The next Chapter of our journey into becoming a family is full of emotion, struggles and miracles just the same as with any couple who decided to launch into family land.
If you've read my previous blog post in which I give you an insight into how my first pregnancy went, this will not come as such of a shock and hopefully more of a relief. If you haven't then go take a squizz before carrying on unless you know me and have an idea idea of what to expect.
So there I am at 25 weeks pregnant, in another country and the red button gets hit, out come the blue shower caps, my clothes are pulled off and what can I say, 'I'm petrified. We wiz down the corridor of an unfamiliar hospital and enter what felt like an enormous room. The lights were bright, everything looked almost sparkly and there were a lot of people just looking at me with a glimmer of fear in their eyes. It was as if I had been put on stage, naked to be sacrificed, they don't call an operating theater that for nothing! Due to the hospital being a large university one with a big neonatal unit, there was lots of amazing people, everybody introduced themselves very politely which was, I have to admit, a bit surreal and I can't remember a single name, just lots of concerned and eager to learn eyes peeping over face masks.
Charlie eventually arrives, looking dashing in his scrubs and he's in positive mode which is ace but also hard for me to take when I feel so scared. Lying on an operating table, with my bits out and arms out to the sides at this stage was really not in my birth plan. Childbirth to me is something that happens to you and not something you control, I'm sure you'll all have your own experiences and opinions on that.
Next thing I know, she's out, SHE, it's a girl, tick. We were told girls do 10% better at this gestation than boys and I had refused to find out what we were having so this was great news. Now, is she alive??? YES, oh my giddy Aunt that was amazing to hear. When a baby is born that early you don't get to see, touch or hear them so those moments in between them telling you things, feel like a an extremely uncomfortable no mans land. There was a team of 7 huddled around a little table, neither Charlie or I could see a thing. They told us she was a girl, alive and trying to breath. Then they rushed past me, wheeling what looked like a plastic bag on a metal trolley and grab Charlie to go with them.
I have never felt such loneliness, it took an hour to sort me out due to heavy bleeding, and the classical c-section being a bit fiddlier. The ladies sewing me back together were chatting about what they were going to eat for dinner whilst I lay there feeling numb, physically, mentally and emotionally.
I'm then put in a very small recovery room and Charlie finds his way back to me. He enters quite excited and this is strange to me as I am still numb and in nothingness. He's rambling on about her and showing me pictures as he is a very high energy person and he was feeling like a Dad already. I'm going to fill you in on my journey into motherhood in more detail in a later post.
I get wheeled round, still on the same bed I was in labour in before it was red button time and I can see a foot. The tiniest foot I have ever seen in my life. It was a redish purple colour, very wrinkly but perfectly formed. Whilst looking at her right foot and only that due to not being able to get the bed any further and me still being numb from the waist, I remember hearing the sounds of the nicu. The beeps, alarms and various breathing apparatus. Once you've heard it, it never leaves you. This was when it hit me what had happened and that my child was not supposed to be fighting for her life like this, she should be curled up inside of me. I had only done just over half of my pregnancy so when we say bun in the oven, mine was quite literally only half baked!
A baby at this stage is almost fully formed and can survive but the chance of surviving without lifelong issues are slim. The lungs and eyes are 2 of the things to develop later. Breathing which is obviously essential to life becomes a huge battle, everything else follows. So we're now living our lives completely in the moment, minute by minute, lets see what happens. No plan, no future thoughts not for now. This is something that actually has been the most powerful learning experience of my life and I'm oddly grateful for it despite the circumstances.
The next day I got out of bed in a whole world of pain and staggered across to the NICU which Charlie was very familiar with as he had been back and forth snapping pictures to show me. Walking through those doors, scrubbing my hands and heading round the corner to her bay felt as if it were happening in slow motion and the nerves were huge, what was I going to see, what might have happened, is she still ok?
There she was the tiniest thing I'd ever seen in my life. Weighing 800g and full of tubes and lines going in and out of her to keep her alive did not make for cute new baby images. It was time to say goodbye to normality and accept what had happened. I remember thinking wow she's really hairy, almost furry, she had no eye lashes,no nipples, her eyes were black and her ears were just flaps of skin. Then it happened, it hit me and I cried, not just a bit but the kind that you can't function, stand, talk or see straight. It was care time and the nurses had a huge list of things they needed to do so they carried on and talked us through everything but I just couldn't stop myself. I hadn't read any books on babies routines etc so I was a tad unaware of how babies feed every 3hrs and sleep in between. This all happens in the NICU too but its called Care Time. So babies are in their plastic boxes, for a couple of hours in dim lighting and everything is quiet apart from the beeping machines and alarms. Then like clock work the nurses come in and its, milk, check all stats, change nappy, check all breathing equipment is ok, clean or replace anything that needs doing, re-position and then leave alone again. It's strict, really strict, for a reason, these babies need to grow and fight, they are doing soooooo much to just try and stay alive while we go and try to be normal, express milk, try to eat and drink and then wait for the next Care Time.
The respiratory nurse was doing her bit, looked me in the eye and said "come on Mum, put your hands on her" This was the first time I had been called Mum and it was so odd, there I am looking over at my baby but I had not managed to make the association that she was my daughter. She took my hand, through the opening in the incubator and put it firmly over her tiny body to hold her arms still. This was my first contact with my baby and they call it Kangaroo care in the world of the NICU. Kangaroo care is skin to skin contact and usually is when you hold the baby on your bare chest however Aurora was too fragile to hold so my hand had to cover her body instead.
Aurora spent 119 days, which is 17 weeks or 4 months in the NICU, 7 were in Colorado and a further 10 in Kingston Upon Thames and she is now a super energetic, beautiful, healthy 5 year old. Aurora almost died on many occasions, we saw here go blue, stop breathing and need resuscitating several times. She had various infections to fight, she had 4 blood transfusions, and many other necessary things but we got there and we happened to be in that small percentage that survive without major complications. What a miracle, how could this be? I only did half a pregnancy but came out of it with a baby, boy did I feel all sorts of guilt and gratitude and still do but I'll fill you in on that another time too.
My heart goes out to everyone dealing with similar situations, I know there are many who didn't get to take a baby home 4 months later and juggle oxygen pipes and meds so I want to say I think about this everyday and am so utterly grateful for going through this and being able to share our story. I decided I wanted to make a change in my career and instead of helping people get fit and healthy through Pilates I wanted to devote more time to being at home with my family and earn a living running an online kids store through which I could support charities and projects that help others in this situation.
I have chosen Baby Heroes Africa and will be giving 5% of the profits of every African Basket I sell in my store to this small charity that raises funds for hospitals in Zimbabwe to buy essential equipment to help babies born too early and support their mothers too. Check out more about what they do here.
I'm always happy to hear your stories too as each is unique and special no matter what the outcome.