When you fall pregnant, the excitement you feel can vary. Whether you are scared or just purely ecstatic, you imagine the day you will hold that tiny baby in your arms.
You can imagine the love you will feel, the cute clothes you will dress him in, or the way you will announce the birth on social media. What you don’t imagine, is what happens if things go wrong.
In our case, our baby was expected to be healthy, but at my 37 week check-up, we were measuring small suddenly and an ultrasound revealed our son was approximately the 6th percentile for weight, around 2.4kgs. While it wasn’t dangerous specifically, and he may have been fine, there could be a reason for a sudden slowdown in growth, probably the placenta.
So the decision was made to induce labour and have our baby within two days. When he was born, he was small but seemed to be perfectly healthy. But within an hour, he started to turn a little blue and he was moved to the special care nursery. Over the next hour, they had to work to get our little guy breathing as he had some issues, which turned out to be respiratory distress syndrome which is quite common in premature babies, but at 37 weeks, less than 1% of babies suffer from this problem. So we felt pretty unlucky.
Because he was born in a small private hospital, he was transferred to a larger one to be treated. The first time we walked into the NICU – neonatal intensive care unit – we were pretty shocked. Firstly, we had only seen our son for a few minutes overnight and hadn’t held him except for a few minutes when he was born. We had to leave the maternity hospital and drive 30 mins to see him at the other hospital, all while I hobbled from just giving birth and some stitches. It wasn’t pleasant but no one was going to stop me from seeing my son. Looking around the nursery, I had no idea which cot contained my baby; I had no idea really what he looked like. The nurse directed us to his cot and we stared at him, with his face covered with a CPAP mask to help him breath, he looked so tiny.
The first few days were a complete roller coaster. The doctors told us he would probably get much worse before he got better, but there wasn’t really a timeline and we had no idea how hard it would be. After 48 hours on the CPAP machine, he was worse than ever, constantly yo-yoing from OK to worse, and over a period of a day, the nurses continually monitored him for signs that he needed a higher level of care.
We tried to sleep between the four hourly tests, but they would often knock on the door to the room they gave us, or call us on our phone with an update; usually with bad news. We felt like nothing existed but one hourly blocks of time where everything would change. Our family wanted to visit, and we did have the grandparents visit, but they struggled to understand what was happening, and asked a lot of questions we couldn’t answer.
Eventually at 4am on the third day, the doctors decided he wasn’t coping well enough, and they needed to transfer him to the Royal Children’s hospital. Having a baby at the Royal Children’s in the NICU is pretty much the worst case scenario. You can never imagine this happening to you, and it’s surreal to drive into the car park, and get the lift to the 6th floor, to the butterfly ward. When you walk in, the lady at the desk greets you by name, they know you are on your way and can guess who you are. In total shock, and looking so sleep deprived, they direct you to the private room with all the high tech equipment keeping your baby alive.
The one-on-one care means there is a nurse 24/7 looking after your baby, and your baby only. They can explain a lot of the equipment, but they don’t have the key piece of information you want: when will this end. Neither do the doctors, they can talk in general time frames, but at this point, our son was taking much longer to get better than the average. Each day, the doctors do their rounds, coming into the baby’s room and talking among the group about the patient and what was planned. We would rush to be there on time, and listen intently, hoping to see some glimpse of progress. Even though his time in the NICU was just seven days; each day, and each hour seemed like an eternity. The doctors would usually address the parents at the end for a few minutes, explaining anything we didn’t understand and some days giving us an indication of what we might hope to see change.
Eventually his need for oxygen vanished, and he was able to breath on his own. What a relief to see him free of breathing apparatus from his face, to see his lips, eyes and nose and to be able to get to know that small face. When we left the hospital eventually after four weeks (he had an infection that required antibiotics but was otherwise well for the last three weeks), it was so strange. We had driven into the hospital for three of the four weeks, every day spending the whole day by his side. To take him home seemed like it was not normal, that having your baby in hospital was normal. We met other parents with babies that were more or less sick, that had different or similar problems, and we all felt each other’s pain and exhaustion. To have our son at home, after going through such a roller coaster felt like the easiest thing in the world. We were so grateful it was over, and that we could finally begin our life as a family.
Thanks Carla Cram for sharing your story!