“Today you are going to meet your baby”. You are meant to hear this when you are right at the end of your pregnancy. You know the stage where you will do anything and everything to just get the kid out of you! Hearing those words is meant to bring you a sense of relief, excitement and anxiety all rolled into one; you’re a big hot mess anticipating the arrival of your littlest love. Then there are those other exceptions when you hear this news and it sends you into a tailspin of fear, guilt and panic because you are meeting your little one a fair bit earlier than expected and planned for. For me I heard these words twenty-nine weeks and one day into my pregnancy.
“‘Hearing those words is meant to bring you a sense of relief, excitement and anxiety all rolled into one; you’re a big hot mess anticipating the arrival of your littlest love.’”
It was a Saturday the 10th of September and I was two weeks into my stay at hospital after having another bleed (due to having complete placenta previa) that had landed me as a long-term resident in a Maternity Ward. The doctors started doing daily scans to assess the blood flow within the placenta and the blood flow to our baby; each night I had to fast for surgery to make sure I was ready to go under the knife any day. That Saturday started the same as every day before hand, I was woken at 6am to go for my scan and would either be told that I could eat breakfast (this meant I wouldn’t be having my baby that day) or to wait for the doctors (this meant I potentially would). As the nurse performed the routine scan she turned to me as asked ‘you haven’t eaten breakfast today yet have you?’ it was then I knew that today was the day. The doctors came and went confirming the news. I frantically called Nathan to tell him to get to the hospital now because we were going to be meeting our baby in the next couple of hours. A mix of adrenaline, excitement, relief, anticipation and fear came over me.
Our team of doctor’s had told me to take my time, have a shower and gather my thoughts and that the surgery would be scheduled for sometime in the afternoon; ten minutes later the midwives were banging on my door informing me that ‘they were here to transport me to surgery’. This couldn’t be happening; Nathan was nowhere near close to being at the hospital, I managed to convince them to let me have a shower (I may or may not have sobbed and begged them to let me). As I stood in the shower cradling my little bump trying to soak up the last minutes of my pregnancy; I could feel the tears begin to swell; looking at my reflection in the mirror opposite the shower I made a conscious effort to take in every bump, curve, stretch mark and movement of my soon to be gone bump, knowing this would be the last time I felt those little bumps, grinds and movements in my tummy.
After the shower I was promptly hooked up to a drip of Magnesium and off we went to theatre, husband-less and terrified. On the way there and upon arriving I was begging them and pleading with them to wait for Nathan; they kept reassuring me that they would just ‘bring him in’ when he got here. I frantically called Nathan over and over again, getting updates as to how far away he was. Thank-fully the doctor performing my surgery had an emergency he had to attend to at another hospital so I was taken to the birthing suite to wait.
“‘As I stood in the shower cradling my little bump trying to soak up the last minutes of my pregnancy; I could feel the tears begin to swell’”
The birthing suite was a blur of conversations with the doctors about our babies risks of disability, what would happen once the baby was born, the team explaining that as soon as he or she was born they would place our baby into a plastic bag to keep him or her warm and the very high possibility that I would hemorrhage and potentially lose my uterus, in this instance Nathan would have to leave the room whilst they try to stop the bleeding and/or remove my uterus and replace the blood I was loosing through the four IV’s I had in. They insisted on putting two more IV’s in me and once that was done they left us to gather our thoughts and prepare for the C-Section. Once they left the room it was so silent, we were left alone with all this new information, our thoughts and this reality that with every tick of the clock meeting our new reality was drawing closer. We called our parents and some of our close friends to let them know what was happening, trying to remain calm and re-assure everyone that everything was going to be fine, that we were fine and that the baby was fine. Looking back on this now I feel like we were making promises that we didn’t know we could keep; we didn’t know if the baby was going to be fine, we certainly were not fine, this whole situation was not ‘fine’ it shouldn’t have been happening but it was and there was nothing we could do to stop it. To distract ourselves we frantically tried to narrow down our list of names, middles names and everything in-between to come up with a short list to take in with us.
“‘I feel like we were making promises that we didn’t know we could keep; we didn’t know if the baby was going to be fine, we certainly were not fine’”
Two hours later I walking into the theatre; it was terrifying, the cold sterile floor made every inch of my body wanted to turn and run away, protect my baby and keep it safe inside of me because that was my job (to grow this baby and keep it safe) it wasn’t time yet. I knew and had prepared myself in the weeks prior that it was best for the baby to come out and that she would be able to get so much more on the outside than what I could give her inside. I don’t remember how I came to be sitting up onto the operating table with the anesthetist explaining to me the process of a spinal tap, they brought over this strange massage type of chair that I had to prop myself up and over so they could perform the procedure. I remember sobbing into the chair anticipating the pain from the spinal tap and realising my reality that this was about to happen. They lay me down onto the table as I rapidly felt myself losing the function of my legs, the doctors entered the room ready to ‘do their job’ a job that would change my families life forever, a task to them that was so ‘routine’ and just a part of their day to day schedule as a surgeon but to me was foreign, terrifying and opened up a world of ‘unknown’ for my little family.
