In support of World Prematurity Day, we aim to raise awareness for both premature babies and their parents. I’m sharing some of our story of when Poppet was born a month early. I also give details about how you can show your support in the #purpleforpreemies campaign.
World Prematurity Day
Together we can make a difference in the lives of preemies all over South Africa.
When I look at our healthy 1-year-old baby girl today, it’s impossible to believe that she was born a month early with pneumonia. Well, maybe it’s impossible for others!
Her birth story and illness is really something that only we experienced for ourselves, I think preemie moms and dads can relate that it’s an inner circle experience. It can be lonely for some. The journey is so extremely disorientating, it’s exhausting.
From the outside looking in, I think people just see a newborn baby that is maybe a little bit smaller or in some cases, they just see a baby that doesn’t quite look like a “normal” baby to them yet. I don’t think that preemie parents even attempt to explain the emotional roller coaster or really mention too many of the finer medical details.
Our baby was born very suddenly in the early hours of the morning. I had a Non-Stress Test in the labour ward every day during the week leading up to her birth. She wasn’t moving enough. She was sick. We knew something was wrong but we didn’t know what.
She was born at 36 weeks
I woke my husband up just after midnight and told him I’m having contractions. In denial, I said; “I’m not sure if it’s contractions, but something is not right. Maybe we should go to the hospital?” I made a cup of tea, waddled around the house and thought about how I can possibly stop the situation. There was no stopping the situation. Whatever was about to happen to us was going to happen. I surrendered to the Universe. That didn’t stop a million images flashing through my mind. Images of a stillborn baby, images of ventilators, images of preemie babies, images of squishy full-term babies.
We peacefully drove to the hospital, we got pulled over in a roadblock and my husband handled that very calmly as well.
We went straight to the labour ward and had another Non-Stress Test done and the calm chit-chat vibe ended very abruptly when our Doctor arrived. He rushed into the room and told us: “The baby has to come out right now.”
Another million images flashed through my mind, a stillborn baby, a preemie-looking baby, the not so ready nursery at home, the not yet installed breathing monitor.
I even asked the doctor: “Does the baby look like a real baby yet?”
When you are pregnant with your first child you have all these visions of what the birth is going to be like. You think you have everything worked out. How you are going to show your baby off, how people are going to come goo-ing and coo-ing over your precious bundle.
The birth itself was traumatic. The doctor ordered the nurses to get me into theatre immediately. I was in theatre but not even admitted to the hospital so my husband had to run downstairs to reception, I asked the doctor: “Please just wait for my husband before you cut me.”
It all happened so fast. Within about 15 minutes of our Doctor arriving at the hospital, our baby was born.
I had the screen in front of me so my husband saw her first. He burst out in tears. I couldn’t see anything, I thought she was dead. Then she cried too. We all cried.
She was able to breathe on her own for a short while in theatre and then she went to Neonatal ICU.
She had congenital pneumonia. In short, the blood-borne infection travelled through the amniotic fluid and she had pneumonia.
Preemie moms won’t stop worrying because you say so
To say that the doctors and nurses were amazing is probably a bit cliché but also a huge understatement. Those people showed me everything I needed to know about preemie babies and I was so intensely grateful for the experience if that’s not too wrong to say. But that’s also where the comments start and for the most people really mean well. “Don’t worry, your baby is in the best place.” A preemie mom won’t stop thinking about the health of her baby just because the baby is in the best possible hands. Preemie moms do not go and relax in their rooms while the doctors and nurses, “the babysitters” look after their babies.
I felt very helpless, travelling up and down the hospital floors, pumping breast milk around the clock, hanging over the tiny little bed and stroking little fingers.
My first colostrum “feed” 👆
There were times that I was too scared to go and sleep in fear of missing an update from a doctor.
Preemie moms don’t get extra time to sleep because their babies are in ICU. My doctor medicated me to sleep one night after the ICU nurse told him I seriously needed rest. They were concerned about my mental health.
READ MORE: Am I a mentally ill mom?
Preemie moms are not overprotective
The hospital routines taught me so much. They are so strict with hand sanitizing and visitors. I couldn’t touch my own baby unless I had washed and sanitized my hands. Every time I changed a nappy, I had to put her down and do the hand-wash-hand-rub routine. Preemie moms are not overprotective, they have just been given a better understanding of how vulnerable these tiny babies are.
To this very day, I carry alcohol spray in the nappy bag and we use it around the house, it’s just so convenient, it became a habit. There’s a difference between building an immune system and exposing a vulnerable baby. She was eating dirt soon enough as she grew older and there is seriously no need to be exposing preemies and newborn babies to unnecessary germs.
