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The happy ending…

Travelling from the NICU to a more local SCN (Special Care Nursery) in ambulance was surreal. I was reminiscent of the journey I had previously made yet a few days before, with baby still in belly. This time, he was out in the wide world, already confronted with many challenges a newborn naturally shouldn’t face.

It wasn’t long until we were all settled in our new SCN home. Daily routines of bathing, feeding, nappy changing and cares took over our days and each day rolled into one. Each day our son was getting stronger and we were proud of how far he had come.

Although we had become content in our new lives, leaving Flynn at the hospital every night to go home was heartbreaking,over and over again. There wasn’t a day I left the hospital without crying. I had to be positive and remind myself how truly lucky we were and that we had a beautiful little boy to come back to every morning.

Arriving at the hospital one morning and walking in to see Flynn had been promoted and was out of the humidicrib was such an amazing feeling. The midwives were happy with his breathing and temperature control, and were confident with his feeding and weight gain. At last I could hold his hand without having to put my arm through a glass barrier. I could hold him and kiss him as much as I wanted. I had waiting for this day for weeks. Unfortunately for some mothers, this process can take much longer. I appreciated the privilege we had.

Another transfer to a different hospital saw yet another trip via patient transfer, however, this time he was in a regular baby vehicle capsule. He was so small that the midwives had to fill the gaps around him with baby wraps and adjust the straps to their absolute minimum.

We spent more time in another SCN and each day Flynn was making progress. The aim was to have him on all ‘suck feeds’ so that the tube could be taken out. As this achievement was getting closer I began to stay at the hospital and spend my first couple of nights with my son. After weeks in hospitals and having to leave him at the end of every day, I finally got a taste of what it would be like to have him home.

After another week or so, success! The midwives were happy with Flynn’s progress and gave us the green light to take him home. We have our happy ending. I acknowledge those who aren’t so lucky and pray that they will experience the same amount of joy as we did in bringing their baby home.

Flynn is now a toddler and is definitely a busy boy. You wouldn’t know he is a premmie baby by looking at him. He  is a healthy, active boy who brings happiness to everyone that meets him! Being a mother is certainly the hardest thing I have ever done and will do in my life, but I really do feel that this is where I belong in life.

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I wonder if I am ready to do it all again…?

 

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The first meeting…

Flynn in Humidicrib in NICU

In Australia, 8% of babies are born premature (before 37 weeks gestation) and approximately 15% require some form of extra care at birth. 0.8% of mothers gave birth between 28-31 weeks gestation. Flynn falls into this category as he was born at 31 weeks gestation i.e. 9 weeks early.

(Statistics derived from: http://www.miraclebabies.org.au/premature-sick-babies/what-is-prematurity/statistics/ )

As previously mentioned, throughout the pregnancy my husband and I knew that it was highly likely our baby was going to be born prematurely. I was told the risks and such statistics as stated above.  I knew that if born early we would be spending more time than normal in hospital and was advised to take the journey ‘day by day’. I went in knowing the facts, the statistics, the risks… but what I hadn’t anticipated was the emotional rollercoaster we were about to endure.

After having a Cesarean and watching helplessly as my baby was wheeled out of the room I was immediately confused and felt guilty as to why I didn’t feel an instant connection to my son as I believed would happen. And being entirely honest, it took some time for me to form that bond with him.

Even though that bond hadn’t developed straight away, I still yearned for some contact with my son. I waited approximately twelve hours for the chance to finally meet him. Still in bed, I was wheeled up a floor to the NICU and placed next to my son in his humidicrib. I remember staring at him, still in shock, feeling an overwhelming sense of happiness and guilt at the same time. Of course I was so pleased that our baby was here and that the midwives were happy with his health, but I felt guilty that he was here so early and had to start his life hooked up to machines and stuck in a humidicrib rather than in my arms. I believed it was my fault and must have been something I did during pregnancy for him to be out and in our world so prematurely. I guess a part of me still believes this and I will forever be making it up to him.

Flynn- only a few hours old. Looking down through the humidicrib.

Flynn- only a few hours old. Looking down through the humidicrib.

My first contact with my son wasn’t how I had imagined, but to me, it wasn’t any less special. I opened a window of the humidicrib and put my hand through, extending one finger. I placed it gently on his tiny open hand, in which he responded by closing it and holding my finger. I knew in that instant he knew who I was. I wanted to be able to stay there forever, but you can’t have the humidicrib window open too long as it can alter the inside temperature. So again, through the looking glass…

It wasn’t until the next day I got to hold Flynn for the first time. Our first kangaroo care cuddle (skin to skin contact) was a precious moment that has been engraved into my heart. But, much like our first touch, there was a time limit. We got to cuddle for thirty minutes and then he had to go back into the humidicrib. Because we only got thirty minutes cuddle time with Flynn each day, it was also important for my husband to form a bond with him, so we took it in turns i.e. we each got to hold our son for thirty minutes every second day.

