While being pregnant, I’m sure like a lot of first time mums, for the most part I tried not to think about the actual process of giving birth. I’m one of those people that are a bit scared of the unknown. When we book a holiday somewhere new I research it and explore maps and images to the nth degree so when I get there I know exactly where everything is and I instantly feel comfortable. Not very adventurous I know but that’s just the way I’ve always been! So being a planner, and unable to avoid the inevitable fact that yes this baby has to come out someway, I mapped out my birth plan. My husband even typed it up and colour coded it – I like to think my midwife was very impressed by it!
So by about 38 weeks I had it all planned out. Now I’m also a realist so I didn’t set my heart on my image of a nice, serene water birth too much but what I did firmly picture for post birth was my baby being handed to me, us doing skin to skin and then trying breast feeding. It’s fair to say I was pretty heart broken when that picture didn’t become a reality and instead I spent the first night on a post-natal ward surrounded my other mums and their crying babies with my baby the other side of the hospital in an incubator. My husband was thankfully able to go and meet him during the night and took a video of him. I watched that 1 minute 22 second video over and over and over. All night long.
After I was sorted out, post c-section (delightful), my husband wheeled me down to see our boy. Being wheeled through those corridors to meet my baby felt so surreal, I didn’t know what to expect. When I got there and I saw him with tubes and monitors everywhere all I could do was cry. Not necessarily sad crying but I guess the kind of tears that every mother has after giving birth. The night before had been such an insane rush I hadn’t taken it all in properly but in that moment, looking at him all I felt was just an overwhelming feeling of love. He’s my baby, mine, ours, we made him. Our miracle. And he was perfect.
From that point on everything moved so quickly but yet so slowly. He had to stay in NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for 8 days in total. I was allowed to hold him for a little bit that morning finally getting my skin to skin and although it wasn’t how I’d pictured it was just the most amazing feeling. He was admitted for respiratory distress and an infection which they suspected to be sepsis likely from GBS. Thankfully he didn’t need to be on oxygen for long before he was breathing on his own although it was still being monitored and they put him on antibiotics straight away for the infection. I was discharged from the hospital on day 3, that was probably my darkest day. I knew it was going to happen at some point though. You know how you still look pregnant post birth? Well so thought the poor two well meaning old ladies I encountered in the lift on the way out who excitedly asked when my baby was due. I just cried. Then I cried again getting into the car with an empty car seat and then again coming home to an empty bed side cot. Now I can look back and feel grateful that we have him, I realise that some people never get to bring their babies home or have to wait a lot longer than we did and I know despite all my tears we are some of the lucky ones.
Despite it being very tempting to just wallow in pity I focused on trying to hand express colostrum into little syringes that the hospital gave me. If I couldn’t be with him I was determined to help in any way I could. I expressed day and night and carried on doing so when my milk eventually came in on day 5 (I won’t talk too much about feeding though as that’s a story in itself). On day 4 we learnt that the antibiotics were working and his infection count had gone down. From then on it was small victories every day as he edged closer and closer to coming home day. Everything was a major milestone. Being bottle fed instead of tube fed. Putting clothes on him (straight into 0-3 clothes by the way, he was a long one and still is!). Steadily losing tubes and monitors. But the greatest day came when he was moved out of his incubator and was ‘promoted’ to a cot in special care down the corridor. That was when we started to feel like parents. We were there everyday all day, dressing him for the day and night. We were able to take over his routine checks of taking his temperature and monitoring nappies. Then the night before he came home we were able to stay in a room with him. The day we took him home, it was about 5pm, was the best day. At that moment everything that had come before that, all the tears and fear, felt like a distant memory. We were just two first time parents, wondering if we’d put him in the car seat properly, taking our baby HOME!!!
I’m sure everyone who has had an experience of a baby in NICU will know that the people that work there are simply absolute superheroes. Not only do they put their heart and soul into caring for our precious little ones but they also look after us blubbering parents. They gave me two little comforters, one for me to wear while baby has the other one and then you swap them round so they can still smell you while you’re away from them. We also got a special set of milestone cards which said things like ‘I wore clothes for the first time’ and ‘I’m coming home today’ – that was the most exciting moment when we got to use that one!
When you hear the words ‘intensive care’ you instantly think the worse – life threatening. For some babies that sadly is the case but for many that end up in NICU they just need a little bit of extra special care at first. In fact, according to the Bliss website, each year, over 95,000 babies are cared for in Neonatal Intensive Care Units which equals to 1 in 8 babies born in the UK. Out of those – 61.2% of babies are at full term of 37 weeks or after. This is a fact that really comforts me. If you’re pregnant I don’t mean to scare you but if I had known this prior to going into hospital I possibly wouldn’t have been as terrified as I was. I had looked at and tried to mentally prepare myself for any complication (forceps being my worst case scenario) but I didn’t think about this at all. When you reach full term and by the best of knowledge you are told your baby is healthy you expect to go into hospital, have your baby and then come home with your baby. Turns out you have around the same chance of having delivery by forceps as your baby going to NICU! Why this wasn’t brought up in antenatal classes I have no idea! I think if it had been or if there’s more awareness of it then it would have made the whole situation a lot less scary. With hormones and emotions flying everywhere I expected the worst straight away!
So on Tuesday 27th March we brought Hayden home to officially begin life as a family of 3. Let the adventures begin!