So, you arrived early. I expected it, I just knew my body hadn’t felt right, I’d been saying this since week 24 and after my waters broke early I mentally prepared myself for your premature entrance into the world. We had the tour of Neonatal during my first hospital stay… it took me aback. We were shown the incubators and told that was where you would go straight after birth if you came early, it took all my strength not to cry. As a blogger, I have read many stories from others I follow of their premature babies being in NICU and I have been moved by what has been written but nothing can prepare you for for the reality of it all. To see tiny babies lying inside what is essentially a plastic box, being helped with their breathing via ventilators or under UV lights for jaundice is something that makes your heart sink. We were shown the two types of ventilators and the nurse explained why you may be on them and how they work… I couldn’t really take that information in because I didn’t want to picture you on one. We were told how the unit worked and how you would be under 24/7 care. I was shown the expressing room, where I would have to go and sit to pump breastmilk for you to be fed through a tube. Not the image I had for you to start your breastfeeding journey. I think I nodded along and tried to take the information in but it was a bit too much to process at once.
You didn’t come at 30 weeks, you managed to stay put until exactly 32 (Tuesday 21st November) which gave me the time to consider every scenario for when labour began. I had to keep in mind that you may get into difficulty and that a c-section may be needed even though I wanted a VBAC, I had time to think about you being taken away immediately after birth, I pictured you in the incubator to prepare myself for the shock of it, I made myself think about the worst case scenario and what that would mean for us as a family. It sounds awful but I had to have my head straight before it all happened. In the end, I was so incredibly lucky that your birth all went to plan and you arrived naturally and safely.
I am so glad we had the tour because once you are born you are placed on me for a moment and then the Neonatal team step in to help with your breathing. We then have to say goodbye as quickly as we’ve said hello and they take you downstairs to the ward to start you on the treatment you need.
At 1 am we are allowed down to visit you. There you are tiny and defenceless, wired up to machines, a ventilator called a CPAP is helping you to breathe and you have a cannula in your teeny arm providing you with antibiotics, there’s a drip providing glucose and a feeding tube in your mouth. You look content which makes me feel slightly relieved but I know there is a long journey ahead…
Back up on my ward I am asked to try to express some colostrum to get you the good stuff for the best start. I must admit that this is the strangest thing I have ever had to do. Whilst I sit and hand express, a midwife catches every drop she can in a tiny syringe. She then hands this job over to your Daddy and I can’t stop giggling as he takes his task very seriously! We both want what is best for you and we want you to get strong so we carry on until we have all I can produce. This is immediately taken down to you to get those antibodies into your system.
When we arrive to see you the next day (Wednesday) we are surprised to find you breathing on your own. I am overjoyed to see the apparatus out of your nose. Those steroids were extremely painful but completely worth it, they have clearly done their job and you little lungs have developed enough in time for your arrival. However, you are now under a UV light for your jaundice and wearing a protective eye mask. I thought this would mean you couldn’t be touched so I couldn’t believe it when the nurse said I could hold you. Last night we were told how some premature babies find touch very difficult due to their skin being sensitive and I assumed I wouldn’t be able to hold you for a week or so. You feel so soft and delicate, nothing like the squidgy, chubby skin of a full term baby. We are told that we have to wash our hands thoroughly before any contact and that this must be done each time. Only me, Daddy and Jake are allowed to touch you at the moment. I am terrified of hurting you but am told that one hand on your back and one your bottom is the right way to begin touching you.
The nurse removes the eye mask and lifts you out, I can see your face properly now and you are super cute! She places you under my top for ‘Kangaroo Care’. This is skin to skin contact to help us to bond and I am over the moon that I have you on me. You snuggle in and it feels amazing. You are showing us that you can suckle by using a dummy which is a great sign that you will be able to breastfeed soon.
We bring your big brother in to meet you a little bit later and he is ecstatic. He has been so impatient about meeting you and has asked almost every day during my pregnancy when you will be arriving, seems like you both have that trait!! He takes on board all that the nurse says about washing hands and being gentle and it is a such a special moment when I watch him touch you for the first time. Just look at his face! He didn’t want to leave and wasn’t fazed at all by the machines and wires.
