On World Prematurity Day 2015, I found myself launched into this new world of prematurity as I sat in the High Dependancy Unit of Royal Derby Hospital. I had been for my routine midwife appointment that morning and my blood pressure was slightly elevated and there was protein in my urine.
“Just pop to the hospital and get monitored and see me in a week” she’d said.
And yet there I was hooked up to 4 drips being told that my baby would be delivered within the next 24 hours. Pre-eclampsia and HELLP they said.
Jack made his dramatic entrance into the world on 18th November 2015 at 1:41am by c-section with a very surprised “Oh! Oh!” as if he was a little miffed at his eviction. He was just 28 weeks and 6 days gestation but hearing his voice was reassuring. And then he was whisked away, all 2 lb 6 oz of him. I was empty and lost.
I didn’t get to see my boy again until he was 20 hours old. I hadn’t written a birth plan but I knew I’d wanted kangaroo care immediately after birth. I had to wait a week for that first precious hold, because we had to wait until he was off the ventilator, but it was glorious. His head fit in one hand and his body fit in the other.
We were told that Jack would most likely be in the NICU until his original due date or thereabouts. I started to get upset.
Gone were my dreams of a taking a healthy baby home for unlimited cuddles, learning how to breastfeed, going for walks in the pram round our neighbourhood, visitors coming over and cooing.
Instead I was sent home without my baby, sobbing hysterically as I spotted other people leaving with theirs bundled up in the car seat. I woke up at least twice a night to nourish my child with breast milk but with an alarm and a breast pump instead of having him there.
In the NICU I waited for permission to hold my child. My husband learned how to tube-feed. We watched and waited as Jack progressed through ventilation, bipap, cpap, highflow, low flow, back to cpap after his 8 week jabs set him back a bit, back to high flow then low flow.
Jack struggled to breast feed so he learned to take a bottle and finally after 89 days, he was discharged with home oxygen of 0.2 litres on Valentines Day 2016!
I’d lost 3 months of my precious maternity leave and originally I’d only intended to take the 9 months that are paid. But, once Jack was home, I developed severe anxiety and PTSD and made the decision that I’d have to take the full year, even though the last 3 months are unpaid. It seemed so unfair that we’d lost precious time not even properly parenting and my husband had to take 2 weeks annual leave to be there when Jack first came home because the law states the father takes his paternity within 8 weeks of the child’s birth.
So this is why I support the #NotMatLeave campaign to extend leave for premmie families.
As well as losing 3 months of my maternity leave going to and fro from the NICU everyday, Jack was on oxygen until he was 7.5 months old. He is developmentally 3 months behind his peers and how could I possibly go back to work when he’s only just off oxygen and not even sitting yet? When we’re still having regular hospital appointments that are a direct result of his prematurity? He still needs to have a hernia repair operation at the start of next year.
He can now sit unaided and is starting to eat proper food after a lot of feeding and weight gain issues when he first came home. And me, I feel like I am progressing a little bit past my anxiety and PTSD.
So please, support The Smallest Things campaign for extended maternity leave for premmie parents. It’s just so important.
If you haven’t signed the petition, you can sign it here – Extend maternity leave for mothers of premature babies