In honor of November being National Prematurity Awareness Month and November 17th being World Prematurity Day, I’ve put together a few questions that many of my readers and fans have asked me over the years- questions in which the answers will help others know that they are not alone and will help them heal.
Today I’m thrilled to share Graziella Baratta’s story. She is incredibly talented in many different areas, including cooking, dancing and more- and she has an incredible pregnancy and NICU journey to tell us.
A triple threat performer, and former Ms United States, Graziella has performed for many years on regional stages, off- Broadway, TV & film. As a dance and fitness professional, she has worn many hats from educator and competitive coach, choreographer and pageant fitness trainer. It is through those roles that Graziella founded her principles of fitness and nutrition that would later become the DanceFit Form fitness program and the Fit Foodie blog: A foodie since childhood, Graziella loves cooking and eating but particularly making food that tastes great while still being healthy.. she calls this balance nourishing enjoyment, and shares that passion on her FitFoodie.tv blog. Graziella has filmed over 35 episodes of her Fit Foodie series on her web show Graziella TV (since 2009), featured on the former Blip.TV and Ifood.tv and now on YouTube. Just before becoming a mom, Graziella recieved a certification in holistic nutrition while she continued to exercise and teach dance and fitness during her pregnancy. Unfortunately, Graziella developed pubic syphisis dysfunction, rendering her skeletal frame unstable as a result of the very activity she was medically cleared for. In hopes that other women will not suffer as she did, Graziella is passionate about sharing her new at-home, online fitness & Nutrition program (DanceFitForm.com) for women of all ages that will soon include safe, effective pre and postnatal workouts. Now as a toddler- mom, Graziella is enjoying a little more freedom to pursue this business venture as well as continuing her FitFoodie blog and GraziellaTV YouTube channel. Her husband Antonio and daughter MariAnna very much enjoy being Graziella’s food guinea pigs.
What led to your baby’s premature birth and how early was your baby?
My daughter was born at 32 weeks via emergency c-section because of non-movement. I was not in labor but she was not moving and was deemed to be in distress after being monitored for 2 hours.
What surprised you the most, as far as others responses to your baby’s premature birth?
I was surprised about how nonchalant some people were about my daughter’s critical condition, as they brushed off some of the challenges she faced by asking me “regular baby questions,” like how is she eating and sleeping, etc.. when I was worried about her actual life.
Do you believe you were educated about the possibility of a premature birth before your early delivery and if not, do you think pregnant moms should be educated better, in the event that they have to deliver prematurely? What would you tell them?
No, the only education I had was from my mom and aunt who delivered me, my sister and my cousin all prematurely. Because of that I had a feeling there was a chance of it happening to me even though my doctor told me there is no genetic connection whatsoever. I would tell pregnant moms that they should listen to their bodies closely despite what pregnancy literature says. That’s not to say they should be paranoid, but really pay attention to how they feel with food, exercise, stress, etc.. because had I listened to my body more closely about exercise I don’t think I would’ve had my daughter so prematurely.
What do you think the NICU nurses and neonatologists could have done better (or more or less of) to have given you a better NICU experience?
THE DELIVERY OF THEIR MESSAGES. I cannot stress this enough. Every single message delivered to me sounded like a death sentence. I know they stress “the facts” but the tone of every message delivered to me (with the exception of 1 neurologist) was negative and gave me no hope. I had to work extremely hard to deflect the negativity and change my own mindset to be hopeful and have faith for a more positive outcome. And so it came, praise God!
What are some of the best practices that you experienced in the NICU? What did the staff do that made you feel good?
I liked how the nurses (most of them) encouraged me to hold my daughter once she was cleared for it, and change her diaper and learn to understand her “without tubes and machines” meaning they discouraged us from looking up at all the medical equipment. I felt they were great at teaching the technical things like nursing, burping, diaper changing and general care.
What milestones meant the most to you while your baby was in the NICU?
When she was able to be bottle-fed my milk and finally be nursed by me. Also, her being able to breathe room air.
How is your baby now and please give us an update?
She is 3 years old, in preK 3 for 4 days a week and thriving! MariAnna is super bright, energetic, and intuitive. She’s a headstrong, loving girl with a great sense of humor. I would like to also mention that she still has a very strong desire to constantly be held and I really feel it’s from lack of initial maternal connection after birth.
What was your NICU discharge experience like?
My discharge experience was exciting but also nerve wrecking. I was bombarded by nutritionists telling me I needed to supplement my daughter’s diet of my milk with formula.. a formula containing mostly corn syrup as its first and main ingredient. I immediately lost all faith in the type of expertise being offered to me. I’m a nutritionist myself and laughed off their recommendations while nodding my head yes. I only wished I told them what I really thought about their nonsense. I supplemented with an organic grass-fed milk formula to appease my worried husband for a week, and then back to my milk exclusively, which my daughter preferred over anything else, and thrived on, achieving all her developmental milestones.
What was life like 1 month after NICU discharge and 3 months after NICU discharge and when did you finally relax and feel like you were “out of the woods”?
1 month after discharge was great because my daughter was home- thanksgiving had arrived but I was still a very paranoid Mommy who kept everyone away from her preemie and especially relatives who traveled by plane to visit were quarantined for 3 days before coming into contact with my baby to avoid germs. 3 month’s later was the same. I was expected me to go back to work at the time, but given the critical condition of my daughter’s first weeks alive, I knew it was my sole duty to care for her in every humanly possible way. I knew my daughter needed my presence and my milk more than anything else to thrive (even neurologists told me so), and that was my job all day, every day. It was also difficult to give up what I loved doing- teaching dance. But I knew in my heart that in that moment in time, no one needed me more than my daughter.
What advice do you have a for a parent who just delivered a premature baby that was admitted to the NICU?
I would tell them to expect ups and downs.. be prepared for that but also never lose hope and faith! Babies are very resilient and preemies are born fighting, that’s what makes them strong. Also remember to be yourself. That sounds silly, but in these life threatening situations we go into “fight or flight” response with every human mechanism we have, and we tend to lose ourselves in those challenging times. Your baby needs YOU, more than anything so make sure to take good care of yourself so you can be the best parent you can be. If your basic needs are not met, then you’re not able to provide for your child. Sleep, food, safety and comfort. All those things are so important. Remember to ask for help. People are more willing to help than you think, but they don’t know what you need unless you express it. Stay positive and read inspiring NICU survival stories to uplift your spirits. Visualize your situation growing better and better each day and surround yourself with loving, supportive people.
Visit Graziella’s website at http://www.graziellabaratta.com/
Graziella and I met a while back and we had a few very candid conversations about our NICU experiences for “The Better Postpartum NICU Talk” for The Better Postpartum. They are on YouTube! You can click on each one below to listen to them, with hopes that they help you or that you can share them with others who would benefit. They are all pretty short 🙂 Four of our conversations are linked below and you can find the rest on my YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/jenniferdegl and please subscribe too! Thank you to Daniel Burdick Videography for editing the clips and getting them on YouTube for me.
Check back to speakingformomsandbabies.com next Friday, because we’ll be sharing another Q & A with a NICU expert in honor of World Prematurity Day. In fact, we’ll be sharing one each Friday in November.
November is National Prematurity Awareness Month and November 17th is World Prematurity Day.
Please visit my social media sites throughout the month because I’ll be sharing a lot of personal stories and resources for families of premature and NICU babies. You are welcome to share them all.
Have a great weekend and please think about how you can spread prematurity awareness and help another family in honor of World Prematurity Day. I would love to her about what you are doing or how you are showing off your purple! Comment below 🙂