My Journey with a Preemie Baby (Part 2)
……………….Some lost their babies, some came after and went home with theirs before us, some stayed and we became quite close; checking on each other’s babies, being a shoulder to cry on in tough times, sharing tips, gossiping about the nurses. A community of NICU moms was formed right there in that room. We eventually grew to about 10 Mums with babies in NICU and we’ve all been friends since then.
One day I walked into NICU and couldn’t find my baby on her usual bed. I almost went hysterical until I looked across and saw her inside an incubator. You see, my baby was on an Oxygen machine the first 6 days of her life, she went through a blood transfusion twice and caught an infection. Once she was now able to comfortably breathe on her own and infections were on the clear,they transferred her to an incubator. At first I couldn’t understand the difference until a nurse explained to me, that my baby was now in stable condition, all I had to do was produce lots of milk to help her add some good weight enough for us to go home.
I could now see my baby’s face; she no longer had pipes or masks on her. I could now see how much she looked like her dad. She was always asleep though but I would stare at her for hours, sometimes the nurses would chase me away but I would go back and just sit by her side. I would touch her little hands and feet which were the size of half my little finger, all the while marveling at how strong this little being is, yet I’m here feeling sorry for her. Whenever her daddy was around and he speaks, she would smile or open her eyes or both. Daddy’s girl indeed! My little angel was growing and figuring out her surroundings, I was happy.
I wasn’t there when her umbilical cord fell off, I wasn’t there to breastfeed yet because she was too small, I wasn’t there for her most important milestones and I felt some guilt and emotionally drained. I watched other mums breastfeeding and I envied them.
The doctor said it was too soon when I asked to hold her, but he then allowed me to place her on my chest, which we called ‘’Kangarooing’’. I didn’t know what that was, but I did it every day for about two weeks and I started noticing her being more and more alert, she gained 1 kg plus during this period which meant her milk consumption now went up. She had already progressed to 12mls per hour, now she was doing over 20mls. I didn’t have to worry about milk until she got to 40mls every three hours and at that point it became serious because I needed to produce more milk.
I would take lots of porridge and milk tea. I was terrified at my baby possibly being given formula in case I couldn’t provide enough milk. Consequently, the stress caused a drop in my milk supply. Sometimes I would leave hospital with sore breasts and no milk left for the night. I had to do my math, if she was taking 40 mls per meal; it meant I had to produce 320ml to last her from 6am – 9am the next day. It was impossible to produce all that while at the hospital, so I would make sure I come to hospital the next morning with at least two 80ml bottles to cater for the first 4 feeds.
This was all in a day’s work for a NICU mum. Mums with twins had to do double!!
On top of milk production and expressing, you additionally had to think about your bill. My partner would often look at how the bill progressed and we began to think of what can be sold, but even after we looked at what we could sell, the numbers still didn’t march. My biggest lesson I had to learn was not to worry about things I can’t control. Call it whatever you may like, but my focus was on my baby. I wasn’t going to let anything shift it. It got to a point where we opted not to look at the bill
After 6 weeks in NICU she was now about 1.5kg and was moved to the court, where full term babies are placed after birth. She was finally able to regulate her own temperature, due to the weight she had gained. I could see us heading home in a few days. For me, the pressure mounted when the other mums left and only 4 of us from the original group were left. I could sense that everyone was tense. Mums would show up late and leave early or show up late at night. The babies would be weighed every other day, and then we would be updated first thing on arrival. It was exciting when your baby gained weight and it served as encouragement to keep hope alive.
There was a time I got to hospital eager to hear how much she had gained, only to be told that she had lost 10 grams. I locked myself inside the washroom for about 40 minutes with my phone switched off and cried heavy tears.
Somehow I think this was part of my release after keeping face for all that time. I had so many questions, I felt helpless, I just wanted it all to end. I didn’t realize how much time had passed and how loud I was crying until someone knocked on the door and asked if I was okay. I switched on my phone and went back to our room, thankfully there was no one. I tried to compose myself, but I eventually called my partner and asked him to take me home.
First forward, another 2 weeks went by and my baby was still not heavy enough to go home, she was at 1.65kgs and the cut-off weight is 1.8kgs. I had kangarooed about 4 times within this two week period, so I blamed myself for her not adding enough weight. I felt like I was taking out my frustrations on her while depriving her the warmth she needs. The night before weighing was to take place I actually spoke to my baby (was now comfortable enough to carry and breastfeed her) and told her it was time to go home and that she needed to help mummy and daddy by adding enough weight.
We got home and prayed for our baby as we also dedicated our humongous bill to the heavens. The next morning, I arrived at around 11am, the classes were ongoing so I went in to see my baby and then took a walk to the hospital cafeteria. I didn’t want to ask about the weight first since I was too afraid of the disappointment. I had a glass of Mango Juice and headed back to our room where I placed my back on the storage cabinets and whispered a prayer before I went in to speak to the nurse on duty at the time. I was happy to find my baby awake which was not the norm since she had just taken her 12 o’clock meal, she should have been asleep. I first held her and changed her diaper, before I could ask; one of the nurses came in and informed us that we should prepare for the vaccine the next day. What? That meant she had gained enough weight!! In fact she had gained surplus, she was now 1.9kgs which is above the cut-off.
She had gained a whopping 300 grams in 2 days!!
Before discharge and looking at the stories from Mums who were already home, I knew the journey had just begun. There was a lot more! I had to think of what preparations to make at home to create a conducive environment. We were advised not to shower with scented soap or wash our clothes with detergent any more. We had to get rid of any fluffy blankets or floor mats that we had. I had to continue with a strict healthy diet to keep the milk coming. The house had to be extra warm and at no point could she live the bedroom. We couldn’t have visitors over for the next 4 months and we got face masks for those who would insist. I now knew that this journey had actually just begun, I couldn’t tolerate the thought of my baby falling sick again, I wasn’t going to take any chances.
Fast forward, my baby is now 11 and ½ months 10.7kgs and I can’t wait to celebrate her first birthday in style. She’s unstoppable, determined to grow and very opinionated. I look at her and my strength is renewed. I named her ‘’Aloyo’’ which in my language means ‘’I am a conqueror’’, and indeed she is and will continue to conquer all other life’s obstacles.
You may also like: Yvonne Ndege : Millicent Atieno’s heartbreaking journey to Motherhood
For more updates on your growing baby and what to expect in the first 100 days of your baby, be sure to subscribe to our pregnancy newsletter.