My pregnancy wasn’t an easy one and I had multiple complications along the way. At 33+3 weeks, I was lying in bed when I felt the pop of my waters. I had gone into spontaneous premature labour.
We went straight into hospital where I was put on bed rest and given steroids for the baby’s lungs. I didn’t feel scared or nervous – instead a feeling that we were going to be alright came over me.
In the early hours of the following morning, about six or seven medical staff in blue uniforms gathered round me and my precious preemie, a baby boy we called Ruairí, came into the world weighing 4lb 14oz.
I only caught a glimpse of him in the midwife’s arms before he was placed in an incubator and whisked away from me.
I was stunned: I didn’t get my baby handed to me and put on my chest the way every mother expects. That precious moment you see on all the television shows and your friends tell you about was taken away from me.
I didn’t see Ruairí again until that afternoon. I was quite unwell after the birth so even when I did see him it was all a blur. I couldn’t understand why my baby was behind glass or why this had happened to us.
Ruairí was placed on a continuous positive airway pressure ventilator (CPAP) and antibiotics. He was tiny and lying on his tummy with a mask on his face. I felt like the mask stopped me knowing what my son really looked like.
After 18 hours, I was allowed to hold Ruairí for the first time. It was amazing but also very strange. I didn’t want to give him back to the nurses or leave him alone in an incubator.
Expressing milk felt like the only thing I could do for Ruairí at this point. He spent three days in intensive care. The staff were fantastic but this didn’t stop the ache I felt every time I left him with them.
After I was discharged, I felt heartbroken to go home alone. I didn’t get to put my baby in the car seat next to me and go home to start life as a family the way everyone else gets to. My husband and I cried all night about the memories we’d missed out on. We were devastated.
After intensive care, Ruairí was moved to special care and things started to feel a bit easier. My husband and I were able to get more involved in our baby’s care and were able to cuddle him when we wanted. We spent 12 hours a day by his side – I have never been so exhausted and broken in my life. I just wanted my baby to come home.
I was given a Cuski miniboo comforter which I could wear and then leave with my baby when I went home at night so that he could smell me and feel like I was close by. That gave me so much comfort myself. The nurses also gave me a diary so I could write down everything that happened on Ruairí’s journey and it was a great way to release my feelings.
I’ll never forget the day Ruairí was transferred from an incubator to a hot cot. The barrier that separated us had been lifted and we were a step closer to going home.
The first time I saw him in a baby grow I sobbed my heart out. Apart from the nasogastric (NG) tube on his face, he looked like any other baby.
After 14 long days in special care, Ruairí was moved into transitional care and all that was left to do now was to teach him to feed. We had to get Ruairí feeding from the bottle for every feed over a 24 hour period before his NG tube could be removed. We were desperate to get him home so any minor setback was devastating. Some days he was just too exhausted to feed so we had to use his NG tube and it was always so upsetting.
The days were long, tiring and incredibly difficult but the fact that my husband and I had been given a room to stay in with Ruairí made all the difference. We no longer had to experience the gut wrenching moment of leaving him each night.
Finally, after five days in transitional care and a total of 19 days in hospital, we were told we could go home. I couldn’t believe it. It was the best day of my life. That moment of walking out of the hospital doors with our baby in the car seat was truly magical.
I still think about our neonatal experience every single day. Feeding my baby through a tube; leaving him at nights; the beeping sound of the machines; the screens on the monitors; the first day I saw my baby in a vest; the feeling that time had stood still and that nobody understood what we were going through; the guilt that I couldn’t carry my baby to term; asking ‘why us?’, and just longing to get home... it will never leave me.
We were lucky. The staff and our care were fantastic. Compared with other parents, 19 days isn’t really that long and our baby didn’t have very many complications.
Ruairí is now 10-months-old and thriving. We are all perfectly happy now and although our stay on the neonatal unit wasn’t easy, we got there in the end.
If you are going through the experience right now, my advice for you this: keep a diary, get a comforter, trust the staff, handle your baby as much as you possibly can and ride out the storm. I promise you – it won’t last forever.
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