29/05/2015 14:45 BST | Updated 29/05/2016 06:59 BST

The Lament of the Mother of a Premature Baby

My son Hugo's premature arrival meant an abrupt end to my pregnancy. It also threw me into a kind of motherhood I had never imagined.

The reason for Hugo's premature birth, at 24 weeks and four days, was an emergency Caesarean section to save both our lives because I had HELLP syndrome and severe preeclampsia.

Without the swift action of the staff at two different hospitals Hugo would almost certainly have been stillborn, and I would likely have suffered serious organ damage, or died too.

For those reasons, bemoaning my lot as a mother seems churlish - but it doesn't mean I'm not allowed a little bit of self-indulgence.

A premature birth meant I was fast-tracked to the end of my pregnancy, depriving me of all the things I had taken for granted.

At 24 weeks, I was so proud of my growing bump and was looking forward to seeing what changes the remaining 16 weeks would bring to my body.

My baby was active from an early stage, and I loved feeling him kick me. While I had anticipated many sleepless nights with his feet in my ribs, I wanted to share the experience with my partner of seeing our baby's elbows and feet protruding from my swollen belly.

Being pregnant meant time just for me and my baby. Time that only we could experience. I couldn't wait to meet him, and see what he looked like, who he took after, what his character was and what he would be interested in.

Hang on, body. 'Can't wait' is an expression commonly used in the English language. I just meant that I was excited; there's no need to heap further guilt on me. I didn't mean that I literally couldn't wait.

I hadn't got far enough in my pregnancy to have formulated a birth plan, but it certainly didn't involve the situation I found myself in.

In my imagination, the birth would be preceded by days of nervous, excited anticipation from me and my partner, as well as family and friends about when labour would start, how long it would take and whether the baby would arrive on his due date.

My partner would be with me the whole way, holding my hand and encouraging me when I got exhausted. When my baby was born, he would be placed on my chest for skin-to-skin contact and that unforgettable moment of mother-baby bonding. He would be put to my breast and guzzle my milk to give him my immunity and protect him. We would take him home, love him, cuddle him, nurture him, play with him, teach him things, proudly track every developmental milestone that he achieved and show him off to anyone and everyone.

I never expected an emergency C-section, under general anaesthetic and accompanied by seemingly most of the hospital's maternity team's staff. I never expected my partner to have to wait, terrified, in a separate room to hear whether I and his baby had survived. I never expected to have to wait more than 30 hours to meet my precious baby. I never expected to be taken in a wheelchair from my intensive care bed, with lines and tubes going into and coming out of me to meet my son, in his incubator bed, with lines and tubes going into and coming out of him. I never expected to be too terrified to touch my baby son.

Motherhood, in a neonatal intensive care unit, came in a way I never expected.

But for all my terror, I loved Hugo intensely from the moment I met him. I was encouraged to put my hands in his incubator and touch him - he instantly took a tight grip on my finger.


Even at 24 weeks and growth-restricted, my son was perfect. Hugo was strong, and kicked his arms and legs - often in time with my singing. He was brave and determined, and knew what he wanted. I couldn't believe that he was mine, and that I had helped make this incredible, brand-new sentient human being.

I was upset when he was distressed, and did everything in my power to comfort him. Every opportunity to touch him, do his cares, or cuddle him was taken. While he never nursed, I expressed my breast milk which Hugo then guzzled with great gusto via his naso-gastric tube. We loved him, cuddled him, played with him, and proudly tracked every developmental milestone. We showed him off to anyone and everyone. Most people were unable to meet him, so we did via social media, instead.

All of these experiences have created the most precious memories.

But I still miss my pregnancy and everything a term pregnancy should have brought me. I should be watching my son grow up. I should be enjoying cuddles, enduring tantrums. I should be preparing for Hugo's first birthday. Watching my baby become a little boy.

Things that can never be.

Leigh Kendall blogs at Headspace Perspective. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.