Lisa told us about the emotional rollercoaster and isolation she experienced when her daughter April was born at 30 weeks, and they initially thought her first Christmas would be spent in hospital as she was too small to come home:
13 weeks on and when I look back at the crazy, life changing, emotional, rollercoaster of a ride of having a premature baby, it makes me feel numb. Nothing can compare to the feeling of finding out that your baby is going to come early. Everything spins out of control and your life is put into somebody else’s hands.
Unlike having a healthy full term pregnancy, where you can plan for your baby's arrival, there is nothing that can prepare you for being whisked off to hospital in an ambulance, of being taken into critical care with a team of doctors fighting to save your life as well as your baby's life, or for reaching through the tiny doors of an incubator and touching your baby's delicate skin for the first time.
No one tells you about the post caesarean section pain of not being able to get out of bed and feeling like your intestines are about to end up on the floor, or that just hours after delivery a nice midwife will offer to help you express and starts massaging your breasts - leaving you in shock and the sense that your husband should be doing such a thing, not a stranger! No one tells you.
The emotions, feelings and experiences of being a NICU Mammy are unlike anything you have experienced before. It’s a hidden world you didn't know existed until you’re thrown into it. A world where you wash your hands fifty times a day, cry at the drop of a hat in front of strangers and live each day on tenterhooks.
One thing that kept me and my husband going through those dark days was reading the good news stories of other babies that had been posted on the walls of the unit, or by talking to other parents who were going through the same thing.
Our beautiful April Eleanor Rose; my delicate little flower was born at 30 weeks, on 24 October 2015, weighing just 2lb 5oz.
My pregnancy had a few ups and downs - the usual morning sickness, running to and from the toilet all day, tiredness and a pregnancy-induced high blood pressure. However as I turned 28 weeks my blood pressure escalated and it soon became apparent I had all the symptoms of pre-eclampsia. My hands, feet and face started swelling up, I developed severe headaches, I had protein in my urine and the platelets in my blood were low. The doctors were trying to get me to 34 weeks, when it was safer for baby to be delivered, but my condition got worse.
I spent the next two weeks in three different hospitals as my condition became harder to control and I became more poorly. I was terrified. The cocktail of medicines that I was taking were becoming less effective and the only option left was for me to deliver.
It felt so real at that point, as I was transferred to another hospital; it was time for my emergency caesarean. I held on to my husband's hand so tightly and he stroked my hair as I lay in theatre not knowing what was to come. When we heard "it's a girl" we both began to cry, and even more so when we heard a little cry from our baby. We really weren't expecting to hear anything, so we were overjoyed to hear life in her little soul. April was briefly shown to us and whisked away to NICU.
Lying in recovery I felt numb. I didn't feel like I'd just had one of the happiest moments of my life. I felt like I'd just had a horrendous operation. The rest of the day was a blur. The midwives were going to take me to NICU, but I was exhausted and it sounds terrible, but I didn't really want to. I was living in a nightmare and I just wanted to be alone. I was so emotional and didn't know how I was meant to be feeling - surely I was meant to feel happier - I had a baby!
The next day the horrendous pain hit me - I couldn't lift myself up, couldn't get out of bed and I felt useless. However, I was ready to meet my baby and I was wheeled down to NICU in my hospital bed. I felt really anxious. The whole experience was unlike anything I'd known before, these emotions were unlike anything I'd ever felt before and I just didn't know how to feel.
When I was wheeled into NICU I could feel that all eyes were on me. I guess I was expecting to feel this overwhelming rush of love - that's how you're meant to feel when you give birth, right? I just looked through the plastic incubator and cried. It didn't feel like she was mine; she was so tiny and small, like a newborn kitten. I put my hand through the little doors and she grabbed my finger; it was as if she knew her Mammy was there. I was still really groggy and wasn't sure what was expected of me - it's not like I could pick her up and cuddle her. The situation still didn't feel real and I felt completely overwhelmed.
The first time I held April, when she was two days old, was the most precious moment of my life. She was so tiny and fragile; my miracle baby. Every time I held her close to my chest it was like therapy. It’s what kept me going through the time we were in NICU, and every time I had to leave her to go back to the ward was so hard. Although what we had been through had been terrible, it had not severed that special bond that we shared for six months.
Every day was a struggle. I was so emotional and we were two hours away from home, so felt very isolated without loved ones around us. I became very insular and didn't want to see people or speak to anyone else apart from my husband or my parents. I couldn't deal with all the questions.
After two weeks we got the amazing news that April was well enough to be transferred closer to home. NICU was a sterile and clinical place, with lots of monitors; I'd describe it as a science lab, whereas SCBU was nurse led; a more relaxed and quieter environment like a baby's nursery. It was just so different.
Six more long weeks passed. We had been told that we could expect to bring April home by her due date, which was 29 December, so we faced Christmas in hospital. I tried to remain positive, but it felt like Groundhog Day. Whether it was a Tuesday or a Sunday, I carried out the same ritual while I sat by my baby girl's cot each day.
April's progress throughout this whole experience has astounded us. Going from a tiny bag of skin and bones whose life was in the balance to a tiny, perfectly formed baby who has passed all her tests, learnt to feed by herself, breathe by herself and develop a little personality has been amazing. Despite the situation we were in, we always tried to remain positive, tell each other bad jokes and remember that our baby girl (and me) were still alive! I felt privileged that we had witnessed April develop outside the womb. Something that not many parents can say. We saw the most natural and amazing thing of watching a human being grow and develop in front of our eyes.
On 12 December we brought April home. It was not until I walked through the front door of our house that everything hit me. It was like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. My baby girl was finally home, weeks earlier than we expected. Life could now begin and I could start being a proper Mammy.
When a newborn baby arrives into a family it turns your world upside down. April's arrival into the world has certainly done this, yet given us new perspective on life, made us appreciate each other more and made us thankful for all the small things in life, as it was all nearly taken away from us. We are truly thankful for our precious little miracle.
You can read more about April and Lisa here: https://apriljacksonsjourney.wordpress.com/
Fortunately Lisa was able to spend Christmas at home with April, but that’s not the case for all families of premature and sick babies.
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