Three years ago today my waters broke while I was 25 weeks pregnant with my second child. It was unequivocally the most terrifying moment of my life as everything I had planned for the future was abruptly tipped upon its head. I remember the fear in my husband'a voice as I broke the news. I remember lying in the hospital bed as my precious fluids leaked away and wondering what the hell it meant for my baby. I remember the moment the neonatal doctor came to brief us on the survival rates of a baby born this early and the possible disabilities we would be facing if he did survive the process. I remember the ambulance ride to another hospital three hours away from our home when it became apparent there weren't enough neonatal beds in our local ward and I remember the unrelenting panic that consumed me. It all felt so disconnected and unreal at the time, like it was happening to someone else but then the reality of what we were facing began to sink in. I prayed desperately I would be able to hold on to my baby for just a little longer once the doctors told us it was still the best place for him and I worried myself sick about the possible infection that would bring my new journey to a swift end and eject my vulnerable little boy into the world before his time. Now my waters were gone he was no longer protected and everything became a harbinger of germs to my eyes, a hazard to my unborn child.
Four long weeks we managed to hold on, past the huge 28 week marker which took our mortality rates from 50% to a whopping 80% and reduced the disability side effects from major to minor. Past the many scans and blood tests to check my water levels and for signs of infection. Past the minor bleeds and the frantic trips to hospital when the movement dropped. When I was briefly let home I drank my own body weight in water, avoided all caffeine, rested as much as physically possible and tried every other suggestion the internet had to offer to make my baby stay put.
But eventually nature took over and after two stalled labours the doctors decided to was time to let things run their course. My littlest was born a few hours later weighing only 3lb and much to our shock and delight he came out crying. We had been warned to expect silence as the doctors didn't know what state he would be in and at 29 weeks his lungs should not have been developed enough to produce a cry. However, I had received my steroid shots to boost his growth and it seemed they did their job as he wailed heartily before he was swiftly whisked from the room for the doctors to work on him. Three of them crowded into the room and they were kind enough to hold him up to show me before they hustled to do their job of keeping him alive. It was a tense few moments but they returned before long to give us the good news that he was doing remarkably well and my husband was able to see him before they took him to neonatal for more work.
The relief I felt was almost euphoric. After so many weeks of not knowing, the fact that he was here and doing so well was enough to keep me buoyant through the first few hours. Then I was wheeled down to the neonatal unit and I saw my tiny bundle, who's entire body was no bigger than my hand, wrapped in wires monitoring his every move. His face was covered by a mask helping him to breathe and his delicate little arms had cannulas sticking from them to pump him full of antibiotics preventing infection and intravenous fluids that would be his nutrition for the next few weeks. It was both wonderful and heartbreaking to see him and the tears flowed freely as I sat staring at him from behind a glass screen. I felt tremendous guilt that he was there, struggling, instead of inside me still but I was grateful for his steady state and the reassurances of the doctors.
Six weeks we spent in the neonatal unit in total. And we were obscenely lucky with how uneventful those six weeks were. During my time there I heard so many gut wrenchingly difficult stories from other Mums who were facing their own impossible journeys and I was thankful ours was smoother than we could ever have expected. Our little boy grew steadily and progressed so rapidly the doctors questioned if my dates had been right. But it was still the toughest thing I've ever done. I can still smell the antibacterial soap I scrubbed myself with vigorously, several times, before entering the room and I can still hear the relentless beeping from the myriad of machines monitoring our child's well being. I can still remember the jolt of excitement I would feel as I walked down the long corridor to the neonatal unit always mixed with a healthy dose of anxiety that he wouldn't be doing as well as when I had left him last. I would get an instant let down reflex from my boobs when I walked through the hospital doors and my milk would start leaking before I even reached the unit, ready for expressing and tube feeds for my boy.
There are so many memories of that time, achingly tender and sickeningly traumatic and I've tried many times over the last three years to capture them on paper with little success. It's only now, looking back on it from a wonderful place of calm contentment (as much as life can be calm or content with two young boys!) that I can be grateful for how far we have come. My mantra during those early days in the hospital, and even later when we had our sweet boy home but were dealing with the joys of reflux and lactose intolerance that frequently come hand in hand with prematurity, was 'This time next year, this will all be a distant memory'. And it may have taken more than a year for the pain to fade, but it has. So I write this for all those Mums who are going through this right now, from an early water break to a stay in neonatal and the hardships of a preemie baby. It's a rough, rough ride, but you do come through it. You are strong for your baby and when you reach the other side you will see how far you have come, and it's amazing!