42,000. That’s the annual number of premature and sick newborn babies who need to be looked after in either a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Special Care Nursery (SCN), throughout Australia. Within this vast figure, 2 of these babies were mine.
Last week, I went to the Miracle Babies NurtureGroup Christmas get-together. Catching up with other mothers of premature babies and seeing how much their munchkins have grown, I was compelled to write about those early days. We have indeed come a long way.
I won’t lie. This post is a particularly hard one to write. It’s an exercise of re-tracing a journey that was full of anxiety, uncertainty and yet a LOT of hope.
Little N and Little K were born 5 weeks premature. At around 33 weeks, it was discovered that Little N had stopped growing (ie my placenta was just about going kaput) and due to the growth discrepancy between the twins, delivery was brought forward to 35 weeks.
Aware of our deep concern of what was to lie ahead, our obstetrician introduced us to one of the leading paediatricians at the NICU prior to the scheduled delivery date. To try and help ease our minds, he took us on a tour of the unit.
There we stepped into a completely different world: Tiny babies in humidicribs, some connected to life support systems . Tubes attached to small bodies, surrounded by midwives and doctors busily checking and monitoring each little patient. There are the anxious parents vigilantly standing by.
It was then that I thought about how we live in a society where we naturally believe that bigger is better. Cars, houses, bank accounts…and I realised that this mentality also applies to newborn babies.
Our chests swell up with pride when a “bouncing baby boy” is born well over the “average” birth weight. Yet, we tend to shy ourselves away or left without words when, for instance, a friend, an acquaintance, or a relative announces that their little one has arrived 10 weeks early and weighing in at a fragile 820 gms.
At the last ultrasound, it was predicted that Little N’s birth weight would be around 1.6 kgs. (A pip squeek !) During the tour of the NICU, I specifically asked the paediatrician to show me a baby of a similar weight. When he did, things started to shape into perspective for me.
I was one of the more fortunate mothers. I had time to mentally prepare myself . There are some parents who don’t have that luxury. Sometimes, Mother Nature takes its own course and without warning new parents are faced with their premature newborn suddenly having to learn a basic human instinct – how to survive.
So, on the 28th of January, 2010 at 10:33am, Little N was born at 1.8 kgs (a whopping 200 gms heavier than his predicted birth weight). 2 minutes later, Little K, our little “Fatty Boom-Bah” arrived at 2.5 kgs.
Unlike mothers of full term babies, after I was discharged from the maternity ward, I went home, leaving our precious boys at the NICU. I really can’t express in words how emotionally wrecked I was that day. No new mother should ever have to leave a hospital without their babies. It’s a heart-wrenching experience.
Our boys were in NICU for 16 tough and extremely long days. Some days there was progress. On others, we would be at a standstill. We just stayed focused, kept sticking to the routine and taking the advice from our paediatrcian and midwives as sacred.
Almost 11 months later, we are – thankfully – well and truly out of the danger zone. Sure, the boys are still soldiering their way up the percentile graph. But as a mum of premmie pumpkins, I decided to ignore whatever the books and all the “laws of baby averages” were dictating as far as what my children’s development should be. Bugger it.
Instead, I take the time to pause and remind myself of Little N and K’s milestones – the early interaction, breast feeding, cooing, eating solids, crawling and more recently, their absolute delight in discovering each other’s existence.
While the twins are happily playing or crawling around and chasing each other, I look at them in awe and think, “Do you realise how far you two have come ?”
Despite their shaky start in life, I’m just grateful that my beautiful boys are healthy, happy and thriving.