Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fandom Preemie: Luke


* Age 2* Born at 33 weeks gestation *

The gift of children is one to be cherished for eternity. There is no greater feeling than the one you undoubtedly feel the first time you are lucky enough to gaze upon your newborn child. Every parent experiences joy, wonder and happiness within the space of a few short precious moments. However, for an alarmingly growing number of parents, these moments become marred and bittersweet. These are some of the strongest, bravest and most courageous people you may have the opportunity to meet. Though, they will never admit or acknowledge the compliment, no matter how often it is bestowed upon them. These are the parents of babies born before their time.

I am by no means special. I am a mother. On the 6th of September 2007 my world changed beyond any expectation I may have had about entering this new role. We did everything by the book, so to speak. I took my prescribed vitamins, I attended all my scheduled appointments with my doctor, I ate right and exercised regularly. By thirty-three weeks I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of my son.

During one of my regular appointments, my doctor had expressed concern over my sudden weight gain. I didn't share her concern at the time, believing that the weight gain was 'all part of being pregnant’. After countless blood tests, blood pressure checks and urine samples and a discussion with another doctor it was decided that they needed an ultra-sound to determine what was happening with my baby and my body.

Living in a small rural town, the nearest facilities were over fifty kilometers away. With my husband away working at the time, I asked a friend to travel with me for the company. This turned into one of those moments that we are truly grateful for. Upon arrival at the hospital, I was ushered immediately into the ultra-sound room. I had had several scans by this point in my pregnancy and thought nothing of it. However, the technician was unusually quiet during the scan. Without a word of the outcome, I was sent back to the waiting room to wait for the doctor. Within five minutes, the doctor arrived and I was shown into a private room - alone. The first thing he said were the two words no parent wants to hear...I'm sorry. Upon further investigation during the original scan and another smaller one inside the doctor’s office, it was revealed that there was a life threatening problem, for both my baby and myself. I had developed Pre-eclampsia. At the time, I had no idea what that would mean for us, what I did know was – I was having a baby sooner than I thought. My husband was called immediately and asked to meet me at the nearest major hospital, which for him was over thirteen hundred kilometers away. I too, had to travel to the hospital, another hour’s drive from the hospital I was in.

Soon after arriving, I was joined by both my mother and my husband’s parents. I was told that they had to get my baby out and they had to do it now. I have never admitted it and never let the ones around me see but, I had never been more petrified in my life. We are taught that you are pregnant for approximately forty weeks and then you have your baby. No one had discussed, no matter how unlikely, that we could have a baby before that time. And yet there I was, thirty three weeks pregnant, alone in a crowded room, facing a reality I never thought possible.

I was rushed through the following preparations for an emergency Caesarean Section. Lying on the operating table, the surgeons and other staff were trying to take my mind off the reality. They asked me questions about my life, about our plans for our baby and what names we had picked out. At this point, I drew a blank; I still had eight weeks to decide on a name...right? Within minutes, the doctors were telling me I would feel pressure as they pulled my baby out - I hadn't realized they had even started - they told me not to panic if I didn't hear my baby. Much to my surprise and insurmountable joy, seconds later, I heard him, barely, but I heard him. He was alive and he was breathing. I also heard chuckles as my newborn son relieved himself (twice) over the surgeons. Obviously, he was quickly whisked away to the corner of the room before being briefly brought back to me. There he was, my beautiful baby boy. I had never seen anything more amazing than the impossibly tiny face of the angel in front of me. Few precious seconds passed before he was taken from me again. The feeling is likened to having someone give you everything you ever dreamed of and more only to have it taken away again, like they changed their mind.

My son was born on the 6th of September but, I would not meet my heart again until almost twenty-four hours later. As I lay in the bed, unable to move, acronyms were thrown around and made my head spin with the force of them. VLBW, IUGR etc. Along with my own failing health, my sons’ health had failed too, prior to birth. He had stopped growing; my placenta had started to flow backwards, ultimately poisoning my child. He was starved of oxygen and nutrients. While recovering, the doctors had dumbed it down enough for me to understand. Being told that both my son and I, if left untreated, would have only lived an hour or two more. Reality hurts, and nothing hurts more than basically being told, I had unknowingly been killing my child. It wasn't my fault, this I knew; it didn't stop the feelings of failure though.

Frustrated with all the tests that continued, I had only one question for the doctors and nursing staff. When can I see my baby? With a wheelchair found and all the extra attachments tucked in securely, I was finally taken to the S.C.B.U or Special Care Baby Unit. As I entered the room that I would willing occupy for the next seven weeks, I couldn't help the clench of my heart for the other children in this unit. They were so small, so helpless and had so many tubes and machines around them. I was taken to a separate room containing the ICU Isolettes’ and pushed in front of one of them. The nurse assigned to my son introduced me to my baby. Gazing through the plexi-glass surrounding this tiny wonder, I felt my heart both break and heal at the same time. With the help of my husband, I stood from the wheelchair to stand beside my miracle. I can't think of any word in the English language to truly describe what I was feeling. I was beyond voicing my thoughts, so instead, I stared. He was so small, so helpless, so fragile and yet by some miracle, so strong. How could something so tiny have such a strong will to live? There lay my as yet un-named son, 2lb 4oz of my heart, attached to so many tubes, wires, monitors and machines.

I'd returned during the night to simply sit beside him and stare. The following day, I was finally allowed to hold him for a few minutes. Having something so small and so precious laid across my heart is an indescribable feeling. As is, being told that he has to go back into the Isolette. In the following days, my life settled into a semblance of a routine. I was discharged from hospital, my husband returned to work and our friends and family returned to their lives as well. The day I was discharged was the hardest of my life. It is a commonly accepted idea that when you are discharged after child birth, generally, your child is discharged too. For those parents with babies in S.C.B.U. this is not an option, and it hurts, it hurts like hell to walk away without your baby in your arms.

In the following days, my life settled into a semblance of a routine. I temporarily settled into a cheap motel room that would be my home for the next seven weeks, my husband returned to work and our families went back to their lives. My nights were spent lonely; my only distraction was an old television and the task of expressing milk. My days were spent with my son. Tube feeding every hour, bath and weighing every three days. Occasionally someone I knew would visit if they were in town, but visits were brief, few and far between. It seemed like no-one could handle seeing my son in his condition. The thing I heard the most from people was "I don't know how you do it.” How do you answer that? It is not a conscious decision you make. You are dealt a hand of cards and you make what you can of it. I did not choose to be there but, I couldn't bear being anywhere else. I was exactly where I needed to be - with my son. You may not like the situation but there is nothing you can do to change it, and you do what you need to do and cope anyway you can.

Our little family was one of the lucky ones. Beyond the very low birth weight, my son suffered very few complications. We are eternally thankful for small mercies. Other families are not so lucky; and as their angels grew wings and left this world early, I keep them cherished in my heart.

My son was discharged from hospital two days before his due date (24th October 2007) weighing 5lb 3oz. He has had a few minor complications due to his prematurity and remains small for his age. Although, his father and I hold no aspirations of a professional basketball career for him; we are only 5"1 and 5"6 ourselves. As his third birthday nears, we are constantly in awe of our little monkey man as he continues to amaze us every day. A very wise nurse once told me that, after looking after Luke, she believed, in her heart, that he was an old soul. Now, three years on, I can understand why; he is a loving, caring, generous soul and these qualities shine through constantly as I see him playing with and caring for his little sister.

“From small beginnings come great things.”
An American Proverb

~ Littlevic

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