Having already had two boys, when we found out we were expecting again, it did not come with too much of a shock and we were thrilled with the news. I am pretty sure it was not a surprise to anyone else either!
I had already completed the biggest transition of going from zero to one child. The loss of that glorious selfishness where I had only me to think of, to the delivery of the most wonderful gift, who immediately turns you selfless to their every being. The time spent with that first child where you can give every ounce of yourself. They soak up all of your attention and you pour every bit of you into learning about them, entertaining them and just simply watching them endlessly. You have all the time in the world for that first baby.
So when I became pregnant with our second, and our first was only nine months, it definitely did come as a shock. We were excited but I can honestly say I spent a lot of that pregnancy worrying how on earth I would cope with two children at the same time. Having only one at that point, it was all-consuming. I looked at other mothers with more and even thought of my own mother who had 5, wondering what kind of superwomen they were! I would lie awake at night trying to logistically figure out how I would get two children into the car. How would it work trying to feed or dress both at he same time. How would I manage napping them both, would one wake the other? Imagining myself running from one to the other. I would get in a tizzy about it all, before my second had even arrived. So when my husband returned to work that is when all the figuring out began. And….of course, it was all fine. I did manage to feed both, dress both and get them out the door. I realised that I had already gone through the initiation to parenthood on my first and to have more faith in myself as a mother. I became more relaxed in it too because I had to. I couldn’t pour all my energy and time into my second baby as my first still needed me. So I learned to share myself, and in doing so, give both as much of me as possible. Much to my surprise, it has been enough. As time moved on, I recall the guilt of feeling that my second son didn’t get all the morning classes, the swimming sessions or the hours staring at him because my other son was now a demanding toddler. But what my own mother pointed out, was not to underestimate what my second son was learning from my first. My goodness how true that was and still continues to be. So, although my eldest had all of me, my second son had me and my eldest to learn from daily.
So, now a third was being thrown into the mix. My parenting as a mother had now relaxed a huge amount. Especially in managing two very lively boys, I learnt that I couldn’t do it all and in the same breath do the best I can. The pregnancy went fine as did my first two fortunately. Time flew by very quickly. I was a busy mum now so barely spared a moment to relax and think of the baby that was coming. All I knew was that he or she would fit in just fine and be brought along for the crazy ride.
What I didn’t know or expect, was that on that Valentines weekend booked for myself and the husband, we would be taken very much by surprise. With our family expanding we thought it wise to avail of a night away prior to new baby arriving, as who would mind three children!! Within a few hours of arriving at the hotel I started to experience contractions. I second guessed myself saying this could not be happening, I am only 33 weeks. But deep down I knew. We headed to the hospital, secretly still hoping to be sent back being told all fine and that I would be sitting in said hotel’s spa the next morning for a much looked forward to treatment. But that was not to be the case. When the midwife uttered the words “You will definitely be having this baby tonight”, I laughed out loud in pure shock. What???? But I had no bag, I had a massage booked in the morning, or more importantly I had a hotel breakfast to eat!! I also had our two boys to organise…I was just not ready for this…at all! Also what did this mean. Was the baby going to be ok? My mind was racing. And as he always does, and never ever lets me down, my pillar of a husband went and sorted everything, bags, hotel, boys, list after texted list of items I was randomly and I imagine quite annoyingly, remembering I needed. He did it all, and brought everything…well bar underwear….Yes ….he forgot my underwear!! For 3 days I wore those undeniably attractive paper panties. But that could be forgiven. He got back to me in plenty of time for the full throttle of labour. Having already gone through labour twice already I was never worried about that part. In fact, I strangely love the whole experience. But this time was different. Now I was being told that baby would be taken to NICU, the intensive care unit for babies, straight away. I wasn’t panicking and to be honest I don’t think anything of whole experience hit me until a full year later. At that time I just went with the flow. Labour progressed fine and I delivered all 4lb 9oz of him on that Valentines weekend. We got a quick glimpse and cuddle and then he was whisked away. 3 boys! I had 3 boys! Wow! I was euphoric. But I could see in Husbands eyes his worry, but it just hadn’t hit me yet.
A few hours later we were brought to see him in the NICU ward. There he lay, in a big plastic box under a blue light and wires everywhere. The only touch we were allowed was to very slowly place our hand on his belly inside the incubator, but not move it, as in doing so could exhaust him. It would go from periods of silence, to alarms beeping and machines pumping. You would look around and there they were, other parents sitting with their babies much the same way. That look of shock, exhaustion and fear. This was a whole different world.
How was it we went from all being fine, to now suddenly staring at our son looking so tiny and fragile. Fortunately for us he was born at a really good weight and no complications. By day 2 he was moved to SCBU which would be the next unit down, as he could now breathe unaided and no longer needed all the extra help that the NICU ward provided. But as parents having never been in a situation like this before it was alien to say the least. I stayed on a ward separate to him which in itself was just bizarre. I had just had a baby yet I lay there with no baby next to me.
