How do you even begin to tell people what it is like to be a preemie dad?
Our due date was Friday 8 June 2017 but we have already been holding our baby girl for eight weeks.
Rebekah and I went for one of our routine scans on 30 March but little did we know this was the day everything would change. Rebekah was diagnosed with preeclampsia and was admitted to Aberdeen Hospital.
At this stage, Rebekah was 29 weeks pregnant. She was kept in hospital for just over two weeks and unfortunately I was not allowed to stay in hospital with her. I ended up sleeping on chairs in the waiting room, lived on lots of takeaways and spent lots of money because our home wasn't near the hospital.
It was a fortnight of test after test until things took a turn for the worst – or possibly for the best depending how you look at it.
Rebekah called me on 15 April to tell me that our wee bump had skipped a few heartbeats during the night. When I arrived at the hospital, we got rushed down for a baby scan. Rebekah’s fluids has reduced and our baby had very little room left for movement but we were told to relax until dinner time. At 6.00pm we went down for our second scan of the day. We were escorted out of the Scanning Department and our doctor held the labour ward door open for us. I had predicted that morning our baby wasn't far away - I was right.
Rebekah was told to fast for five hours to prepare for an emergency c-section. The fear and unknown hit us both - I had to play the boyfriend and daddy role. I tried to stay calm and tried my best to relax Rebekah. She wasn't impressed when the nurse gave me some crackers and a nice coffee. I was also secretly looking forward to taking a selfie in my blue scrubs.
The hours passed and at 11.00pm we went into theatre. I looked Rebekah in the eye every moment of the procedure. I was trying to be her rock but it was really terrifying to see her in pain and go through such a dangerous procedure. Little did she know she was also being my rock and keeping me calm.
Just before midnight we heard this little cry coming from behind the screen. I was so relieved because we had been told to expect no crying. Our daughter, Aurora Kate Morrice, was born at 32+2 weeks weighing 2lb 13oz.
While mummy lay on the operating table, I watched our beautiful daughter get carried away by a wonderful team of people. They shouted over, “Two minutes, they have two minutes.” I ran over for a quick look of tiny Aurora and mummy got a little look before she was rapidly whisked away to NICU. Our journey was about to take another twist.
I went to visit Aurora alone that night around 4.00am. As you can imagine, Rebekah was in lots of pain and needing her rest. I have to be honest, I have no idea how I acted or what I said to those nurses at 4.00am but to see our little miracle was indescribable.
Aurora had to stay in the NICU because she needed help with breathing and was placed on Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) and antibiotics. It was scary thinking about how the nurses managed to get the drips and needles into someone so small and delicate.
The next morning, after having some visitors, I took Rebekah down in a wheelchair to meet our beautiful daughter. It was very intense. We couldn’t wear long sleeved clothes or watches and had to wash our hands at every door. Washing our hands 20 times a day became a way of life.
Walking into a room full of babies in incubators covered in wires and masks was very scary but we knew it was keeping our daughter’s health and life on the correct path.
The days passed quite quickly in NICU and Rebekah was kept in a separate ward due to her high blood pressure. Leaving them both every night in pain and uncertainty was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do but Rebekah achieved so much in such a short amount of time. She began expressing milk for Aurora just days after the c-section. It was proof that both my girls are fighters.
On 17 April, only two days after being delivered, we were granted permission for a cuddle and some skin-to-skin. Only Rebekah was allowed to hold Aurora though because she was so little. I didn’t get a cuddle that day. Was I jealous? Of course I was. However, Rebekah deserved it after what she had been through.
Aurora began to gain weight, was taken off her CPAP and went from strength to strength in Neonatal. We were told to expect Aurora to be in Neonatal care for eight weeks. The nurses kept saying, “Aim for term, she is tiny.”
Much to our delight, Aurora had smooth journey to full health and only spent four weeks in the ward.
On 10 May, the doctors told us that the team caring for Aurora were comfortable and happy to let us go home. Rebekah and I decided to take up the parentcraft option and stayed with Aurora in our own private room for two nights to make sure we would be able to cope on our own. I had never even changed a nappy before and I needed the practice.
We were only home with Aurora five hours before we realised there was a problem with her breathing and we ended up back in accident and emergency.
Some days felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. But when we finally left the hospital for the last time with Aurora, I knew I had been wrong. We’d made it through the tunnel together.
I worked full time during Aurora’s NICU stay. It was quite stressful knowing they were in the hospital and that I wasn’t there, even though I couldn’t do much to help. Concentrating on work was a welcome distraction some days but my heart would skip a beat when I saw Rebekah’s name flash up on my phone screen. You would have no clue what to expect from each call.
It was an 18 mile journey between my home and the hospital. Not a massive distance in the grand scheme of things but when you are doing the drive every day for two months it can be tiring and draining.
I think the best advice I can give to dads in the same situation is to always take one day at a time. We generally had a positive time going through Neonatal and made the best of a bad situation, but I always braced myself for a “bad day". If there was one of those days for every four or five good days, who was I to complain? I tried to remember the fact Rebekah had sleepless nights, breast fed and was stuck in a ward herself most of the time. In comparison, my routine was fairly normal.
Some fathers sometimes feel helpless - I think I did sometimes - but as long as you can support your other half with even the smallest things like pouring glasses of water, getting something from the shop, charging their phone or doing the washing at home, it all counts. It didn't seem like it was helping our relationship at the time but I can see now it has made us stronger and will continue to.
The experience totally changed me as a person. Saying thank you will never be enough for what the neonatal team did and achieved for our daughter Aurora.
We now have Aurora home and weighing in at just short of 5lbs. Rebekah is still breastfeeding. I couldn't be more proud of both of them.
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