This was a hard notion for me to grasp, however, after looking around the room and realising that all the other parents were in the same situation (some much more serious) I could and had to bear it. I needed to stay positive and be grateful for the time we got.

Kangaroo care is a very precious time for mothers of babies in NICU. It allows for the parents to bond with their baby, even if it can only be for a short period of time per day. It is an imperative part of a baby’s development as the sound of it’s mother’s heart beat and the warmth of the skin provides comfort and calmness. If there is a story that reinforces the benefits of kangaroo care (and the miracle of life) it is this : http://au.news.yahoo.com/today-tonight/lifestyle/family/article/-/15017026/mothers-miracle-touch/

Being new parents, we still had to do everything all new parents do with their newborns i.e. change nappies, feed, clean etc. We did all of these things, but through the holes of the Humidicrib. Every three hours we did his ‘cares’ which involved changing his nappy, taking his temperature, cleaning his face and body with saline and feeding. At first, my husband and I found it tricky trying to do all of this on such a little person, and then adding the fact that we were separated by a big glass barrier. But, it soon became something we did autonomously.

Flynn was fed via tube feeding until he had enough strength to try breastfeeding. Even though he wasn’t breastfeeding, I still had to express milk as if I was feeding him every three hours.  I would express every 3 hours, even throughout the night despite Flynn not being with me.

Daddy duties

Daddy duties

After a few more days in a NICU, we were told they were able to transfer Flynn to a SCN in a hospital closer to home and that I could be discharged as a patient. This news was welcomed, especially because it meant we would be closer to family support. I was happy that we were leaving the NICU, but sad to leave the amazing midwives behind. They were so understanding and reassuring that I truly believe they have one of the most demanding, pleasing and heartbreaking jobs around.

We said our goodbyes and I took one last look of the NICU, saying a little prayer for every baby we left behind…

Flynn in the humidicrib transporter ready for patient transfer

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The miracle…

The miracle that is birth. What an amazing feat! Still something that totally amazes and confuses me at the same time. Going through such an experience has definitely made me look at life differently, especially now I am living my life through the eyes of my son.

When I started writing this blog it didn’t occur to me that I would be unearthing some still pretty raw emotions. It surprised me when I read back on my posts and the feelings came rushing back. But, I know this is something that is going to be with me for the rest of my life, and I will wear it with pride. It makes me appreciate the little things and reminds myself to look at the ‘big picture’. It isn’t until you go through a situation where you have never felt more vulnerable and clueless, literally handing your life and the life of the being you and another created, to the hands of someone unknown, that you truly appreciate ‘just being’. However, sometimes I forget this and I am glad I am writing this down so when something small unintentionally turns into something uncontrollably big, I will read this.

Lying on the surgery table, numb from my chest down, my husband is finally allowed in, dressed in his scrubs. I wait anxiously, shaking uncontrollably from the morpheine, for the procedure to start. For those many women who have had a C-section, I wonder what you were thinking during yours? Me, I remember thinking about a lot of things and a wide range of things! Everything from wondering how my child was going to be and hoping he would be okay, to what I was going to have for dinner. I remember trying to keep myself as calm as possible, so training my brain to think of ‘regular’ thoughts seemed like a good coping mechanism.

As the procedure progressed the doctor’s talked me through it, not realising that I could see everything in the reflection on the huge lamp up above me. I didn’t want to look, but at times I did. And every time I wished I hadn’t. My husband even popped his head over and later described it as an episode of RPA.

The time had come to pull the baby out. I felt some tugs and pulls and was still shaking uncontrollably. Then, there was silence…for what felt like forever. I remember my husband yelling ‘It’s a boy!’ but all I wanted to hear was that cry. ‘Is it okay?’ I asked, still not registering that we had just given birth to a boy. He had been quickly shown to me then taken to the table with the midwife. Then finally, it came. The best noise I think I will ever hear in my lifetime. It was then that I cried… we had a baby boy.

When dreaming about what my birthing experience was going to be like, I had always imagined that my baby would be born and immediately placed up on my chest… just like I watched in the movies. I lay on the table with my head permanently turned toward the direction of our son, watching as he squirmed and screamed with every piece of machinery that was placed on him. Then he was placed in a humidicrib and taken away. ‘Go with him’ I said to my husband.

