by Marya Erin Jones
This interview was originally published on ProgressNowNM.org and is republished with permission.
The field of medicine has utilized fetal tissue since the 1930s to produce life-saving vaccines, along with the development of new ways to treat AIDS, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, cancer, and eyesight loss.
Fetal tissue has been instrumental to understanding the needs of babies born prematurely. But that’s seemingly no matter to abortion opponents. Republicans continue to target New Mexico women for whom this vital research assists in the survival of their children, while in the womb, and once they enter the world.
In an interview with ProgressNow NM’s Marya Erinn Jones, new mother Jessi M opened up about her experience bringing her premature twins Opal and Ruby into the world before they were ready and the doctors, nurses, and modern medicine that aided in their survival.
PNNM: How long were Ruby and Opal in the hospital?
JM: Two long weeks.
PNNM: There is much controversy around the use of fetal tissue in research – but such research has saved the lives of hundreds of premature babies. What is your take on fetal tissue, and how did the research help Opal and Ruby survive?
JM: I am absolutely for it. I don’t know how it directly helped my girls, but I am extremely pro-science and research. My dad is currently in a cancer study that is prolonging his life. I am so thankful my children were born now with the medical knowledge we have currently.
PNNM: What was the first thing you did when you realized your babies would be entering the world before they were ready?
JM: Tried not to freak out! I also called my friend who is a midwife and my friend who was my doula because I completely forgot what to do. They said, “Um, go to the hospital!” I had to pack my hospital bag first because I hadn’t packed it yet because they were so early! I also ate some breakfast because my doula told me that once I got admitted to the hospital they wouldn’t let me eat anything (because I was having a c-section).
PNNM: What don’t we understand about having a premature baby, much less twins?
JM: They are soooo tiny! Maybe people understand that. I didn’t realize just how tiny they would be. Also, you can’t take them home right away, which at the time was heartbreaking but in hindsight was in some ways a blessing. We were not ready to care for two tiny, medically fragile babies. We got to ease into parenthood with 24/7 trained medical professionals teaching us and leading us, not to mention providing them with the best possible care when we could not be there. I got to heal from my surgery and sleep in my own bed (which helped me heal faster) so when they were ready to come home I could physically care for them.
PNNM: What’s the most important thing no one ever told you about having preemies?
JM: Probably to leave my preconceived notions about babies and parenting at the door. Preemies are not regular babies. They have different needs (besides the obvious basic needs that all mammals have). For example, I was very anti-pacifiers. The nurses give preemies pacifiers because they cry a LOT and sucking is a very primal and soothing motion (the pacifiers in the hospital are even called “soothies”).
At first, I didn’t want the girls to use them but after the nurses explained that it gives the baby’s comfort (especially when they are being poked and prodded and can’t breastfeed) I understood and was for them. When the nurses have to do heel pokes (stabbing the babies with a needle in their heel to get a blood sample) they dip the soothie in sugar water to distract the babies from the pain.
I was shocked! “You’re giving my babies SUGAR WATER?!” but again they explained that it helps them and gives them a little comfort and distraction during a painful and stressful period. So basically: trust the nurses. I am not fond of hospitals or medical procedures etc. so I was wary of all the things they were doing to my children. I had to remind myself (and be reminded) that they are very skilled and trained professionals who deal with this every day and have the baby’s best interests at heart. It can be very hard to remember that when your hormones are out of control and your instincts tell you to snatch your offspring away from any stranger who appears to be hurting them.
PNNM: Were there choices that were in line with your doctor’s/team’s advice that you chose not to follow?
JM: I did not let them add fortifier to my breast milk. It is a fairly common practice with preemie babies. I decided that my milk was specially made by my body for the needs of my children and I didn’t want them to add things to it. We ran the risk of the girls not gaining weight as quickly as they wanted, but I stand by my decision. And it all worked out just fine. They gained weight and are very healthy!
PNNM: How has your perception of motherhood changed now that you are a mother?
JM: I feel much less judgmental of parents. Everyone is trying to do the best they can. It’s an extremely difficult gig. I am also still completely in awe of the female body. I know we have been reproducing forever but it is still an incredible miracle. To create life sustain it with what your body creates is amazing. I am floored by the complexity and beauty by what the human body can do.
PNNM: How are you preparing for future health care changes in policy and potential health challenges, as Ruby and Opal grow?
JM: They are both very healthy and happy so I don’t expect health challenges for them in the future. (fingers crossed) As far as health care policy, I dread what will happen to our country in the near future. I hope by the time my girls need to worry about their reproductive rights we will have sane people in charge of the country.
PNNM: Is there anything else you might want readers to know/understand about your birth story, or about caring for premature babies, or motherhood in general?
JM: Twins are a lot of work but so incredible. Double the hugs and smiles and cuddles. I can’t imagine my life without either of these girls. Motherhood is the hardest but most amazing, challenging, and fulfilling job I have ever had. I’ve never been happier in my whole life. Sleep deprived yes, but so completely worth every late night and millions of diaper changes. I feel so fortunate to get to be a mom.
PNNM: Thanks, Jessi M!