Hi everyone. So, it’s been a little while between posts!! I had such great plans for this blog and then it became a bit neglected along the way, because my little man decided to surprise us all by coming into the world 6 weeks early!! I’ve been caught up in the world of being a new Mum, but it’s time to jump back into this again.
Being a physio who specialises in paediatrics, I’ve been fortunate within my career to work in a variety of clinical settings… children’s hospitals including neonatal and paediatric intensive cares, the special care nurseries, outpatients and community health. I never imagined myself as a user on the other side of these systems. But that’s what I became when my beautiful boy Sebastian was born prematurely earlier this year.
It began one normal Tuesday morning. I had seen my obstetrician the day earlier for my 34 week appointment, and everything was looking perfect. I even got medical clearance to keep working as planned for the next three weeks. I went to the gym and did a light session before heading to work, getting there super early to prepare for my day ahead. I sat at my desk and bent down to put my bag away when I felt a pop (I honestly thought I’d just hurt a joint or muscle), stood up and fluid came gushing out – like in the movies!! I was in shock – this was way too early. I rang my OB and she said to come in for monitoring. Called my partner and my mum, then my boss to tell them all what was happening.
My partner met me at the hospital we had planned to deliver at, and I was hooked up to the monitors. Baby was happy and stable – I was given steroids for his lungs just in case, and medications to try and stop the labour progressing. Alas my boy had other plans, and when it became apparent he was going to be born that day I was told they had to transfer me to a bigger hospital with a proper Special Care Unit and paediatrics team, because my private hospital couldn’t cater for premature births.
That’s when the reality of it all hit me – I was in shock and burst into tears. I work with premature babies every single day, I just never thought I would be having one myself. My pregnancy had been perfect, not even any morning sickness! So much was running through my mind – I knew the risks to my bub being born early, I didn’t feel mentally prepared to have him just yet, the house was barely ready… we didn’t even have the carseat installed yet. This wasn’t my plan. Then there was the superficial things, I was upset I wouldn’t get to deliver in the nice private hospital with large private rooms, or have maternity leave before bub arrived.
Fast forward 12 hours later and he arrived.. this perfect little 2.5kg bundle. Holding him to my chest I was just so relieved that he was breathing and he was ok.
My obstetrician was amazing. She knew that having skin-to-skin was important to me and tried to give me as much as she could before the paediatric team took my baby away. I got 5 minutes – no where near long enough and not as much as I wanted but it was something. They told me he was having some trouble breathing and gave him some CPAP before whisking him off to the Special Care unit.
I think at that point it didn’t seem real. I was exhausted, mentally and physically drained, and was trying to process what had happened after starting what seemed like a normal day. Then seeing my baby covered in tubes and wires (like the hundreds of babies I’ve seen like that in my work) broke my heart. Yet weirdly I also felt numb. He didn’t seem like MY baby, he just felt like a patient I had to treat and look after.
I am so comfortable in the hospital environment. I know what all the tests and assessments mean, what medications are for, what the numbers on the heart and breathing monitor indicate. I could speak the ‘language’ of the doctors and nurses. Yet in a way this made it worse.
For the next three weeks that hospital became my second home. There was no lying at home on the couch or bed snuggled up with my newborn. No recuperating or relaxing following my labour and delivery. No resting and allowing my body to heal.
My days consisted of learning to pump milk, expressing every 3 hours to match his feeding schedule. Of driving to and from the hospital, sometimes a few times a day, spending hours in a chair by his little cot in the busy bustling noisy unit. Of ward rounds and talks with paediatricians and his nurses. Of watching my precious little boy undergo painful procedures like blood tests, or having his feeding tube changed. Of watching his monitor start alarming when his oxygen levels would drop for no reason. All I wanted to do was cuddle him and yet I felt I had to ask permission just to interact with or pick up my own baby. Walking out that door every day and leaving my baby behind was so so hard.
I know other families have it worse with their babies in NICU and Special Care – we were lucky in that our boy was relatively healthy for a premmie and just needed to grow and learn to feed. And this experience has given me a new appreciation and understanding for my patients, I have true empathy I didn’t have before. This will make me a better clinician, not just by being a Mum and understanding how tough having a newborn can be in general, but also by having had my baby in hospital for those weeks.
It’s taken me a while to move past the fact that things didn’t go how I planned. I didn’t have my relaxing maternity leave in the lead up to my birth, didn’t get my long stay in the private hospital to recuperate and get to know my baby as our new little family. Didn’t quite have the labour I’d planned or get the hour long quiet skin to skin time with him post birth. Having to watch others care for my baby and not being allowed to just take him home. And I’ve learnt it’s ok to grieve for those things. At the end of the day my baby is now home, and he’s healthy, which makes us luckier than some.
So any other parents who have been through or are going the same thing – I know it may not feel like it but it will be ok. And I understand.