Our son, Flynn Robert, was born at 2:56am on 18/7/11.

I was taken back to my room, a level below the NICU, where I waited both patiently and anxiously for permission to go up and see him. Women who have had a C-Section know that the recovery is terribly painful, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to walk up there. I had many calls and text messages from family and friends asking how he was and what is was like to hold him. Even though I only saw him for a couple of minutes I knew he was amazing, but I didn’t know how it felt to hold him. But I knew my time would come…

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Even though I had to wait about twelve hours for my first cuddle with my baby, my heart breaks for those who didn’t get that chance. I have read some pretty amazing blogs on here by women with angel babies who are stronger than I could ever imagine. Life has a way of bringing about tragedy to test our strength. One particular Blog is written by a truly inspirational woman who shows more strength than I can comprehend. Definitely worth a read and be sure to have tissues on hand: http://www.missingliam.com

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The sirens…

The journey back into the hospital was a lot more nerve-racking for my husband and I this time. We knew it was going to happen. I was terrified. Funnily enough, come to think of it, I was scared the whole 7 months I was pregnant! Scared of giving birth (which I am sure is a common fear amongst all women in general), scared of the health of my baby, scared of the kind of mother I was going to be. Pretty common fears I believe, but none the less still enough to cause some anxiety. It was the unknown that really got to me. I like to make plans and stick to those plans, but I quickly learnt that childbirth was something you can’t necessarily plan for as my ‘child birth plan’ was thrown out the window on the way to the hospital in labour for the first time. Experiencing the emotions of ‘fear of the unknown’ and ‘anxiety’ is very much a normal part of pregnancy.

Arriving into the hospital I was taken into the birthing suite and hooked up to the machines. The contractions were definitely bearable, but were getting steadily stronger and longer, however, once again they weren’t showing up on the machines. “Come on! Again!?” The midwife began to question whether they were infact contractions. Again, Braxton Hicks was assumed but I was adamant and a little pushy on insisting they were not Braxton Hicks. It wasn’t until my Obstetrician came in and said I was 2cm dilated. It was go time.

But time dragged, as it does with labour. All up I was in labour for about 13 hours (not including the first labour), which to me, was definitely long enough. As my story goes, I didn’t even get to the extreme end where you actually have to push a watermelon size baby out of a small hole. Eeeek, here comes that anxiety again. I absolutely sympathise with the women who are in labour for much longer, and some even days. They are so strong to get through that.

Upon arriving to the hospital around lunch time, it wasn’t until about 10pm I was told that it was necessary for me to be transferred to a Sydney hospital as no hospitals in the area deliver babies who are so premature. An ambulance arrived and off I went. My husband ‘followed’ in his car, eventually taking over and arriving before me. His adrenalin had definitely kicked in. Cruising along the freeway with contractions brought back memories of my first labour and driving back from the wedding, timing contractions along the way. This time I was worried of course, but I felt we were in safe hands.

We were about 15 minutes from the hospital when the midwife looked at me and realised that the contractions must have gotten worse. I was concentrating hard on my breathing and getting through each one. She ordered the driver to go faster, so on came the sirens and we were cruising no more. Speeding.

Arriving at the hospital I was taken up to the birthing suite and once again hooked up to the machines. By this time I was 6cm dilated. After another ultrasound we had discovered the baby was breech and the hope of a natural birth was dwindling. I was also told that because our baby was premature that a natural birth was a risk. Looked like a Cesarean was on the cards.

I was under the impression that now I knew I was going to have a C-section it would be happening right away, particularly as my pain threshold was decreasing. ‘Sweet’ I thought, ‘goodbye contractions, hello baby’. However I was disappointed to learn that the doctors believed it would be best to wait until I was dilated further. More waiting. More contractions. Time went by unbelievably slowly and soon when it took a couple more hours to dilate only 1 more centimetre, I was going in. Off to the operating table I went…

Side note: Click on this link to L’il Aussie Prems Foundation public forum for all mum’s: http://forum.lilaussieprems.com.au/forum.php

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The second time round…

I had a conversation with some friends over the weekend where we pondered over the question ‘why are women are our own worst critics?’ Surely we should be supportive of each other, particularly because if anyone knows the highs and lows of pregnancy, it’s us. But sadly, this isn’t always the case. Women are the first one’s to point out if they don’t like what you’re wearing, or your hair style, or that you have put on weight. I mean honestly, if I put on weight – I know! You don’t need to point it out to me.

