Our Precious Preemie

By Sue Dickson

“You’re already two centimetres dilated and having contractions. You’re in early labour!” They’re shocking words to hear at your 29-week appointment with your gynae, so it was just as well I was lying down. “Go out the back door,” she said, “across to the hospital, get into bed and don’t move. We have to keep your baby in as long as possible.”

By then my amniotic fluid had dropped drastically, and my baby was still lying breech. The danger was that if the labour progressed my baby’s bum and cord might get stuck and the doctors may not be able to get him or her out safely in time (we had chosen not to find out whether we were having a boy or girl). There was also the fear of infection. All very scary!

Up until then I had had a great pregnancy, feeling fantastic throughout.

As an older mom-to-be (I was 39), I was concerned about the greater risks and prayed for the wellbeing of my baby, so it was always a relief when the visits to the gynae and the Foetal Assessment Centre revealed that he was healthy and developing well.

Being a passionate runner, I enjoyed moderate exercise several times a week throughout my pregnancy and ran up till 26 weeks. I felt privileged being pregnant and delighted in the little miracle developing inside me.

So it was traumatic when I went into early labour. After being admitted to hospital, I was given steroids to boost my baby’s lungs (in case he arrived that weekend), and the contractions and foetal heartbeat were monitored every few hours. Four days later, on the Monday morning, detailed ultrasounds revealed that my baby was still being nourished and was growing well. However, he was still breech and by now there was virtually no amniotic fluid at all.

Physically, I was in no discomfort or pain whatsoever, but emotionally I was a wreck, worrying about the wellbeing of my first unborn. After eight anxious days and sleepless nights, my doctor decided it was safer to take my baby out while he was still healthy.

On Friday 15 June 2007, Geoffrey John was born by Caesarean section at 7:44am – 10 weeks premature. It was special to hold him briefly before he was

whisked off to the neonatal ward. My husband, Roger, followed the paediatrician and felt reassured when he heard her telling the sisters on duty, “This is a good baby.” Fortunately, Geoffrey was a good weight for 30 weeks gestation, tipping the scales at 1.460 kilograms. He measured 39 centimetres long and his Apgar scores were excellent.

Geoffrey was immediately put on CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) to assist his breathing and given surfactant for his lungs, which at that stage were very immature. When I was stretchered in to see my little boy later that afternoon I was extremely relieved that he was healthy and doing well. He was perfect, this little miracle complete with tiny finger nails, eyelashes and dark hair. Yet, at the same time, he looked so tiny, thin and vulnerable lying on the ICU heated crib, working so hard just to breathe. I was almost too scared to touch him.

That weekend was a mix of emotions: we were excited at the birth of our first child; ecstatic at holding him skin to skin for the first time 24 hours after his birth; relieved that he was healthy; anxious about his wellbeing; worried about the long road ahead; and still in shock after the sudden turn of events.

It was sheer agony leaving hospital without my son; that Monday, three days after his birth, was one of the lowest days for us. Geoffrey remained at Kingsbury Hospital for 45 days: 10 days in an ICU crib, 10 days in an incubator and the remainder in a neonatal bassinet. Those weeks were tough, emotionally up and down.

Geoffrey developed a lung infection in his first week so was on antibiotics; he had bad reflux (like heartburn) due to an immature sphincter; and, being a boy, he struggled to get the breathing right. It was hard seeing our baby looking so fragile, connected to so many wires and tubes, and receiving endless injections and needle pricks. But on the up side, we were so relieved when test results revealed the brain, ears, hips and eyes were perfect – tick, tick, tick, tick. We were also encouraged by the fact that Geoffrey gained weight in huge increments daily.

Kingsbury Hospital became our second home. We spent hours of each day with Geoffrey: caring for him, talking to him, feeding him, kangarooing him and, above all, loving him. (I firmly believe that holding a baby skin to skin helps the parents and preemie bond, and aids the latter physically.)

Geoffrey was tube-fed expressed breast milk from day one. When he was two weeks old, I tried breastfeeding him for the first time, and he instinctively knew what to do – as he grew stronger, he was able to suck for longer. After much debate, we introduced a bottle when he was five weeks old, which he took to well. There’s no doubt that this sped up his homecoming (it’s easier for babies to feed from the bottle than the breast). Within a few days, Geoffrey pulled out his naso-gastric tube, a sure sign that he was ready to come home.

Six weeks and two days after his birth, we nervously but excitedly brought Geoffrey home (weighing 2.480 kilograms).

Since then, our son has thrived. One of the few advantages of what we went through is that little Geoffrey came home in a four-hourly feeding routine. And, by that November, he had dropped two feeds and was sleeping right through the night. He started eating solids at six months and was exclusively breastfed till eight months.

Geoffrey started crawling at 10-and-a-half months. By his first birthday, his weight and size were good for his corrected age (9.3 kilograms and 72 centimetres long), he was wearing 12-18 month clothing, had cut his first six teeth and was reaching all his milestones with relative ease. He started walking at 15-and-a-half months and had generally caught up well. He was an alert and cheerful baby, always smiling and laughing.

Today, Geoffrey is an energetic and enthusiastic four-year-old, with an enquiring mind and a vivid imagination ­­– he’s so much fun!

We’re very grateful to our fantastic gynae, who made the right decision at the right time: “Some babies are better off out than in,” she said. And we couldn’t wish for a better paediatrician: experienced, professional, caring and sympathetic.

Having a very prem baby was traumatic, but we are blessed that Geoffrey is a healthy, happy little boy who brings us endless joy. Roger and I adore him and are so proud of him – our precious gift from God!

TIPS FOR MOMS OF PREEMIES:

1. Express milk regularly right from the start. Buy a good pump on day one and make friends with it! Breast milk is best for these little miracles. Nature is so amazing: the milk from a preemie’s mom has been created to perfectly nurture her little baby and offer everything he or she needs. I started expressing the day Geoffrey was born, which obviously boosted the milk production, and I breastfed him exclusively till he was eight months old.

2. Try breastfeeding as early as possible. Geoffrey started sucking at 32 weeks, but obviously couldn’t last long. I encourage all moms of prem babies to persevere with breastfeeding, even if it means expressing milk for a long time.

3. Babies, especially preemies, require less effort to feed from a bottle than a breast. Introducing the bottle sped up Geoffrey’s homecoming. I was fortunate that Geoffrey was happy with both breastfeeding and a bottle (of expressed milk).

4. Kangaroo your prem baby as much as possible. I believe it helps the baby physically (as research has proven) plus it helps the parents and baby bond emotionally. It’s hugely beneficial.

5. Draw encouragement from supportive family and friends, especially anyone who has been through a similar experience.

6. Stay positive and keep praying – your faith will get you and your baby through this traumatic period!

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