About two years ago today, I was lying in an operating theatre, wondering if my new baby was going to be OK.
It was an emergency c-section at 35 weeks, following four grim weeks of incarceration in hospital with bleeding due to placenta praevia. I had been warned that the baby might have to be born early, and I had been told that by about 36 weeks the chances of the baby having to go to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) would be much reduced. So we were nearly there. But, to add to the fun, I had also been warned that there was a small chance that the c-section would result in a serious haemorrhage – which would mean an immediate hysterectomy for me.
So, as you can imagine, my thoughts as I lay there were not of the marvellous joy of giving birth.
But it was all over quickly. And there was Littleboy 2 – tiny, but perfectly formed, beside me and staring hard up at me with eyes I could already tell were going to be blue and stay blue. He seemed fine, and the relief was indescribable.
A couple of hours later, the fun started again. Just as we were sitting there phoning friends and relatives, the midwife decided that his breathing sounded a little odd. A neotnatal doctor was called, and wheeled my baby off to do some tests.
Ten minutes later The Doctor stormed back in. “Our luck’s just not in,” he said miserably. Littleboy 2 had a suspected chest infection and had been admitted to the NICU. He had been stripped of his nice little babygro, put in an incubator in his nappy (oh, the indignity) and wired up to lots of machines. Someone brought me a photo of him, but I couldn’t go and see him until the next day.
Littleboy 2 was prescribed strong antibiotics and was the next day downgraded to the ‘special care’ unit (and we never really got to the bottom of whether he really had a chest infection or not). There, although tiny, he looked enormous compared to most of his ward-fellows, who were so small that some of them could really have been mistaken for dolls. He lay there sweetly sleeping, wrapped in blankets, with his little thick shock of black hair sticking up. He reminded me of a baby hedgehog. (He was so cute that one of the NICU doctors, a 20 something girl, said that she hadn’t never felt broody before until she saw this one).
He was fed my expressed breastmilk through a tube; I spent my days trekking back and forth between the postnatal ward and the NICU with pumps and tubes and sterilising equipment. But it was difficult to begin breastfeeding him properly, not because he didn’t want to do it, but because he was so hard to wake up. Premature babies can be incredibly sleepy, and to wake him, we had to strip him of his clothes, tickle his feet and basically make him bloody furious enough to scream.
Because of this, Littleboy 2 lost more than 10% of his body weight, and after a week the NICU doctors were still reluctant to let him go home. By this point I had spent more than a month in the hospital and was beginning to feel like I’d never see the light of day again. (Luckily, because it was December, it was dark most of the time anyway).
But, we begged and pleaded, and I fed him like crazy, and eventually we were allowed to take him home. I was told sternly that I must feed him every three hours for at least 20 minutes, and warned that he would be weighed a few days later and if he hadn’t gained weight, it would be back to hospital for the poor mite.
Luckily, Littleboy 2 passed his test, and never had to return to the NICU. He went on to develop a voracious appetite (maybe due to the mammoth three hourly feeds?) and is now a bouncy, lively two year old chatting away (he said ‘spaghetti bolognese’ yesterday – how impressive is that?)
Although he still has those same determined blue eyes (he has a repertoire of serious stares and has been predicted to become a judge) and thick shock of (now blond) hair, it’s hard to believe he was ever that tiny thing in the incubator.
But I try not to lose sight of it; it reminds me just how wonderful it is that he’s here.