I cried the first day we took our daughter out to a family braai. It was before her due date. I wanted to take her out but I still felt scared. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing by introducing her to the family. To this day, I don’t always know if I’m doing the right thing.
Preemie moms don’t know that everything is going to be fine, even when you tell them that it will be.
Our baby recovered really quickly. They expected her to be in ICU for at least 4 weeks, she was there for a week. For many families, the journey can be much longer. One doesn’t know what biologically occurs (or doesn’t) when they are developing in their tiny little beds while they were still supposed to be gestational. Not even doctors can tell what the exact implications for the future may be.
I don’t personally subscribe to the “right time” that even full-term babies need to reach their milestones, I believe the focus needs to be on the quality of the milestone instead. Nevertheless, our baby has been reaching her milestones ‘on time’ and she walked when she was 15 months old. Whether the walking milestone was ‘on time’ or not is debatable.
The fact of the matter is that premature babies suffered a complication and nobody knows the exact biological extent.
Preemies can have chronic medical conditions, delayed development and a whole list of issues.
One can’t tell that our baby was premature, just like you can’t tell with most premature babies. Olympic Athlete Wayde van Niekerk was born at 28 weeks. His mom didn’t know back then that he was going to be fine.
When people say, “You’ll be home in no time” and “The baby is going to be fine” they mean well, but Preemie moms don’t know that they can believe them because nobody knows. It is a terribly draining time.
Preemie moms find their groove.
Almost everything I learnt in the ICU I brought home with us. From the labelling of the milk bottles to the folding of the towel that makes the little cocoon in the tiny bed.
We had a feeding diary where I wrote down everything that was administered. Every time she made a poo I wrote it down. Everything was recorded in the book, just like in the hospital. Every time we went to the doctor for a checkup, the book went with us (not that the doctors were too interested in my notes,😂 but it helped me remember the things they were asking for, even if it was from the previous day).
READ MORE: To my Daughter on her 1st Birthday
I might add that I suffered a CSF leak complication with my spinal block procedure. My spinal fluid and brain fluid leaked so I was battling to remember the time and dosage of previous feeds and I had intense pressure headaches. So, the book helped me a lot. But even after the leaked was repaired in the theatre when she was 7 weeks old we continued with the diary.
Some days I made a note in the book if we went for a walk or had gone out somewhere nice for the day. You know, we were seeking all the positives and the fun in parenting in every single day and I noted them.
When she was about 10 months old the “daily” pages became a bit short for all the stories in between what she was consuming. It was time to let go of the daily nutrition diary and nowadays I just write letters to her on days when I feel I want to share something that may emotionally support her if/when she herself becomes a mother.
READ MORE: Feeding…What works, what doesn’t?
Preemie moms find their groove and whatever it is that helps them cope with the responsibility of keeping the tiny and vulnerable baby alive at home.
It can be especially overwhelming for preemie parents to come home after they have had the support and guidance from nurses and doctors.
I remember telling my husband on the drive home: “It’s just us now, babe. No machines, no doctor, no nurse.”
Preemie moms are not against the world. They can be perceived as the dragon fighting off the visitors. Or the dragon who is sanitizing the visitor she does allow. Or the drill sergeant.
For me, the first milestone at home was JUST a live baby who has gained weight by the next doctor’s visit. And after that, it was just to have a live baby who has gained weight by her due date. It was really just small steps.
Having a normal full-term baby is a huge adjustment. One doesn’t even know what to expect with a full-term baby. It takes time for any family to process the love, the adjustment, the challenge and all the unexpected things.
When the unexpected arrives unexpectedly early with all the risks involved with prematurity it’s truly an emotional roller coaster that needs to be processed by the family.
Apart from the challenge of supporting a preterm newborn with an immature immune system there are too many other challenges to mention.
Every year the number of premature babies in South Africa continues to rise.
Pampers is demonstrating its commitment to the happy, healthy development of every baby in South Africa, including those born prematurely.
Purple for preemies – #purpleforpreemies
Pampers is supporting the Newborns Groote Schuur Trust #purpleforpreemies initiative.
If you wear purple on World Prematurity Day, Pampers will donate 10 nappies to the Trust, nappies specifically designed for the most vulnerable premature babies. If you wear purple AND wear the World Prematurity sticker, they will donate a further 10 nappies.
You can find more information on the Pampers Facebook page here.
World Prematurity Day is taking place on 17 November.
If you would like to get your sticker and show your support on the Friday the 17th of November – sales are already underway and you can buy them from selected Toys R Us in Cape Town and Durban, or directly from the Newborns Trust firstname.lastname@example.org
Stickers are R10 each and all funds go towards saving the life of a preemie.
You can also share this post to help us raise awareness for World Prematurity Day and if you’ve enjoyed the read you can find more of my blog posts here.
With Love & Gratitude,