September is NICU Awareness month. One in every ten babies is born premature, and there are 450,000 premature babies born in the U.S. every year. There is nothing more harrowing than fighting for your babies life before it was even meant to start. We sat down with Azizah Rowen, who is the San Francisco based ambassador for the Annual March of Dimes Gala, to talk about her personal experience with having her son Wilder born prematurely.
I never thought my baby would be one of them, but he was. Two months before his due date, my warrior baby Wilder was born abruptly at thirty one weeks and spent his first days on earth clinging to life, breathing through a tube and living in a small incubator. It would be a terrifying forty nine days in the NICU before I could bring him home; forty nine days of ventilators, beeping alarms, specialists, health complications and so much fear. It was a traumatic and terrible experience that still haunts me.
Since most preemies, like my son, are born unexpectedly, it’s impossible for parents to anticipate what it’s like behind the doors of a NICU unless you have experienced it firsthand. NICU babies are unequivocal miracles, and NICU parents are true survivors.
Sharing and writing about my experience has been an intricate part of my healing process. I have found through my fertility struggles and the experience of having a preemie that I would not have survived it without the incredible tribe of women around me; family, friends and complete strangers that have opened up offering support and advice. Having a preemie was an unfortunate event but it has made me a stronger woman and mother.
At what point in your pregnancy did you first discover that there might be a complication?
It was one of the hardest challenges I’ve ever faced as a mother. I had a newborn fighting for his life in the NICU and my two year old son Dash at home. I had a routine in place, and was running on adrenaline trying to get through each day. I would spend the mornings with Dash and then head to the hospital to spend the rest of the day and night with Wilder. My heart broke when I was not with Dash, and also broke when I was not with Wilder. I just tried to do the best I could and told myself it was only a matter of time before this ordeal would be over.
I am most grateful for the NICU mommy friends I made who I still keep in touch with today. We bonded in the pumping room of all places, sharing our fears and our babies’ small successes as they got closer to being released from the hospital. We laughed together, cried together and survived together. The day I left the hospital without my baby, I was a wreck. I walked down the hallway sobbing and my new NICU mommy friend whose baby occupied the incubator next to ours opened her arms and we stood in that hallway and cried. I had only known her a week but we were experiencing one of the worst things a mom can go through together and she was literally and figuratively holding me up and giving me strength. She told me to go home and eat lots of ice cream which I did. She also said that this was the hardest thing we would ever have to go through but we would get through it. I will never forget that moment, because her support and love gave me strength that day and I have carried it with me. That is why I will continue to share my story and why I feel passionate about helping other women who are in a similar experience. We are a tribe, and we are stronger when we help one another.
Yes. It took years. I still suffer from anxiety and PTSD from the experience. I only started to relax a bit recently, and he is now three and a half.
Going through trauma with a child with any special needs is an intense pressure on a person, let alone a marriage….did you find that it brought you closer together or what was that experience like?
Any experience that is stressful can put so much pressure on a marriage and while it tested us it ultimately made us stronger. Craig and I were really in survival mode together. We would sometimes be strong and confident that we would get through it, and other times be absolutely terrified and inconsolable. We leaned on each other and allowed one another to be scared, angry or sad. I can’t imagine going through this experience without having him by my side, and love him even more for helping me get through it.
We know that Wilder is thriving today but can you tell us about any special therapies, etc that you have had to go through with him?
Azizah Rowen is a California bred New Yorker, mommy, wife, musician and freelance writer. To learn more about the Annual March of Dimes Gala, taking place on October 5th at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, please visit https://signaturechefs.
Photos taken by Lindsey Masterson Photography