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Joshua - born at 27 weeks

A Million Tears

I'm not sure how many tears I've lost to Joshua, I've lost count. Tears of joy finding out I was pregnant, tears of worry about what kind of mother I was going to be, tears when the baby first kicked and when I received the first baby jumpsuit. Then things went terribly wrong, I shed tears for the pregnancy I didn't have, tears for the labor I never had, tears for the baby I might lose, tears for the motherly instincts I didn't feel. This story is about the emotions involved in having a premature baby, factual information is a little fuzzy.

I was 27 weeks and 4 days. I woke up starving and late for work. Mark dropped me off and I went to the coffee shop for an orange juice and muffin. I rang my mother at around 10.00am to talk to her. I hadn't felt Josh move in around 24 hours. Maybe a few little kicks here and there, but my intuition told me things weren't right. Physically I felt fine, in fact I felt fabulous, no swelling, no headaches, no pain and just a little indigestion in the evenings. My mum wanted me to ring the doctor but after the phone call I shrugged it off thinking I was a paranoid mother-to-be. I was very busy at work and just got on with the day. After about an hour, I started to chat to my friend Jodie who sat next to me and told her I hadn't felt the baby move. She made me ring my doctor, and he told me to come straight to the hospital. I burst into tears after the phone call, knowing in my heart something was wrong. I rang my husband Mark and he met me outside my work and then went to the hospital.

The nurse checked the baby's heartbeat and everything was fine. I burst into tears embarrassed that I'd made a fuss, and happy that everything was okay. The hospital was so busy, pregnant women everywhere. As we were about to leave, Mark said to the nurse "Shouldn't you check her blood pressure?" "Oh, of course" said the nurse. She checked my blood pressure and didn't say anything. Then she asked me to provide a urine sample. She looked me straight in the eye and told me I had pre-eclampsia and I might have my baby today. I looked at her in shock. My first thought was "I can't, I haven't done the nursery yet".

They took me up to the ward where I waited for my physician. Mark went home to collect my personals. By the time he came back I was in intensive care. I felt totally out of control, like I was having an out of body experience - like I was looking down at myself in disbelief. I kept saying in my head, "I'm healthy, I did everything right - what did I do wrong?" My family arrived at the hospital. My Dad came into the room and saw me lying there hooked up to machines - I saw the terror in his eyes. He stayed for 5 seconds and walked out. I knew then something was wrong. I still thought my baby was going to be okay. The doctors and nurses were whispering. I could see Mark talking to them through the glass door in the intensive care room. What were they saying? What's going on? Everything was going to be okay, why was everyone worried?

As I was being wheeled into theatre, my mother kissed my stomach - I knew she was saying good bye to my baby. I wished time had stopped. I wanted everything to slow down. Things were happening too fast for me to absorb. I couldn't think straight. I was thinking of the things I needed to do at work, the washing on the line, the bills I had to pay at the post office. I spent most of my time worrying about Mark and my family and forgot about me - didn't feel a lot of pain, just numbness.

I had an epidural and didn't feel a thing. As they were opening me up, Mark sang me Elton John songs. Tears were streaming down my face, I couldn't control it. I started to panic, I could feel the medical team poking and prodding. I looked up and could see my stomach in the reflection of the surgery lights, I saw my insides. I felt sick. Mark and I talked and decided we didn't want the baby to suffer, didn't want him hooked up to machines. I wanted him to go to heaven without suffering. I thought that would be the best present I could give him. The only motherly decision I would ever make for him.

I had a classical c-section which was a little more complicated - they cut me both ways to try and get him out. He was breech. They took him out. The baby had his own medical team waiting for him. They intubated him straight away. Mark lifted my head and they showed me his foot. It was the size of the top of my thumb. I felt nothing when they showed me. No motherly instincts, just the sheer terror of not being in control of what was going on.

