March 31st was a normal day in the last trimester of what had been a fairly easy pregnancy for a first-time mum. At 31 weeks and 4 days, bump was showing signs of being healthy and strong, and the antenatal appointment I had that afternoon reinforced the maternal bond that was being forged between my little girl and I. Her heartbeat echoed out to me from the Doppler scanner, and she was moving and alerting me to her presence in her snug ‘cocoon’ every so often.
The evening was a bit more eventful than I had expected however, in what could only be described as a storyline from a soap opera. Shortly after exiting the house, on our way out to collect some stair gates from the retail park, I came to the stark realisation that
1. the condition ‘baby-brain’ really does exist, and
2. the ‘bargain’ stair gates (two for £30) were not so inexpensive after all…I had made the faux pas of leaving the key on the inside of the front door and shutting it behind me…
As we were locked out, I told my other half that we may as well go out as planned whilst waiting for a locksmith. I ended up calling two, as the first one would not be available that evening! Fast forward an hour and a half; stair gates procured, we are driving home. All of a sudden I feel a warm, wet sensation as fluid is expelled from my lower half, “what the..?!” I think to myself before calmly telling my husband that I am leaking, and I really don’t think it’s pee!
The dam bursts
I didn’t see his face, but I imagine the colour drained from it pretty quickly, as we continued our journey, my coat soaking the liquid away. On arriving home, we were thankfully let into the front door, though I remained in the car whilst the locksmith worked his magic. If only my husband had told him my waters had broke, we might have had a discount!
I made a call to my midwife, who advised me to go to my maternity ward straight away. We quickly gathered items for an overnight bag, or at least my husband did whilst I remained in the bathroom and got changed out of my soaking trousers.
At the maternity unit, I was checked by a doctor, then given a steroid injection and antibiotics in case baby girl arrived early. The fluid leaking from me was indeed amniotic, and I was told I’d have to stay on the ward overnight. After being transferred there my husband went home. As he was leaving I told him, ‘Don’t fall asleep!’ Famous last words, to a chronic ‘sofa-snoozer.’
A restless night
On the ward, I tried to get as comfortable as possible. About an hour later I was calling the midwife to tell her I suspected I was having contractions. She offered me Paracetamol, the labour-pain equivalent of a plaster for a gushing wound, before being told to rest and let her know if the pain got any worse. I had texted my husband and told him that I was having contractions, reiterating my three words from earlier.
As the half-hour passed by and the cramping pain got more intense, like the worst period pains ever, I started to think, “this might be it?!” After rushing to the loo to pass a movement (sorry if TMI), I knew I was definitely approaching the point of no-return. I was then checked again by another doctor, who confirmed that I was fully dilated…”But my husband isn’t here!” I whined, whilst writhing on the bed. I dialed his number on my mobile, and asked the midwife to talk to my husband, as by this point I had other things on my mind, and the pain was worse. She told him to get there as soon as he could, because his baby was on its way!
It all becomes surreal, but very real!
The journey down the hospital corridor felt like an out-of body experience, it was surreal, and I inwardly cried out, this shouldn’t be happening now!” It was though, and I had to accept it, and get in the zone. A midwife and scrubs nurse were my support during the first initial pushes, along with the inhaled Entonox, which made me feel woozy.
I remember feeling very hot, and wanting the windows open. My husband arrived, and it seemed like in no time at all I was delivering our daughter; a mini-baby but perfectly formed, into the world. There was no time to dote on her, she needed serious care quickly. That was a particularly difficult feeling, one of not being able to greet my new baby and instigate that close connection. The room was a hive of activity with several neonatal registrars and doctors attending to my little girl.
Meanwhile I delivered the placenta, which looked huge, by comparison to my tiny daughter. The shock of the early morning events made me physically sick. My girl had been whisked away to Neonatal intensive care. I was able to shower and freshen up, followed by a breakfast of tea and toast. During this time, my husband and I waited in tense anticipation of meeting our baby. I was shown how to express my colostrum into a tiny syringe. My daughter wouldn’t be able to have it just yet, but it was frozen for when she would be able to take it.
After about two and a half hours we were taken in to see her, weighing in at a mere 3lb 13oz. She was swathed in tubes and wires with just a nappy on her tiny body. She’d been very swollen at birth due to hydrops. She was receiving a blood transfusion to replace blood lost in feto-maternal haemorrhaging, and was receiving nutrients intravenously. We stayed with her the whole day, before I was discharged later that afternoon. It was very strange going home without a bump, and also no new baby.
Expression of love and patience
In those first few days, we were able to hold our daughter and get involved with her care. I expressed milk as often as I could, for it to be stored for her. The supply gradually increased and I felt that in some small way I was helping my daughter. It was hard to feel very ‘connected’ to her at that point. I visited her every day; as the weeks passed by she increased in weight, and was taking in her milk. We fed her through the nasogastric tube, and I’d bought an electric pump to express milk at home. I felt frustrated though as I’d see the other mum’s milk in the fridge. By comparison, my 20-30ml per breast looked like a pitiful amount.
As we got closer to her coming home, we attempted breastfeeding. It was a fruitless exercise that left my little girl feeling tired and unfulfilled. Meanwhile, I felt like I was failing at my maternal role of providing sustenance. I pumped as often as I could. The hospital allowed me to borrow a machine to double-pump. This saved time rather than single-pumping using my purchased pump. I felt like my life was a circle of hospital visits, milk pumping, eating and sleeping. I made a cot-side companion in a fellow mum who’s daughter was similarly premature. However, the experience of new motherhood was still fairly isolating for me.
I felt somewhat pressured to pump milk. By my husband, the nursing staff, and myself to a degree. “This is your job!” my inner voice would say. At least coming home allowed me the chance to adjust to my new role as mother, and my daughter got stronger. Today, she is a happy and healthy 20-month old. She’s late to walking, though she is very ‘chatty,’ and her development has been very good. I know she may not necessarily be the most patient child / person as she grows up. But I’m assured that she’ll have resilience!
***Update, 28th March 2017***
My daughter’s 2nd birthday is fast approaching, and she is happy as ever. Her favourite past-times are:
- going on family walks with our dog.
- playing with her building blocks, making towers as high as possible.
- ‘drawing’ with crayons.
Her confidence with walking has grown and she is teetering around, much to our delight. She eats lots of fruit, vegetables and tries new foods readily. Most definitely a ‘talker’ she continues to surprise us with new words she has learnt, as well as her cute ‘baby babble!’
I’m humbled by how down-to-earth she is, though she does have the odd ‘paddy.’ She’s growing up fast, and I hope I make the most of her formative years. I aspire to make them as enriching for her as I can.
For more information on premature births, please visit Bliss’s website.