During my pregnancy it was clearly obvious that I was well on my way to a 30kg weight gain, and women did not hold back on telling me that. I will never understand why women feel the need to criticise and belittle their female counterparts, but my skin did get a little thicker from such experiences.

Picking up from where I left you last, I am in hospital and just discovered I was in labour. The medication was working as the labour pains were subsiding, but it was still a very sleepless and nervous night. As time progressed, the tightness in my tummy was reducing and soon the contractions had stopped all together. Thank heavens! This was definitely a positive thing and the midwives were pleased with the results from the medication. It still didn’t mean that we were totally out of the woods so I would have to stay in hospital another night for monitoring.

A visit from my obstetrician saw permission to head home, on the priviso that I would stick to strict bed rest. That meant not doing anything! No cooking, no cleaning, no laundry, no shopping- nothing. This was going to be difficult… and after the first day I was going insane with boredom. I went from my bed to the lounge to the bathroom and back. That’s it. I should have seen this as an opportunity for a little relaxation before the baby, but there is only so much television you can watch before you start to feel your brain turn into mush.

I need to emphasise that my friends, family and husband were so supportive and amazing during this time. They popped in for visits to keep me company and bought with them some beautiful presents that they had obviously purchased for the cancelled baby shower. My wonderful parents cooked, cleaned and did our laundry. My time on bed rest was an emotional rollercoaster, and my husband definitely witnessed every emotion possible. By the fourth day I was bored, tired and the novelty of ‘relaxing’ had definitely wore off. My husband tried his best to come up with things for me to do, particularly when he was at work and I was home alone, but those options quickly ran out. The boredom turned into sadness.

On the sixth day I remember waking up crying, crying all day and then going to bed crying. I was an emotional and hormonal mess. I felt like I was in prison, or at least on home arrest. I now realise that it wasn’t the end of the world and looking back I can see how crazy hormonal I was, but if I am going to make an excuse for myself it is that boredom intensifies every emotion. Here I am winging about being on best rest for days, but I definitely sympathise with those women who have to be on bed rest for months… they are super mum’s to get through that!

Day seven saw me waking up with some dull pain in my lower abdomen. It was different from the first labour where the pain was in my lower back, so instantly a midwife’s voice popped in my head- ‘Braxton Hicks‘. My husband and I decided to give it a few hours to see if the pain got any worse. Which, it did. Exactly one week from the first labour, it was happening all over again. Another call to the ‘Batphone’ and back into hospital we go…

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The waiting game…

Yesterday saw premmie mum’s around the country celebrate the ‘Wear Green for Prems Day’ held annually by the L’il Aussie Prems Foundation. This is a great Foundation dedicated to promoting awareness of premature birth and providing an online forum for mum’s to communicate. Check out their Facebook page on this link: https://www.facebook.com/littleaussieprems?ref=ts&fref=ts

I left you on my last blog entry driving home along the freeway with labour pains, 30 weeks pregnant with 1 hungover husband (who through this ordeal was sobering up very quickly!). Throughout the drive we were recording the time between contractions, which of course were getting closer together. By the time we got home they were occuring around 4 minutes apart.

My husband jumped straight on the phone to our hospital that we were planning on having our baby at. We called their “batphone” whose number was given out to pregnant future-patients in case of an emergency. After talking through what was happening and how far apart and progressive the contractions were they said they would contact our Obstetrician and call us back to tell us what we needed to do. The wait for the return call felt like forever. I had time for a shower and my beautiful sister-in-law even blow-dried my hair (which took a while as we stopped for every contraction, her going from a hairdresser to a ‘breathing coach’ and back at every one. She did not expect to walk into this when she popped in for a visit!).

A watched pot never boils, much like a watched phone never rings. Time dragged and stress levels were rising. The phone rang and we were told to go to another local hospital as our Obstetrician was working there. Upon arrival I was taken into a birthing suite and hooked up to their machines. Listening to the heart rate of my unborn child instantly made me calm. I knew we were in trouble, but for a second, that worry went away.

That worry then turned into being pissed off! My contractions weren’t being picked up by the machine therefore the nurse was questioning whether I was having them at all! “Braxton Hicks” she kept saying which I knew they weren’t. By now I had been having contractions, mainly in my lower back, for around 5 hours so when she questioned whether or not I was experiencing pain at all, I saw red. I was short and snappy and  when I said ‘I am having one right now’ the nurse looked at the machine and said “hhhmmm… I just can’t see it?” Stuff your stupid machine and listen to your patient! Looking back, I know she was just doing her job but I was hormonal, emotional and scared so I probably overreacted.

