As the mother of a premature baby, my birth story for my son is different than most. My memories of the day my son was born are underlined by the fear and stress that came along with a sudden diagnosis of pre-eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome followed by a visit to the hospital, and the news that I would be having an immediate emergency C-Section. It was early. Much too early.
I remember being wheeled into an operating room where I met the hospital pediatrician who promised me she would take good care of my baby (and she did). My hospital obstetrician had just finished telling me that there was a very real risk of bleeding during the C-section because HELLP Syndrome affects your platelet levels, so I was going to be getting a platelet transfusion during the procedure and everyone was hoping that I wouldn’t get any sicker from this disease. My blood pressure was sky high, and my liver enzymes were elevated. My condition was potentially life threatening for both myself and my baby. The doctor needed to deliver the baby immediately – it’s the only cure for HELLP Syndrome…
Both my husband and I missed the birth of our baby completely because I was put under general anaesthesia. After the procedure, I woke up in the ICU and I was on a ventilator until the next day because my doctors were so concerned about my condition. The only other thing I remember from that first night was the paramedics bringing the incubator to my room so I could see the baby before he was rushed to the Children’s Hospital NICU. In the meantime, I would remain where I was for my recovery.
The thing about giving birth prematurely is that there can be immediate serious health issues to deal with as well as potential long term complications. My baby had to be put on a ventilator within hours of his birth to keep him alive as his lungs were very premature and needed to grow before he could breathe without support. He was enclosed in a specialized incubator and hooked up to a heart and oxygen monitor that beeped constantly as well as an IV and feeding tube.
There were tests, medications, setbacks followed by progress (followed by setbacks, tests, medications, progress) to deal with. We made extended daily (sometimes twice a day) visits to the hospital which was about an hour’s drive away from home. Eventually we graduated to a second hospital closer to home where we rode out the remainder of our son’s 10 week hospital stay.
What that does to your life is hard to explain. My husband stayed with our son at the hospital every night so I could focus on my recovery when I was home. I couldn’t drive for 2 months and my own health had been affected by the pregnancy related illness and the C-section. To be honest, the medical staff expected and tried to pressure me to be the one to move in, but my husband took one for the team feeling that was best for my health.
We made desperate phone calls to our parents during those two months, asking them to come and stay with us for extended periods to help take care of things like meals and laundry while my husband tried to work, drive me to the hospital every day and look after the baby at night. We were exhausted and barely holding it together at times.
In the meantime, our son – a fighter and a trooper – was finally able to breathe without oxygen support and even learned to breastfeed on his own with lots of support from the hospital lactation consultant and occupational therapist. We were finally released from the hospital after a 10 week stay.
It was wonderful to bring my precious baby home to his nursery. To go for walks around the neighbourhood. To do all the things that new parents do. And to go through all the things like sleepless nights and teething and rashes that every parent goes through. To be a normal family again.
But for a long time, I was truly haunted by this experience. I felt guilty about whether I had done something wrong – like I hadn’t gotten to the doctor soon enough even though I hadn’t missed an appointment. I was beating myself up because I hadn’t realized the back pain, on and off headache and nausea I was experiencing was this terrible illness that could have killed me and had such terrible consequences for the baby. He had to go through so much, being born prematurely and being in the hospital for so long. I just felt so hurt by what happened to us…I wondered why having a baby was so much easier for other people, and I was envious when I saw other “normal” pregnant women in the late stages of pregnancy.
Much of the trauma of this experience has healed over time. It’s not as raw or painful to think about as it once was. I’ve been able to let go of the guilt because I know now that there isn’t anything I could have done differently. And more importantly, my son is healthy with no long lasting effects from his early arrival.
But I’ll always be the mother of a premie, no matter how big and strong my boy gets to be.