Wheeler: Mom of preemie reaches out to ease others’ pain

bwheeler@newsobserver.comOctober 18, 2012 

  • N.C. gets grade of D In the United States, 12.2 percent of births are preterm; only 5 percent to 7 percent of births in other developed nations are preterm. In North Carolina, the rate is 13 percent. The March of Dimes has given the state a goal of 9.6 percent by 2020 and has graded the state at a D for its progress in the past five years.
  • How to help Any parents who have had babies spend time in the Special Care Nursery at Rex Hospital and who want to volunteer to help in the parent liaison program can email Michelle Clements, clinical manager, at michelle.clements@rexhealth.com or call 919-784-3477.

Caron Hodges is a dreamer and a planner, a woman who began envisioning her ideal wedding day before she was 5 years old.

In the same hazy way, she had imagined her first perfect pregnancy. When a decision to start a family put her and husband, Nicholas, on the path to parenthood the very first month, she was giddy.

She ate well, exercised. Even before her last trimester, the nautical-themed nursery for her coming boy was ready.

Then 30 weeks in, in the middle of the night, something went terribly wrong.

By the time she and Nicholas pulled up to the emergency room at Rex Hospital in April 2011, the two were panicked. They didn’t know where to go. They didn’t know what was wrong.

The staff determined the placenta had peeled away from her uterine wall, so Hodges was rushed to the operating room to deliver the baby and to stop her internal bleeding.

William Carter Hodges was born about 5 a.m., weighing 3 pounds, 5 ounces. And Hodges found herself the mother of a preemie.

She’d had no baby showers, prepared no insurance paperwork, looked at no child care possibilities. She and Nicholas had attended no parenting classes.

“In North Carolina, 1 in 8 babies are born too early,” says Hodges, 30, an underwriter at Nationwide Insurance. “The most astounding statistic I’ve read was that 50 percent of premature births were due to unknown causes. That’s scary. I felt like I did everything right.”

Now she wants to reassure other mothers who think they somehow failed their babies – a feeling she still struggles with – and to help them navigate their time in Rex’s Special Care Nursery, where baby Carter spent almost a month after his birth.

Hodges is the first volunteer to train to become a parent liaison through Rex Hospital’s Special Care Nursery Parent Advisory Council and the Wake County Family Support Network.

Last month, she started visiting the nursery twice a month so that other parents of preemies can talk to someone who has been through the same emotional turmoil.

“I didn’t know what I didn’t know. You don’t know what to ask,” Hodges says as brown-eyed Carter, now healthy but small at 17 months old, eats a cracker in his high chair. “You already feel like you’re a bad mom, that you let your son or daughter down.”

She wants the parents of the 500 preemies who go through Rex each year to know that it’s OK to go home and sleep. The baby needs you to take care of yourself, too. She wants them to remember to sing and read to their child.

And how she wishes someone had told her to mark the little milestones for which there are no pages in baby books. “If he starts breathing on his own, if he starts eating an ounce of milk at a time, it’s a big deal,” she says. “I’m encouraging other parents to celebrate that. That’s all they have at this point.”

Carter’s month in the nursery remains a blur in her memory: getting to and from the hospital every day, pumping breast milk. She didn’t take near enough pictures, she says, and didn’t document anything.

“I wish I had spent time writing things down each and every day because that would help me remember,” she says.

Hodges also wants to warn parents to have a support structure in place because the struggles don’t end when the baby goes home. That’s just the beginning.

“It was kind of like that was it for our story, our experience, when that was the most difficult time for me,” she says. “You’re learning to be a mom, and you have this really tiny baby who isn’t supposed to be here yet.”

Breastfeeding didn’t go well, either, and she ended up having to find an expensive formula that Carter could tolerate.

“It was another feeling that I let him down,” she says.

God’s in control

It’d be hard to overestimate the number of women who live with what some might call an irrational but very real sense of failure when birth experiences don’t live up to the fantasies we’ve bought into.

Being induced 10 days after the due date and never feeling those first exciting labor pains. Watching all of the monitors being solemnly unplugged 10 hours later because you’ve failed to progress. Waiting for the epidural you never wanted because a cesarean has been ordered.

Hearing that your hours-old daughter has a potentially fatal blood infection because of a bacteria she got from you.

Even 20 years later, I can easily conjure up the debilitating disappointment, guilt and fear I felt the day my daughter was born.

To new parents living inside that swirl of emotion – and that includes the dads she says are too often ignored – Caron Hodges hopes to offer comfort, advice and an empathetic ear.

“It wasn’t what I was expecting,” she says of Carter’s premature birth. “I think this was God’s way of telling me, ‘Hey, I’m in control here.’ I just hope that by volunteering, that that was kind of the plan for my life and what God had in store for me.”

bwheeler@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4825

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