The following days turned into schedules of pumping, feeding, sterilising, cleaning, sleeping, watching, changing. Two days after he was born we were finally allowed to hold him. But I wasn’t the mother I was before I came in. The confident mother who had her shit together. I was broken in that respect. I now didn’t have a clue what I was doing. That in itself was one of the biggest and toughest parts of that journey. My confidence as a mother had vanished. I didn’t know how to feed this baby or change him. He was so so tiny. There were nasal tube feeds, then mouths tubes feeds by syringe. Having arrived prior to 34 weeks he didn’t know how to suck. They actually learn to suck in the womb around 34 weeks. So there he lay learning to do things on the outside that he should have been learning inside me. It felt like my body had let him down. It felt like my body had also let me down. I should still be pregnant. That tiny boy should still be in there turning and kicking. Often as I lay there on my ward with no baby beside me, I would place my hand on my belly forgetting he was no longer in there. Part of me was so overjoyed that he was here safely but there was no doubt another part of me, that many mothers of prem babies feel guilty for, and that is wishing that they got to finish their pregnancy. Wishing they got to give that baby more of a chance and not to have evicted him so soon. We can all acknowledge that thank god he was ok and all was well but those feelings took me by surprise. I had wished my body had just hung on.
The feeds were tough, he would vomit them almost every time, which would play havoc with his weight gain. The goal for him was to be taking his own feeds without any tube and keep them down so that his weight would reach a certain level before he could be released. The 24hour expressing was exhausting but breast milk is what premature babies need, as amazingly the milk at that point in time contains exactly what the baby needs at that gestation. Quite incredible really. It also helped give me purpose and structure to a hospital day where I felt somewhat lost as to what my role was. Even though, if I ever see a hospital grade breast pump again I will chuck it through some window. We did not part as friends.
We continued back and forth on the tubes, slowly moving onto the bottle. Getting him to actually learn to suck was the difficulty but day by day we were getting there. Unfortunately, that also meant my Dday to leave the hospital was approaching fast. By day 4 I was literally hiding from the rounds so they wouldn’t tell me to go home. How could I go home and leave my baby in hospital. It seemed crazy but of course I did, because it is simply part of the process. Knowing he was in the safe hands of the nurses most definitely helped. Having watched them chatting, singing, caring and cradling the other babies with pure love I had no worries that he would be well cared for in my absence. By Day 5 it was time for me to go. What I already thought was exhausting was about to up its game. Going home to my older boys was incredible. I had missed them so so much, but going between home life and hospital life was tough. Tough on everyone. Once again still continually expressing night and day, cleaning bottles, sterilising bottles and equipment, packing up, travelling to the hospital for that small window where I could attend feeding time before it was time to U-turn back home to home life which was very much back to the usual way of things. Throw in the hormones following birth and all the rest. Myself and my husband were running on fumes at this stage. We had fantastic support from our incredible family and amazing friends, some with personal similar experiences which saved my sanity on some nights. But also the nurses, where do I begin. Some of them come straight from heaven to do what they do. I recall one instance where I had come in from home, just about made feeding time after travelling up, getting into the hospital, expressing, washing, sterilising….. Because I was hopeful to breastfeed once he got a little older, we would always start the feed by putting him on the breast first just for a small while as it would tire him out too much, and then move to the bottle to ensure he got his feed. But this particular day he was having none of it and was screaming with the hunger. Bearing in mind you are in a large room with maybe seven or eight other babies in their cots, their parents and possibly visitors. So to say I was feeling the pressure is an understatement. There was no privacy in those moments. I was broken, exhausted and just felt useless. And now I, a mother of two already, couldn’t even feed my baby. I hid my face, tears streaming down my cheeks, I hadn’t the confidence to even ask for help at this stage, I was just exhausted. That is when Alma came over. She was one of the SCBU nurses. The nurses get rotated each day so they may not always be caring for your child, as was the case on that day. But she saw what was going on. She simply approached me, knelt down and just said “Its ok, why not just go straight to the bottle today”. And like that, she made me feel ok. Because I was already a mother, I put pressure on myself to try figure it all out and know what to do. But how was I to know. I was feeding a preemie baby which as she assured me is completely different to a full term baby. Little tips in how to hold them or feed them or wind them were the things I needed instruction with. Alma saw me, she really saw me.
By the end of the third week we finally found ourselves bringing him home. He was feeding well on the bottle and breast, and the weight was up. I couldn’t quite believe it. Although, leaving the safety surroundings of the hospital did not fill me with ease, it was nice to finally all be together as a family, now a family of five.
The following weeks were filled with checkup appointments, maintaining a good feeding schedule for his weight gain and of course finding our feet at home with our new arrival. Each visit back to the Coombe Hospital I felt a wave of comfort. The feeling of security that place gave me is still with me, even if I drive by today. A strange feeling of fond memories even though it was such a tough time. A credit I think owed to all at the Coombe Hospital.
However, it wasn’t until a full year later, on his first birthday that it all hit me. Like a tonne of bricks. Unfortunately for the poor child, ourselves and our neighbors, in the months that followed his birth he suffered silent reflux and colic, which is a chat for another day, and a stint in hospital with Bronchialitis. But it meant our first year was a bit of a blur. So when he turned one it was only then, that I thought back to his birth. It completely devoured me. I broke down and it all came emptying out. I had parked all the emotion a year before and just got through it. Now here I found myself with my body literally surrendering to let the emotion out. It felt good, it was necessary and fundamental to dealing with it
My husband was no doubt my rock through it all. He held our home life together completely and with no notice given. Knowing he had things in hand at home allowed me to be completely and wholly there when I was in the hospital. But it was there, that I met my other rock, one very special lady whose daughter shares the same birthday as my son. They were even roomies before they met. I cannot begin to explain the friendship that grew from supporting one another through those initial weeks and months that followed. She is a true gem. One that made me howl with laughter in our dressing gowns like mad women in the hospital cafe, and at just the right moment. And cried with me when we both were so exhausted from this most unexpected experience. At any hour of the day or night she was always only a text or call away. I think of you Laura as I write this post as you were right there with me.
Life is full of many journeys and experiences, but as we find out each time, it is the people who make them.