I’m still in hospital which means I can come down and see you anytime I like which is lovely. My main task at the moment is to get my milk expressed and down to you because they really need it. If I can’t get enough they will have to top you up with formula which I don’t really want as I know how important that colostrum is but I will do whatever is best for you. It is hard work and upsetting when I only manage a few ml but I am going to keep going at it for you.
The next day (Thursday) you are still on UV light therapy but everything else is looking good it seems… well, for a 32 weeker. Although each time your monitors bing I whip my head around to see what is happening. It is reassuring that you are being so closely monitored but it makes your heart skip a beat when you think something is wrong. Did I mention how hot it is in here too? I think I need to get my summer clothes out to come and visit you! But hey, you need to cook some more don’t you? You are still supposed to be a little bun in my oven!
My test results come back that afternoon and are very high in infection inflammatory markers which probably explains your quick exit, so I am started on IV antibiotics and regular obs which means I have to spend a bit more time upstairs and away from you. But I need to be fit and well if I am going to get you fit and well.
I’m finding expressing really hard. The sensation isn’t the same as breastfeeding and it hurts more on one side. It’s all a new experience and something I am going to have to get used to because you could be in the hospital for weeks to come.
I am so happy on Friday morning because after only getting a measly 0.5 ml expressed in the night I manage to produce this in the morning:
The milk is coming in and I can rush it down to you! (If any NICU Mum’s are reading this you will completely get this part!)
I go down to see you and there you are looking so much better. The UV light is gone and you look like a proper little baby now, all snuggled under your blanket. You have also finished your antibiotics and your blood work has come back good each time which must mean that you got out in time. Much to my relief. They are starting you on caffeine because your breathing isn’t regulated yet but this should do the job and you will probably only be on it until week 34. I am shown how to change your nappy, my goodness you are tiny and wriggly, it isn’t easy to do and they are the smallest nappies I have ever seen!
Today is also the day that you breastfeed for the very first time! Your tube has been moved from your mouth to your nose in preparation for this. The nurse who was on agreed that you are showing good signs as you suckle on the dummy as the milk goes down your tube. I told her that she made my day and I honestly almost cried with joy. You have the knack just like your brother did and you somehow got that tiny little mouth onto my nipple and instinct just kicks in. You are amazing little man.
I am told that I can go home today… a bittersweet moment. I get to return home to my other boy and to recover properly but it means leaving you behind at the hospital, alone. I know you are in the safest hands and every nurse is so lovely but I wish you could be at home with all of us.
Jake was incredibly happy to have me home
Over the weekend everything catches up with me and I start to feel drained. The adrenaline from the birth and seeing you is wearing off and the reality of everything is setting in. I feel torn because I need to rest and I need to show Jake that I am ok and not going back into hospital but my maternal pull is making me restless at home and I have the biggest urge to be near you. I am also having to wake in the night to express the milk. My boobs are my alarm and wake me up when they are full! But I have to go downstairs to do it as the pump is noisy and I don’t want to wake the others. This really wakes me up and after being down for around half an hour I find it hard to get back to sleep. I know you would be waking me if you were here but it would be a whole different experience. I am starting to feel very sorry for cows right now!
I see the midwife Sunday and she is concerned that I am at risk of getting mastitis. It seems as though my body doesn’t know what it is up to and I think that is because I am not around you all the time so it can’t regulate. I am now overproducing milk and my breasts are rock solid. I am scared I will have issues and it will dry up. I loved breastfeeding Jake and I want to do the same with you. Time to get this pumping malarkey sorted out.
Daddy visits Sunday to see you and to drop some milk off and he comes back to tell me that they want me to take clothes in with me later so they can dress you and move you into a hot cot and into another room! How can someone so small be so strong, eh? You are a little star coming this far in just 5 days.
Whilst I am there you have a good feed from me and the nurse sorts you out some clothes and removes the incubator! You are then placed into a bed and should be moved once some more room becomes available. You are now free for me to pick you up whenever I like.
On Monday your Daddy feels brave enough to hold you for the first time. As you were so tiny we didn’t want to overdo touching you and he was a bit wary of holding such a delicate baby. Another wonderful moment to witness.
Just look at how far you have come in one week. You are off most of the meds, you are taking feeds really well via your tube and you have latched onto me, you are active when you are awake and you are now out of your incubator. Come on little man, we want you home for Christmas…