My last child was born too soon. Things never could go easy it seems.
When your new baby is delivered, you anticipate it being the best day of your life. For me, that event on a cold, December day and was one of the worst days of my life.
My youngest son was born after I went into early labor. I had already been in hospital since week 24 with a placenta previa and inexplicable early contractions. To say I was scared is an understatement. He was going to be born way too soon.
Recently an acquaintance and now friend of mine had her baby delivered six weeks early and was terrified of what she was going through. I told her my story and she found such comfort in hearing the emotional similarities. Though everyone’s singular situation is different, I believe we all take solace in knowing the commonality of the emotional pain, trauma, and uncertainty that we’ve endured.
Way to soon
I was filled with emotions finding that my son was about to be delivered almost three months early.
When I first arrived at the hospital at 24 weeks with heaving bleeding I was being prepared for the birth right there, right then. I’d never heard of such a thing. I couldn’t imagine a newborn baby could survive outside the womb four months before he was scheduled to be born, but I soon learned today’s neonatal medicine is amazing. An army of specially skilled doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists and surgeons, saved my son’s life. But not on that day yet.
I did not give birth at the 24th week when first arriving. No, I was kept in hospital, on bed rest for 7 weeks, given a dose of magnesium and a steroid shot to help the baby’s brain and lungs develop. Eventually, the contractions stopped as did the bleeding and I was sent home for further bed rest…
However, 6 days later I was sitting in the front seat of my in-law’s car with the window down in mid-December because my mother-in-law was chain-smoking. I couldn’t blame her.
I left the hospital almost a week before with the warning to come back in ASAP if I began bleeding, or we both could die. And yes, I started to bleed again.
My worried (ex)husband was still at work across the border in the Netherlands, wondering if he should come to the hospital. The hospital was eerily quiet as I waited nervously for the diagnosis. I was told I would get another a dose of magnesium and a steroid shot to help the baby’s brain and lungs develop and that they needed to do an emergency c-section.
Overwhelmed, I was terrified of what was about to happen.
My husband arrived, worried something was wrong with so much commotion. I was brought to the operation room and my husband needed to wait in the waiting room while they would prep me as they promised to get him once I was ready.
I remember sitting at the edge of the operating table, waiting for the doctor to give me an epidural. The whole time I was praying and feeling incredibly guilty that my body was not able to care for my baby anymore.
That it could not keep the baby safe and that my baby now had to be brought into this world…way too early. I could not protect him anymore. I had failed.
The first epidural did not work for some reason, at least not as quickly as was needed. They gave me a second one, trying to convince me that the pain I was feeling was not real. When the first incision went into my belly, the pain was indescribable. I screamed and my heart and blood pressure went off the chart and so they had to put me fully under. The anesthesiologist grabbed my throat, told me that they needed to do this and that everything will be ok, she put the oxygen mask on and out I went.
The next thing I remember was waking up from a dark fog, just realizing what had happened and I started asking, no yelling, begging for my baby.
Again, I feel this dark fog coming back upon me.
I hear the nurse or was it a doctor, calling for help because there was blood everywhere, I pass out again.
I come by once more, again calling for my child and I hear them asking for my husband.
That he might be able to calm me down.
He came. I don’t remember what he said first, but when I asked if our son was alright, he answered that he didn’t know. That he was still waiting for the nurse to come and get him when they wheeled out a baby in an incubator and that he knew that it was our son.
They rushed our son off to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), he wasn’t breathing.
I faintly recall a conversation with one of many doctors during the weeks leading up to my son’s birth, about the survival rates and complications likely with a baby being born this early.
To prepare us they even showed us books on how babies looked like at each week. They even gave us a tour of the NICU. We were well prepared, but you never truly can be.
As I lay in a hospital bed in the recovery unit, praying for my son. I negotiated with God. Don’t we all do that in dire circumstances?
“God, if you do this for me, I PROMISE I won’t let you down, I will dedicate my life and his to You Lord”
I just wanted this baby to be OK.
