 25 weeks.
According to the books on premature babies, they were in the group called ‘prematurissimos’ – the most premature and the most fragile. The problems faced by the premature baby are numerous. They are taken from their mother, kept in isolation, given painful treatments, and they feel attacked. They don’t feel secure, and they are particularly given to depression and nervous tics as they grow older. According to the book, they have missed a crucial stage in their developement, and they need extra care and attention when they finally do get ‘home’.
The book says that the prematurissimos catch up to their age group at arond the age of ten. That’s ten years spent lagging behind, often in size, health, and maturity.
The twins were very premature, and one was very ill in the hospital, and fragile after. One was very strong and never got sick. One has asthma, the other does not. One is good in math (the book says that often premature babies have problems later with math.) one is good in art. Both are so different that it’s hard to read the book and ‘find’ the twins.
At the end of the book, it stresses the importance of environment and stimulation. Premature babies need a lot more care than ‘normal’ babies. Massages, the ‘kangaroo’ method, and constant interaction are important.
In the book, one child says, “I was premature, but I survived. That makes me stronger now.”
The book points to this as an important factor – children who overcome severe difficulties don’t feel bad about their lives – on the contrary, most of them are proud to have survived and feel special.
The twins were born weighing 3 lbs and 2.8 lbs. They spent 8 weeks in the intensive care unit in the Good Samaritan hospital in West Palm Beach. They had the best doctors and nurses, and they made good progress. They came home weighing 4 lbs each. We spent one month in Florida with them, then flew to France (they were five pounds by then) and then went to England in May for the polo season, where we stayed in a tiny but comfortable house in the Cotswalds.
I do remember the doctors giving us lots of advice about the preemies, as they’re called. They told us they would probably not smile as soon, they would not be affectionate, they would be difficult and prone to crying and tantrums. They didn’t tell me they would be get the famous 3 month colic, which is what the poor babies got, and had for nearly 6 weeks when they were (adjusted age) three months old. Both babies screaming in pain for hours every evening wore us down to dust, I’m afraid. Luckily I have a big family, and everyone pitched in to help.
What I learned about preemies is, don’t be afraid to ask for help!
And massage therapy is good, the babies loved that, and carrying them around in the kangaroo carriers was nice for them. Since they had a bottle every 3 hours around the clock, and finally by the time they were 7 months old, it had become every 5 hours, they got a lot of interaction and stimulation. We would take turns getting up for the 5 am bottle, and take turns going to bed at 11 and skipping the midnight bottle, so someone always got at least 7 hours sleep every night. (Usually my husband because he was playing polo, and you can’t play when you’re falling asleep on the horse…) So my sister, Sophie, or Andrea, me (or whoever else was around) would get up at 4:30 to get the bottles ready and then two of us would feed the babies at 5 am, and we’d put them in their kangaroos, and we’d go for long walks in the English countryside.
Here is Alex’s footprint from the hospital. I put it next to a ruler (centimetres) and my business card, so you can get an idea of how big it was.
The first seven months were tough, and then we went to Bordeaux and the babies started sleeping more or less through the night. (They were 9 months old by then, and had been breast fed, then weaned from soy milk to normal baby formula.) We stayed in France for five months, then it was back to the states for Christmas, where Sebi discovered the baby bouncer and spent hours bouncing up and down and laughing. We travelled from the US to Argentina, to France and then England every year with the twins until they were 6, and had to go to school. We settled in Lyons, in France, and I stayed with the twins while my husband travelled. It wasn’t easy, but I wanted the twins to do well in school, and since premature babies often have learning difficulties, we decided we wanted them to be in a good school system. They didn’t have any problems, and by the time they were in second grade, had managed to become completely bi-lingual. (Before we’d only spoken to them in English – they didn’t really learn French until they were about 6.)
They had physical scars from being premature. They still have scarred heels and Alex has a scar on his nose. But they seem to have overcome their difficult beginning and survived, gotten strong, and become healthy and hopefully happy young men!
I know when I saw them for the first time in the hospital, I never believed they could grow – but they did.