Today is World Prematurity Day, raising awareness of premature birth and the effects being born too soon can have on babies and their families. Premature birth is still the biggest cause of death amongst newborns. Thankfully, my own little preemie celebrated his tenth birthday last month, so he is one of the lucky ones.
Tom was born six weeks early in October 2014. My pregnancy had been completely problem free right up until my waters broke unexpectedly six weeks before my due date. I was staying with my parents at the time as Mark was out of the country on business. I rang him straight away and he started his own epic journey across Ireland late on a Sunday night to try to get the quickest flight back to the UK.
My parents drove me straight to hospital and I was admitted. The baby's heartbeat was fine and as I wasn't having any contractions my parents went home and I spent a restless night on my own, thankfully in my own room. I was in complete shock and just couldn't get any sleep. I started mild contractions in the night and the next day the doctor told me that as I was at 34 weeks they wouldn't try to stop the birth. The contractions gradually got stronger as the day wore on, but thankfully Mark made it to the hospital late that morning, having driven across Ireland all night to catch the first flight out in the morning. My labour progressed normally and my precious firstborn son made his way into the world at 8 o'clock on Monday night. He was a tiny 4 lbs 6 oz and looked like a little doll.
My first cuddle
He breathed straight away and after he was dressed I was able to hold him for a brief time before he was whisked away. I didn't see him again for two hours and when I did he was in an incubator with a feeding tube coming out of his nose.
Although little, Tom was quite a tough little chap. He never needed help breathing. This meant that I was able to have the odd little cuddle with him, although he couldn't be out of his incubator for long as he couldn't maintain his body temperature. Mark and I soon learned to change his teeny tiny nappy and give him his feeds through a tube. I think because Tom was my first baby and I had nothing to compare him too, I was never intimidated by his size, I think if I had had a full term baby first and then a preemie I would have been terrified by his fragility. As it was, it all seemed quite normal to us.
Changing Tom's nappy in the incubator
4 Days old
I remember being so excited when Tom was deemed well enough to move from his incubator into a specially heated 'hot cot'. We were taking one day at a time and it seemed like real progress. The most upsetting time for me was shortly after this when Tom developed jaundice and he had to go under the UV lights. He really didn't like it and it was the first time I cried over the whole situation. Having a premature baby is a bit of an emotional roller coaster!
Tom in his 'hot cot'
Under the UV lights for jaundice
Tom finally graduated to a proper cot and once we had a feeding routine established we were able to take him home. We were in Transitional Care for 11 days before we finally got to bring our little boy home. Thankfully my Mum and Dad had not been idle during my stay in hospital. We had only moved into our new house a few weeks before and had next to nothing for the baby. They made sure we had all the essentials ready for us when we got home, right down to the Moses' basket. We went home to a house full of boxes with our tiny boy.
Finally in a big boy cot!
We didn't leave the house with Tom for a month. It was a cold autumn and we wanted to protect him as much as possible from the temperatures and any potential illnesses. We kept the house pretty toasty and just stayed home and enjoyed him as much as possible.
Tom was small for his age for the first five years and was always behind his peers in his developmental milestones. He has now fully caught up to where he should be and is now a very happy and healthy ten year old.
Tom does have a few minor issues, but we will never know if those were because he was premature or whether he would have had those anyway. We will also never know why he was born early. I have since had three other children, all of whom were full term. All I know is that I am incredibly grateful that my story ends with a happy, healthy ten year old boy. Looking at him now, you would never know he was premature and I will always be grateful to the lovely doctors and midwives who played such a crucial role in his earliest days.
Tom with his six month old baby brother