They told us that he weighed 2140kg and that he was 47 cm long, he was big for a 31-week-old baby.
I had no idea what this meant. Would he survive then? Could he even breathe? Could I see him? Hold him?
That evening they brought us to the NICU to meet our little man. My Lord was he ever so gorgeous. He didn’t look like the pictures we had seen of preemies. Yes, his tiny, fragile body was poked and prodded with tubes, he could not breathe and was wearing a c-pap so we could not fully see his face.
But gosh, he was beautiful. His body had a rosy red color to it, plump and he still had fuzz all over. We couldn’t see his hair color yet, as he was wearing a bonnet to keep all the cords in place.
Life in the hospital
I stayed in the hospital for 8 days, and even though I was not supposed to walk around yet, I was walking up to the NICU a few times per day, staying for hours.
Starring at this wonderful child. But he was struggling. He still could not breathe on his own, could not eat of course and he had a condition that we didn’t know about until after he left the hospital. Baby apnea, making him suddenly for no reason stop breathing. Something common amongst preemies.
Even though he looked stable, the first 48 hours were crucial and it’s horrible, that feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen. His alarms went off, a lot. They had to nudge him and poke him, a lot.
I spent hours, days crying. I thought I’d run out of tears, but I didn’t.
After my youngest son’s birth, we spent 65 days living in the hospital fighting for life.
I say WE because I (we) was with my son every step of the way as were our family and friends, caring for our other children at home, bringing diners, praying for us and for loving us even though I did not feel lovable at that point.
And today — as he’s on the verge of turning 6 years old when I am writing this.
Even today when I talk about how life started for my 6-year-old son, many times I cry. It’s real trauma that I didn’t recognize as post-traumatic stress. I discovered this recently after having started therapy this past year…
The trauma didn’t end when our son left the hospital.
We still had spent many days in and out of the hospital due to his being a preemie. Hospitals almost felt like a second home for the first few years. I was terrified each time that I would lose him. Even if we were there for a simple check-up.
It must have been a week after he arrived home that my eldest son noticed that his baby brother wasn’t breathing in his cot.
We rushed him to the ER and he stayed again with an infection, but we also had to do a sleep test and we found out that he had baby apnea (meaning that he would just stop breathing) and we got to take home a monitor that our son needed to wear all of the time.
It gave a false sense of security and every time that it went off my heart raced and I would rub his little tummy asking him to breathe.
But today he is 6 years old and the last time we spent a night in the hospital has been 3 years ago.
When you see him now, you would never even think that he had such a hard time starting life. He was born big, and he still is a very tall boy, towering over other children his age.
He does very well in school even though he needed to redo this past year of kindergarten due to some delays in his developmental milestones.
But now he is eager to read and write, and his favorite things are the arts (crafting and performing) and building towers and houses for his action figures and stuffed animals. His lego building skills continue to impress me.
He loves playing with our two Dachshunds and cat and just loves all animals. It’s a love that he and his big sister share and he even recently got to sit on her horse for the first time.
When picking him up from school he runs into my arms and covers me with kisses, wherever we are he will cuddle up to me and give me kisses and I hope that he agrees with me that when he is older that you can still be cool and love your parents. 😁
Sometimes he sleeps in his bed, but he still mostly snuggles up to me in mine. Then I think of the first days of his life when we couldn’t snuggle. So, I will take all the snuggling that I can get.
He is kind, creative, loving and mischievous as all children are.
I look forward to this coming year, the year of six, and I can’t wait to see the things that he will learn to do.
And I am looking forward to watching him grow up and one day seeing the man that he will become. My heart is so full.
My son, my miracle. Our blessing. Happy 6th Birthday dear Baba.
BTW, I highly recommend this book, “Hold your prem” written by Jill Bergman that was given to me by a friend.
It helped me to prepare for the early birth and gave me tools on how to bond with my child despite the traumatic first moments of an early birth.
I always recommend it and gift it to parents who could benefit from it.