When you have a baby, you expect long days, restless nights, tears and ups and downs. You probably don’t expect an extended hospital stay, machines, wires, nurses, doctors and uncertainty for the future. But that’s what happens. And sometimes it happens twice.
Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while will know I became critically unwell after having my first baby Alexandra in August 2015. Things were touch and go for a time. We were just beginning to start healing from that awful, awful experience when we learned we were due to become parents again. Many appointments, injections and scans followed before our son Max was born five weeks early on Sunday, March 26th 2017.
It would be untruthful to say we had been relaxed during the pregnancy. We’d put on a positive front but there had been moments behind closed doors where either or both of us had crumbled under the weight of the anxieties and unknowns of the pregnancy. While I was medicated and my illness was diagnosed this time, doctors couldn’t guarantee the CAPS wouldn’t return. They couldn’t guarantee they could deliver a healthy baby.
Most of the time I kept my spirits up. Sometimes I looked at Alexandra and wondered if I’d see her grow up (this all sounds so dramatic reading it back but it’s true). Sometimes I looked at Dylan and wondered if we had gambled too much this time and whether I’d be leaving him to raise our children alone – if our son even made it into the world safely.
So when the most gorgeous 4lb 13 little boy was placed on my chest at 11.57am on March 26 and I held him there for 15 minutes or so, it felt like finally this was our moment of luck. This little boy had been sent along to complete the tiny hole in my heart that I thought would never be filled when a second baby looked unlikely.
We had always felt lucky to have one healthy baby together. It’s hard to comprehend just how much Alex battled against the odds to be born at term with no complications aside from borderline jaundice. But to have two children. My heart was full.
So what happened next seemed especially cruel after having those moments after birth.
Day 0 –
Max was taken upstairs to the transitional care ward to have all his checks done by a paediatrician. The plan was that I’d follow him up there after six hours – I had to stay on the labour ward until then to be monitored. Dylan went with Max and our midwife Antoinette (who was beyond amazing! I want to talk in a separate post about the differences between my two births and how fantastic our midwife this time was) helped me get a wash and some food down me.
By the time I was ready to go, we were told Max had started grunting – a sign of illness in prem babies – and had been taken down to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to be monitored. I was wheeled down there and got to have quick cuddles with him. At this point he was on oxygen being given through his nose and also had a feeding tube. It was worrying but we were hopeful it was something short term.
Day 1 –
X-rays showed Max had congenital pneumonia, meaning a chest infection which starts either before birth or shortly after. He was moved over from the high dependency to the intensive care side of the unit. I popped out to the cafe in the evening with my parents and by the time I came back it was obvious he was really struggling.
It was like he was trying to scream at us. The doctors agreed he’d deteriorated and decided to ventilate him, which means putting a tube down his throat which gives oxygen and pressure to help with breathing. I’d been ventilated during my illness and had an awful experience with the sedation drugs given while I was on life support – so the thought of my tiny baby going through the same process (even though they only give them a small amount of meds while the tube’s going in and they’re not kept sedated) was awful. I can’t even describe the pain of going back to my room on the postnatal ward and listening to other people’s healthy babies crying while mine was having a tube put down his throat to keep him alive.
Why? Why us? Did someone not think we deserved a break this time!
When we went back downstairs to see him after the ventilator was in place, it was instantly obvious it was the right decision. It was like looking at a completely different baby – calm and not struggling anymore.
To be continued…
Harriet, Alexandra and Max x