November is Prematurity Awareness Month, so I thought it only fitting to write a post about it seeing as I have first hand experience.
My son, Knox, was born a month early. There is no concrete explanation as to why, but what I can tell you is that it was one of the scariest experiences of my life.
I remember it so clearly… I had been put on bed rest as I was under a lot of stress at work and had a lot of round ligament pain – so much that I could hardly bare to take a couple of steps before needing to sit down. It was the 4th of December and I was standing in our front door chatting to my husband when Knox kicked against my ribs, so hard that I doubled over… I then felt a sharp pain, but brushed it off as just one of those things.
A couple of hours later I started getting contractions, they were so mild that I thought they were Braxton Hicks, only they did not go away. They only grew stronger and more regular. I phoned the Maternity Ward and they advised me to take a hot bath and then wait an hour – if it did not stop I needed to get to the hospital.
I did as I was told, but the contractions did not stop. At 10pm that night we got in the car and headed off to the hospital. I was in labour for a total of 15 hours while the nurses and my gynea did everything they could to stop the contractions. At about 10am the next morning it was clear that nothing was stopping this baby from coming out and I was given an steroid injection to help his lungs mature.
I could see the worry in everyone’s eyes, even though they tried really hard to hide it.
I was prepped for surgery, and I remember being terrified and excited at the same time – it all happened so quickly. The theater room was so cold and there were so many people… I got to hold my son for one quick photo when the atmosphere in the room suddenly changed. The pediatrician grabbed him and hurried out of the room – I did not even really get to see his face.
They explained to me that there was fluid on his lungs and he was having trouble breathing. They were like wet paper bags sticking together and not inflating properly.
My husband followed my son to the NICU while they stitched me back up and took me to the recovery ward. I was then taken to my room, longing for the baby I was supposed to be holding. My daughter and I had some issues bonding when she was a baby and I was so worried that not being able to hold him would affect our bond too. My husband would go to the NICU to take photo’s of Knox and bring them back to show me… it was so painful.
They would not let me get out of bed until my gynea had signed some forms or the other and my catheter and drip was removed. The next morning at about 10 am I could not take it anymore and called in a favour from one of my friends who assisted my gynecologist during my c-section. She came in and signed everything so that I could go see my son…
What I will never forget – All the tubes and machines – everywhere. He had a feeding tube, and oxygen mask, drip, heart rate monitors, temperature monitors… it was a scary sight. My little baby hooked up to so many machines, and no matter how hard the nurse tried to explain it to me, I just could not understand. I felt so helpless.
He was so tiny… and he looked so lonely and bare lying in his crib.
Not being allowed to touch him, but every single maternal instinct in my body telling me to pick him up and nurse him. It took everything I had in me to fight the urge, as any kind of stimulation sent his stats crashing.
The beeping of the machines, watching his stats – the highs and the lows. Feeling elated every time they were where they were supposed to be and feeling my heart sink when they were not.
The first time I was allowed to touch his skin, it was so soft and felt so warm…
The woman who shared my hospital room with me. Her son was also in the NICU after being born prematurely and even though it was not by choice, I wish I could thank her for being on that journey with me. The long nights of struggling to pump breast milk, encouraging each other and just understanding. Wherever you are, thank you for helping me through those difficult days and nights.
The smell of disinfectant and hand sanitizer… every single time I smell it, it takes me back to that room with it’s beeping monitors and cribs with the tiniest little babies. When you enter the NICU you have to scrub your hands and sanitize them, every time you want to touch your child you have to sanitize your hands, every time after you touch your child you have to sanitize your hands and every time you leave you have to scrub and sanitize your hands.
We followed this procedure for about two weeks after he came home as well. The baby that lay in an incubator in the isolated glass room to the left of my son. He was born at 24 weeks and his mother never left his side. I often wonder how he is, how his mom is doing. I hope they are okay.
The day he no longer needed CPAP. No one had told me that day was going to be the day. The last we had heard is that he had another couple of days or so until they were going to try to remove it. After scrubbing up, I marched up to his crib to say good morning.
I did not recognize him… I thought they moved the babies around. The name on the wall indicated that was indeed my baby’s spot but this baby just had an oxygen tube. The confusion was ended when my husband whispered, “suprise”. It was the first time we saw his face and it was one of the happiest moments of my life.
The day I had to leave him at the hospital. I was discharged and when visiting hours was over I said my goodbyes. I cried myself empty in the car on the way home, knowing full well that I could not let my daughter see me this way. I had to be strong for her sake too, but my heart broke a thousand times that day – and every day after until he came home.
The first time I got to hold him… words cannot explain. I had been told that he knew my voice and I tried to talk to him, but could not get the words past the lump in my throat. It was an incredibly emotional moment.
The first time the nurses let me change his diaper. He was 5 days old and up until then, the nurses had been performing his hands-on care as I intently watched. That day, the nurse who was taking care of Knox unexpectedly asked, “Mom, would you like to change his diaper?” I was panic stricken. Was she crazy?
He is so tiny, what if I hurt him? How was I expected to change such a tiny baby with so many tubes and wires? Despite my apprehension, I agreed. There was some fumbling as I learned to maneuver around the tubes and wires, but it felt wonderful to be able to care for him.
The first time I got to nurse him, the love and need to protect him. I knew that he would get better quickly, that all he needed was his mother’s touch.
The day all the tubes and wires were removed and the swelling in his face went down. He looked nothing like I thought he did… he looked completely different. He was so beautiful and I was so glad to have all those things off his little body.
The day I took him home. I remember walking into the NICU for the last time. I remember how the doctors, nurses, and therapists greeted us with knowing smiles. I remember fearing they would change their minds and he would have to stay. I remember that I wanted to laugh, cry, hyperventilate, and be sick all at the same time. I remember my husband placing him in the car seat, signing what felt like a million forms while my daughter waited impatiently to see her baby brother properly for the very first time.
I remember not knowing how to thank the nurses… how do you thank someone who saved your child’s life? I remember pushing the button of the elevator, and leaving the hospital for the very last time – our family whole. Finally.
Knox has since triumphed, he has grown into a solid little boy and is reaching all of his milestones despite having a rocky start. We have an incredible bond and he is so beautiful…. we are so lucky it all ended up okay in the end. I am incredible grateful for my two kids… Mikayla, my sun – and Knox, my moon.
I thought I would also just add something here… I was lucky that I was able to breastfeed my preemie. Not many moms can… Milk Matters is a registered NGO and NPO and have been running for 12 years. They provide pasteurized, donor breast milk to hospitals for vulnerable, premature, babies who cannot get the breast milk they need from their own mothers.
They focus on the tiniest babies of under 1.5 kg, who thrive on the irreplaceable nutrients, growth factors and antibodies in human milk. Most importantly these babies are not exposed to the debilitating and potentially fatal risk of necrotising enterocolitis, associated with formula feeding and prematurity.
Necrotising enterocolitis is a serious illness that causes the bowel to go gangrenous and can potentially be life threatening. Providing these babies with breast milk is the single most effective way of preventing these complications.
To this date they have supplied approximately 30 Hospitals in the Western Cape but they consistently struggle to keep up with the demand. According to South African statistics on neonates the rate of premature births in South Africa is exponentially increasing thus creating extra pressure on resources such as donor breast milk. In addition with the high prevalence of mothers with HIV and TB this also creates extra obstacles.
This is an incredible organization, and if you can help by donating funds or breast milk – please get in touch with them. You can visit their website here – http://milkmatters.org/Facebook Twitter https://youtu.be/NA_rwyPIfLA