I didn't recuperate very well and stayed in intensive care for a few more days. Mark and my mum wanted me to see the baby. I didn't. I trusted the staff to get him better, they didn't need me to get in the way. I was happy to stay where I was but after several days they insisted and put me in the wheelchair. They wheeled me into intensive care Room 3. I looked around and felt stupid that I didn't know which baby was mine. They pointed to Joshua's incubator. I looked at him for a while but I couldn't believe he was mine. I turned around and looked at the other babies and wondered if they had made a mistake. He can't be mine. I wanted to get out of there. I didn't want to be a mother anymore. Maybe we should adopt him out, give him to someone more deserving, someone that really wanted him. Everything was just too much, I wanted to go home. I was sick of thinking, I was sick of the needles, I was sick of feeling sick.

Eventually, I was moved to the maternity ward where all the happy families were. I hated it. At night when the lights were out the babies would start crying. The noise was deafening. I couldn't make them stop. Make them stop...

The social worker told me I would be devastated to leave hospital without my baby. But in fact, when the time came, I felt nothing. I felt like a horrible mother. I was happy to be going home. I got upset in the car, and Mark thought I was upset to leave Joshua - I wasn't. I didn't say anything. I'd figure this one out myself.

Friends and relatives found it difficult to find the right words. People weren't sure if they should congratulate us or send their commiserations. I felt uncomfortable talking about Josh. I didn't want people to see him at the hospital. Somehow I felt I had to protect him from the world. I didn't want people feeling sorry for him, didn't want them crying when they saw him in the incubator. I wanted people to see him when he got a little bigger and looked like a real baby.

My girlfriend Jacquee flew from Perth to help us out. I couldn't believe that someone would do that for me. She wanted to come over the day I had Josh, but it was too much. I didn't feel like talking to anyone. Jacquee was there when I had my first Kangaroo Cuddle. I panicked so much. They tucked him into my chest. Tubes everywhere, machines beeping. It wasn't exactly what I imagined my first hold would be like. Everyone was staring at me. Felt guilty I wasn't crying for joy. I was happy to be holding him, but I would have been happy holding any one of the babies in that room.

I got into a routine with Josh. I would express every morning into a machine for 30 minutes, closing my eyes and trying to feel maternal so that my milk would let down. Then I'd have a shower and drive to the hospital with my milk. I would write down all of Josh's statistics then I'd ring Mark and tell him what they were then I'd go down stairs to the cafe to get something to eat, before going back to express into a machine again, change Joshua's nappy and go home. Days turned into weeks.

One morning I was changing Joshua's nappy and he let out his first cry. I absolutely panicked. He sounded like a kitten. I looked around for a nurse but they were busy with the other babies. I put my hands through the incubator and stroked his head to calm him and he stopped. Tears strolled down my face, I knew then that I was his mother. I knew then that I was supposed to have him. I knew then that he was mine. I told him I loved him for the first time and I promised him I'd get him out of that hospital as soon as I could. Then for the first time I had an overwhelming feeling that I might lose him. I loved him, but I might lose him. I felt like a mother for the first time.

It was horrific watching Joshua struggle to take each breath, watching his tiny chest pant in and out, watching the milk being poured down his nasal gastro tubes, his tiny little face underneath the tangle of the ventilator/CPAP equipment.

Weeks turned into months and Joshua slowly got bigger and fatter. He had a few little set backs. We were told he had a grade 2 bleed to the brain which causes cerabal palsy and other difficulties but he had his second scan before he left hospital and it had disappeared.

He only had one set back when he was around 10 weeks old. He was off the machines and in an open cot when he stopped breathing one night and had to be bagged (CPR) for eight minutes. He had just been taken off a stimulant that helped his brain to remember to breathe, so that may have been the cause, or perhaps milk was stuck in his throat and he was too weak to cough it up. He was around 4 pounds when that happened. There were no other immediate worries with his health. He had a hernia operation three days before being discharged. His eyes and ears were/are okay.

He came home after 94 days. I hardly slept for the first 12 months. I would just stare into his cot late at night and watch him breath and make sure he was okay.

He is now two years old and very much a little boy. He bum-shuffled for 10 months and walked when he was 22 months.

People ask me "When are you going to have another baby?". I always hesitate. It's not an easy answer. Am I willing to do this all over again - to my family, to my husband who nearly lost us both, to a new little baby who might be hooked up to machines again? Is it worth it? My heart says it is.

©2004 Tania Phillips

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