I remember joking with Nathan, trying to make the circumstance we were finding ourselves in as stress free as possible; we were placing our final ‘bets’ on what we thought our baby would be; when the procedure had already began. Within minutes our baby was out, we heard the tiniest little cry come from the back corner of the theatre. I immediately called out asking ‘what is it?’ ‘Is the baby ok?’ the doctors working on our baby answered back with ‘Congratulations it a girl and she’s doing great’. Sobbing into Nathans shoulder I felt such a sense of relief that she was here and that she was ok. Nathan went over straight away and was wildly snapping away and getting some photos of our baby girl so that I could see her, the team of doctors working on Blair began to prepare to leave the room, Nathan went with her to the NICU, and I was left there to attempt to process what had just happened.
Sitting in recovery I was on such a high, the drugs were still well and truly in action, I felt this huge sense of relief that our baby was finally here and I was finally out of danger. The week’s prior had been the biggest mind fuck and emotional roller coaster; one day I was going home, the next I was staying, some days our doppler readings were great the next they were shit, my placenta was failing, then it wasn’t, the baby was fine, then she wasn’t. I knew all along that my life was at risk due to the type of Placenta Previa I had been diagnosed with. This terrified me, I was already a wife to a wonderful man and mummy to a beautiful little girl and I needed to be here for and to be ok for. I felt guilty that I felt relived for myself because I knew that even though my baby was doing well right now there was every chance that all that could change.
“‘She was a tiny 790g baby attached to endless machines; it was terrifying. The whole time I just kept thinking to myself she is not meant to be here yet’”
The first time I saw my baby was a photo on the screen of my phone; this in itself is unnatural. Five excruciating hours later I got to meet my baby for the first time. She was a tiny 790g baby attached to endless machines; it was terrifying. The whole time I just kept thinking to myself she is not meant to be here yet, this is not how babies are meant look when they come into this world, meet their mummy, daddy, siblings and family and it is certainly not how any mother wants to see their child; an immense wave of guilt appeared, a feeling to this day that I haven’t been able to shake. The next three days were a whirlwind of pumping, hand expressing, endone, doctors, one-hour cuddles with Blair and trips back and forth to the NICU dropping off milk and spending time with my littlest love. Staying on the maternity ward was torture; I was surrounded by the sounds of other mothers with their full-term babies, and saw their flowers, cards, presents and the constant stream of family and friends appearing to celebrate the arrival of their new baby. Our baby’s arrival never really got celebrated, no one rushed to my bedside to congratulate us, and there were no gifts, no friendly faces. Our parents and siblings did come to meet Blair while she was in the NICU and maybe five of our close friends. I’m still to this day am unsure as to why this was, I’ve always put it down to being one of those situations where people aren’t really sure how to be about it all, they don’t know what to say or how to handle the circumstances we found ourselves in. I couldn’t help but feel envious, wishing it were us; they were all blissfully celebrating whilst our baby’s arrival had been all about anxiety and fear.
The day for me going home came around before I knew it. Bags were packed, the midwives filled out all necessary paperwork and I was sent on my way without my baby girl; it all felt so robotic and so unnatural. The pain I felt that day is indescribable, my stomach was in knots, I could feel myself having small reoccurring anxiety attacks as I kept thinking this wasn’t how it was meant to be. I was meant to be driving home with both my girls in the car ready to start life as a family of four. But life had other plans, we would now have to adjust to a life that involved visiting our little baby daily in a hospital, juggling a two year old, running a business from home and life in general. Going home brought with it a whole new bag of emotions I didn’t at times feel prepared to deal with. Everyday was the same, we celebrated the milestones and good moments and those bad moments they capped me off at my knees leaving me feeling helpless and guilty that it was my job, my bodies job to keep her safe, help her grow and carry her to term. All I wanted was to have another baby, give my daughter a sibling and grow our family and it all somehow lead to us being thrown into this unfamiliar territory.
“‘Going home brought with it a whole new bag of emotions I didn’t at times feel prepared to deal with.’”
During this journey I found it extremely hard to see pregnant women and babies. Did I feel guilty that I felt this way? Absolutely! But my emotions at that point were so far beyond me. This was by far the hardest thing I had ever had to do. I know I had a baby; I’ve got the scars both physical and emotional to prove it. Do I feel like I had a baby? No I didn’t. I knew she was mine, I loved her, would do anything for her but I didn’t feel like she was my baby. I visited her every day, cuddled her, changed her dirty nappies, expressed milk for her, celebrated her achievements, figure out ways to get through the days where she didn’t quite meet a milestone, sang to her, read to her, kept a daily diary for her. I did all of the things a ‘mum’ would do for their child, but I still didn’t feel like she was mine. I felt robbed of my pregnancy; I so enjoyed being pregnant with Willow. You hang out for that twelve week mark when you get to see the little jelly bean fluttering away in your tummy, the doctor gives you the all clear, you celebrate and share your news with your loved ones and get on with life whilst growing a beautiful little human inside of you. I had approximately seven weeks of a ‘normal’ pregnancy where I didn’t worry, didn’t feel sick everyday and didn’t feel like a ticking time bomb. From the nineteen week mark when I was diagnosed with placenta previa I lived in fear, I felt trapped in my own body, I was terrified to be on my own, terrified that my babies and/or my life was in danger. I never got to have the baby lunch with my girlfriends and family, I didn’t get to set up my nursery, we didn’t get maternity pictures, I didn’t get to enjoy my pregnancy. There was nothing about this pregnancy that was normal and all I remember thinking the whole time was that this is not what I signed up for.
