November is World Prematurity Month. To honour and support the moms of preemies, we are sharing stories of moms who’ve been there and who can offer support from the other side of a long road. This is Lauren’s story.
Tell us about the day your baby was born.
I woke up to what had become routine: blood pressure and pulse check, heart trace of my baby. This tenth day in the antenatal ward was slightly different. No 5AM tea and biscuit because of the spinal block I was to have. Even though my baby was only 27 weeks gestation and had re-distributed blood flow, I was calm. It was only as I sat clutching a nurse’s hand, sitting on the surgery table, wincing at the local anaesthetic, that I felt the first twinge of fear. It was familiar and alien at the same time. A different theatre to my first two babies delivered by c-section, a tiny baby, a new gynae. But the smells and sounds were the same, the dizziness and grogginess familiar. They worked for a while to wriggle him out, a quick kiss and I saw him.
That couldn’t be a real baby surely? That small? Tears dripping over my husband’s surgical mask, the businesslike, chirpy comments of the paediatrician. “630 grams!” I heard, after she whisked him on one hand to the scale. Breathing through the fear and discomfort, my arms cruciform, my legs without feeling, my stomach being tugged and stitched. Then, relief and a twinge of guilt that I was relieved, because my husband was to go to the NICU while I was in recovery. He was so tiny, his hand didn’t fit around the doctor’s finger, when he reached up out of my belly to grasp it, as he was being born.
In the ward, doing the things I didn’t do with my previous c-section so that I would be better this time, the same strangely familiar and unfamiliar experience, of the pain, the drip, the congratulations, but with no baby on my chest.
Matteo spent the first of his ten days of life just like the last – in the NICU ward, with tubes and wires to help his tiny, premature body to survive. I held him for the first time the day those wires were finally pulled out, because he didn’t need them anymore.
I’ll hold him in my heart until I meet him again.
Can you describe some of the emotions you experienced during the early days and weeks with your baby?
I was determined and optimistic for the first week of his life. It was strange to be able to sleep and recover from surgery without having a baby to care for and breastfeed around the clock. I pumped every three hours instead, and even though it was tedious, I loved the idea that I was connected to my baby this way.
I was tired, recovering from the surgery, and each visit to the NICU was a hurdle to overcome. Machines beeping, the scent of disinfectant, babies crying, nurses bustling and my tiny, tiny boy, barely weighing more than a block of butter, lying in a nest of tubes.
I struggled with not being able to touch him, comfort him. It went against all my instincts as a mother. I spoke to him when I could, and he held my hand during his care.
In the two brief days when everything turned, I was equal parts anxious and numb. We baptised him, and it was utterly beautiful, in among the beeps and bustle.
And then… a calm. Unexpected, counter-intuitive, a short conversation between my husband and I on the way home from the last time I would see him this side of heaven. What is best for Matteo? I asked. Whatever it is, we accept it, we agreed.
And the next morning at 7:55AM, when his heart slowed to a stop, we did. We knew grief and questions would follow, but just like everything else with our tiny miracle, we were given what we needed at the moment we needed it.
Do you have any words of encouragement for a mom who is currently waiting for her baby to come home?
Oh, mama, I see you. My story is not yours, and yours is not mine.
My tiny miracle was destined for something we don’t quite understand, and your baby has a purpose too. First of all, you have chosen to fight for your baby and they will fight too. They are little gladiators in an arena too big for them, but so many won their battles!
Secondly, be kind to yourself. Let your body and heart heal. Let your tears and disappointment flow. Ask God and the nurses all the questions you need to. Eat nourishing food and rest because you can! One of the few advantages of not having your baby with you yet.
Thirdly, you are doing the best you can. Your body got your baby to this point. Don’t entertain any voices of guilt or self condemnation. You were chosen to be this baby’s mama and you’ve got this. They had to get their gladiator traits from somewhere…
You will know you are loved. The rallying support and prayers from near and far, of people you may never meet, will humble and astound you. You will meet other gladiator moms like you. You will pump and cry and celebrate together. Your baby will touch lives without uttering a word.
And whenever your baby goes home, you will be forever changed.
My Matteo was on earth for ten days. In that time I saw what can only be described as miracles happening because of how this tiny baby brought people together. Your baby will have a different journey, and you will learn things about yourself you never knew. Just know this: you are enough. And I am certain these gladiator babies choose their moms very specifically, no matter how long they are in the arena.
I wish you hope and strength for your journey in the most sacred trust of all: motherhood.