'Heartbreaking' reality of having a premature baby during a pandemic: 'Isolating'

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·Lifestyle Reporter
·5-min read
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Being a parent to a premature baby comes with many challenges, and those challenges have been intensified during the pandemic.

According to the Miracle Babies Foundation, parents have experienced an unprecedented increase in parental anxiety over the course of the last few years, with calls to their 24/7 support line NurtureLine up by 808% in 2020-2021 (compared to the same period in 2019).

Proud parents, Shannon and Zaryn with baby Archer
Parents, Shannon and Zaryn in a rare moment together with baby Archer during the pandemic. Credit: Archer's family

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Shannon's miracle baby, Archer was born at 27 weeks during COVID-19. She shared her experience with Yahoo Lifestyle.

“There have been many challenges to being a parent to a premature baby. It has felt quite lonely and very scary at times," Shannon said. 

“The NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) journey doesn’t stop after you have been discharged. There are multiple doctors and specialist appointments that follow - we still see specialists even now 15 months after leaving the hospital.

Mum and dad holding their premature baby
Archer was born early at 27 weeks. Photo: Supplied

So, what was the NICU journey like in the midst of COVID-19?

Shannon remembers the experience, saying it was "really hard, even without tough lockdowns where we live.

“It was lonely, isolating and heartbreaking most of the time. We were five hours away from home, so I spent most of the 10 weeks by myself as my husband (Zaryn) returned to work so he could take some time off when Archer was able to come home.

premature baby in hospital bed
Born at 27 weeks, baby Archer spent 10 weeks in NICU. Source: Archer's Family

“Zaryn and I weren’t allowed to see Archer together until he was one-month-old [due to COVID-19 restrictions], so we didn’t get to have family bonding time for quite some time after his birth.

“The restrictions that COVID put on our time together in the hospital made it hard. It was really heartbreaking to not be able to have our parents meet their first grandchild until he was nearly three months old. Same with our family members that were from other states, like my brother who didn’t meet his nephew until he was over seven months old.

“I understand the need for the precautions and the uncertainty that COVID presented but it was really hard."

What helped Shannon and Zaryn through this difficult time?

“Our biggest supporters during this time were our family and friends. They were always checking in to make sure we were going okay and asking for updates on Archer," she said. 

“When I gave birth to Archer, I didn’t have any clothes or even shoes (apart from slippers), and my friends came together and organised a pack of essentials, including clothes and goodies. That was absolutely incredible and I'm so thankful for them.

“I was lucky to have two of my good friends living down where I was staying with Archer and they helped me immensely by running me to and from the hospital sometimes, even if it was just so that I didn’t have to walk in the rain, or simply taking time out of their day to come with me to go do something so I could have a mental break from it all.

Premature baby celebrates breathing on his own
A major milestone for babies in NICU - celebrating baby Archer breathing on his own. Source: Archer's Family

“My mum and dad would come down for a night or two every week when they could to be with me when Zaryn wasn’t able to come down. It helped me feel as if I had some normality back in my life and helped me feel a lot less lonely.

“I found the Miracle Babies Foundation when I was given a Mother’s Day gift pack from the Royal Hobart NICU, as Archer was born five days prior to my first Mother’s Day and it was one of their keychains.

“It was nice to read all of the stories of the babies that have been through what Archer was going through and hear how far they had come.

“I also found some Facebook premature babies groups and it was great to be able to connect with other mums around the world who also were going through, or had been through, the NICU journey.

"Ronald McDonald helped with funding our stay in Hobart. We couldn’t have afforded to stay close to our son without their help. The doctors and nurses that looked after Archer were amazing. We owe them so much. They always made sure that we felt heard and asked for our opinions in regards to his care."

A life-changing experience

Shannon said Archer's early arrival into the world "completely changed the way I view and value things in my life"

"Every little thing he does, we celebrate to the maximum - because at one point in time, those were the milestones we weren’t sure if we would be celebrating. 

"We didn’t join parenthood the way we imagined we would have, but being a parent to a premature baby has shown us that life is precious and to be grateful for every first moment we have with him. It’s been amazing to watch him grow and to see how far he has come now looking back at where he started.

Premature baby grown up
"Every time I look at Archer, I am in such awe of how much strength and determination someone so little can have." Source: Archer's Family

“But every time I look at Archer, I am in such awe of how much strength and determination someone so little can have. He’s the best thing that has ever happened to us.”

Miracle Babies Foundation is currently holding its annual NICU Awareness Month (November 1-30), highlighting the importance of Neonatal Intensive Care Units, and support services for families experiencing the birth of a premature baby.

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