I debated whether to write this blog as Max was only a little bit premature and it feels a bit like telling people you’re a trained mathematician just because you passed your maths GCSE. But the fact is he was born before ‘term’ and we did see inside the walls of an NICU unit, thankfully only for a short time. So it’s World Prematurity Day and I wanted to mark the occasion by sharing our journey – although I have talked about it in various different blog posts since Max was born this March.
When I was pregnant, we were warned repeatedly about the potential need to deliver baby well before he was ready to arrive. The goal was always 37 weeks which is classed as term, and we had an induction date set months before (April 8 was the date we were aiming for). At times during the pregnancy, reaching viability at 24 weeks seemed like an impossible task – but as it was we reached 32 before there was any sign of trouble. I was admitted for ten days and prepped for a potential induction with two steroid injections to help strength baby’s lungs.
At 34 weeks, we went for yet another growth scan which revealed baby had stopped growing and there were concerns over the blood flow from the placenta. I knew as soon as the sonographer said she needed to talk to the consultant that there was a problem and I’d probably be induced that night.
Two days later on March 26, I held my baby in my arms for the first time. We’d had no idea before birth whether he would be poorly, require oxygen or be absolutely fine. He came out breathing on his own and spent a happy 15 minutes lay on my chest before being taken up to transitional care by the team as I needed to spend six hours on the labour ward being monitored before they were happy to move me. By the time those hours were over, he had been transferred to the NICU with breathing difficulties.
The next few days were a whirlwind of antibiotics, different theories on what was actually wrong with him, tubes, wires, jaundice masks, doctors, nurses. Weirdly, given I’d just given birth and my baby was poorly, I don’t think I crumbled. Except when they told me Max needed to go on a ventilator as he was struggling. That was like someone had punched me square in the stomach. We went back up to my room on postnatal and listened to the healthy cries of healthy babies while mine was having a tube inserted down his windpipe. That got to me.
A whirlwind of emotions. Every day we just prayed for a stable day – not for anything good to happen, that was too hopeful, just a stable day. I expressed every three hours because it was something useful to do, even though he wasn’t drinking yet. I only went back to my ward to eat occasionally, express and take tablets. Then after a few days they let me transfer to the parent accommodation which was bliss as I had a bit of peace and quiet and most of all, I couldn’t hear other babies crying.
At 4lb 13, he was the biggest baby on the NICU but he still looked tiny to us! He showed us his character, tugging at his tubes whenever his breathing got stronger as if he was telling us he didn’t need them anymore, and no matter how often the nurses tucked him in, he insisted on having one foot resting on the little cosy rolls of sheets wrapped around him to make him feel safe in his roomy incubator.
By the time we got him home (one hospital transfer, one operation, one feeding routine established, one hell of a ride later), he just looked like Max to us. Yet when I look back at photos, he’s incredibly thin and still quite ill looking. Now, you’d never know. We chose not to share pictures of him on the ventilator, so any pictures on social media or here are either when he just has his feeding tube in or when he’s completely tube free. I don’t know whether we will in the future, but for now they’re just for us to look at and marvel how far he came in such a short period of time.
Before we had Max, I’d never really thought that much about premature babies although I’ve known a few people who’ve had them. But now I know, they are among the strongest beings out there. In the morning, things can be touch and go and by the afternoon they can be fighting again. They are so tiny but so fierce, and they are looked after by some amazing people who go above and beyond to keep them safe but also to look after you too.
Watching my prem baby go through everything he’s faced so far has truly humbled me. I will never stop telling him how proud I am that he has smashed every obstacle in his way to become a baby who no one would ever guess has had such a hard ride. I take my hat off to all prem babies fighting their incredible fight, but I especially take my hat off to my Maxi.
Harriet, Alexandra and Max x