My Obstetrician came in and I knew we were in good hands. After all, she was the one who had predicted this and throughout the whole pregnancy was supportive and reassuring. She told me that the survival rate of a baby at 30 weeks gestation was high and reassured us that she will do everything in her power for us both to be okay. I just had to have confidence and faith that everything was going to work out and to give up control and “go with it”.

For those who know me know I can be a bit OCD at times, and I find it hard relinquishing control. So I went into this pregnancy with the ideal that I would have some sort of control over what my body was doing, but once the Obstetrician told me I was definitely in labour and had ruptured membranes I realised I had no control over my body. My baby wanted to meet the world.

It was still too soon. 10 weeks too soon. My baby’s lungs were underdeveloped and it was unknown if it could breathe on it’s own. I needed steroid injections to strengthen my baby’s lungs and medication to stop the contractions therefore needed to stay in hospital for the weekend to be monitored and have further injections and tests.  I was devastated as my baby shower was scheduled for the Sunday, but I knew that doing whatever I could to keep my baby unborn for as long as I could was imperative- so baby shower was cancelled.

My baby at 29 weeks. The last proper ultrasound I had.

My baby at 29 weeks. The last proper ultrasound I had.

The Saturday night I lost my cervical mucus plug. Gross. Had no idea what it was, so I asked the nurse who wanted to see. Even grosser! At that moment I had a new found respect for nurses.  She explained that this didn’t necessarily mean that delivery was going to happen soon, it just meant that my body was getting prepared and it could still be a long time. The waiting game sucks…

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The lucky ones…

I feel like I need to clarify something… Every mum’s situation with pregnancy and giving birth is different. This blog is by no means an attempt for sympathy or to say that my experience was worse than any others, because it certainly wasn’t. Looking around the NICU I realised just how lucky our situation actually was. Jumping ahead, I remember looking at one baby in particular. He was born the same day as our son and was exactly the same age, but was literally half his size. I knew we had a journey ahead of us, but that mother had a longer one. Heartbreaking…

Back to the start… labour was something that definitely did not agree with me. I wanted to be one of those women who took it in their stride and looked vibrant and healthy. I was so jealous of these women! This wasn’t the case for me and if I am to provide advice on this is to learn to accept that pregnancy is hard, despite some mum’s making it look easy (lucky ducks!). At around half way, it became apparent that it was a very high possibility this baby would come early. And as previously mentioned, walking in to see my Obstetrician, she took one look at me and said “our aim is to make 33 weeks”.

Me at 25 weeks.Already big! Swollen face.

Me at 25 weeks.
Already big! Swollen face.

I ticked all the boxes for pre-eclampsia (not a rare condition, but none the less a scary one). High heart rate = check. Swollen and excess fluid = check. Protein in the urine = check (something that is a side effect of my kidney condition anyway). For anyone who has had preeclampsia during their pregnancy know that it can be life threatening for both the mother and the baby. This was something to take seriously.

Looking back, I still think I was pretty naive about the whole thing. The “we’ll be fine” and “I’m invincible” thought processes took over and I started to play it down. I was told I needed to cut back at work and start to rest more. Simple orders for some, but I thrive on being busy so this was not an easy feat. I particularly remember one instance at work where I was jokingly complaining to a colleague about my swollen feet and ankles. Her face when she saw them is something I will never forget. She was shocked and definitely did not think it was funny. I distinctly remember it felt like walking on a waterbed. Ok, probably going home and putting my feet up isn’t such a bad thing.

Thirty weeks came around. Yes, I had made it this far! Every week this baby stayed in my belly was essentially important.  We had a wedding of our close friends in the City where my husband was a groomsman. I squeezed into a maternity dress (good opportunity to add that it is so hard finding stylish, affordable maternity clothes. ASOS and Jeanswest were my favourites), put on my kitten heels that I had purchased the week before (in a size bigger than my usual) and got my hair done in an attempt to make myself feel as least self-conscious as possible. The wedding was fun and despite being absolutely exhausted, I wanted to feel a part of it all so tried to be involved as much as possible.

My husband was definitely in the swing of the night and wanted to continue the party, where I needed sleep so returned to the hotel. The husband stumbles in at around 1am and as I awake I feel a dull pain in my lower back. I think nothing of it and decide to go back to sleep. Waking up in the morning the pain was undeniably worse and had now stretched from my lower back to also my lower abdomen. Not good. I wake my husband who was not in the best condition to deal with early labour but we thought it be best to hop in the car and make the drive home.

The drive home of course was my responsibility as my husband had enough alcohol on his breath to set off a breatheliser 100 metres away. Driving home along the freeway with labour pains, that were getting progressively worse, was not the best situation to say the least…