“‘I did all of the things a ‘mum’ would do for their child, but I still didn’t feel like she was mine. I felt robbed of my pregnancy; I so enjoyed being pregnant with Willow.’”
There were moments when I was holding her in the NICU; I would zone out and forget my surroundings, I didn’t hear the beeping of the machines, the cries of the babies, the nurses chatting; all of the busy-ness of the NICU just seemed to fade away. I’d close my eyes and in that moment I forget where I was and felt like I was at home, sitting in her room with my little girl on my chest; she is was peaceful and content. Then I would look down and see the little CPAP mask helping her to breathe and I was left feeling helpless and guilty. Having my baby in the NICU I always felt like my heart was in two places at once; when I was at the hospital it was impossible to leave and when I was home it is impossible to leave my other baby and husband. It was a constant struggle between trying to find a balance of time spent with Blair and time spent at home with Willow and Nathan. I always had to remind myself that this was all temporary and that it would all one day be a distant memory.
Blair was such a superstar, she jumped through every hoop that was placed in-
front of her, climbed every obstacle with ease and before we knew it we were being transferred to Frankston Hospital which meant home time was near. The day the ‘h’ word was uttered felt like a dream, I had left the hospital so many times without my baby that it didn’t seem real and I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. I felt so unprepared to take this tiny human home even though I had done it all before. I didn’t know if I was capable of caring for her and I was and still am so terrified to my core of anything that may land us back in hospital because I don’t know if I could do it again. The days of being buzzed into see my baby and calling to see how she was were over, she was home and life went on, we got back to some sense of normalcy and finally were able to adjust to being a real family of four.
“‘I felt so unprepared to take this tiny human home even though I had done it all before. I didn’t know if I was capable of caring for her’”
When I talk to people about our journey they use words like strong, amazing and inspirational; all of these things I am not. I am just a Mum. I don’t know how I did it, how I got through each day, how I got through the darkest of days when I couldn’t even fathom leaving my bedroom. The smell of the NICU will never leave me, the ring of a phone still makes my heart jump out of my chest, the smell of the hand sanitiser makes me sick and I can guarantee you that I know more acronyms and medical terms than I ever should have known. Amongst all of these emotions and feelings there is a silver lining in that I have found in myself a strength that I didn’t think I was capable of having. I’ve learnt so much about myself as a person, friend, wife and mother over the time we spent in the NICU; before I had Blair I didn’t feel strong, but now I know that I am, I didn’t think I would make it through but I did. I am just a Mum, just like any other Mum that would do anything for her children and anyone in my position would have done the same thing and just ‘get on with it and get it done’.
The nurses, doctors and friendships we made in the NICU are something that I will cherish forever, you really do feel alone in all of it but you are not. There are Mothers, Fathers and families in the NICU that are going through the same things that we were; I still speak to the families and nurses we meet in the NICU and cherish the bonds that we have. I learnt a lot about the people I had around me outside of the hospital too, we really learnt who would be there for us through thick and thin. Three days after I was admitted into hospital we were due to move house (shit timing I know!) and our friends and family moved mountains to make this happen, our friends and family dropped of meals, looked after Willow, cleaned our house, ran my business for me when I couldn’t and then there were those that simply fell off the face of the earth and thought that sending you a text message once in a blue moon was enough. It wasn’t.
“‘I will never be the same person again, some people may think that it is something that you can just ‘get over’ but it’s not that easy.’”
I will never be the same person again, some people may think that it is something that you can just ‘get over’ but it’s not that easy. It is still to this day hard to believe our NICU journey is over, there may be families right now just beginning their journey, they may be in the middle of their journey or they may be towards the end of their journey. If you know someone that is experiencing this please celebrate their baby’s arrival as though you would have under normal circumstances, please visit them and their baby, celebrate their baby’s milestones not matter how small or insignificant they may seem to you, really be there for them, turn up on their doorstep even when they say they don’t need any help, don’t text or call them once in a blue moon, call and text them everyday (even if they don’t answer or reply), cook food for them, clean their house, do their washing, look after their other babies (should they have any), don’t be scared to say or do the wrong thing because trust me we don’t even know what we are doing in the thick of it all; we are taking it every minute and every day at a time. Really be there. If you are going through this journey and you feel alone reach out to someone, you may feel like in the moment that no body understands what you are going through but there will be someone out there that does. I am now a part of a club that I never knew existed or ever wanted to join and will be bound forever to those who have shared the same experience as me my family.