An early alarm

It was 2am Wednesday morning and I couldn’t sleep, anticipating an alarm for 4:30am that would whisk my husband away to the airport for a three-day trip to Sydney for work. As I lay there I didn’t realise that in a little over 20 hours our baby boy would enter the world 7 weeks ahead of schedule. We were about to take the ride of our life.

As I got out of bed for that all too frequent trip to the toilet, I felt a sudden rush of fluid. With our first antenatal class from only 5 hours earlier still ringing in my ears about the kind of things one should immediately call the hospital about – bleeding – being one of them. I knew something was wrong.

I quietly called out from the loo “Honey, I’m bleeding,” which started an immediate panic. My husband, usually calm in a crisis, suddenly couldn’t dress himself or figure out how the phone worked, yelling at me, “I told you to leave the hospital number by the phone,” and nearly tripping over his trouser leg. I calmed him down, got his remaining clothes out for him and retrieved the hospital’s number. They advised us to come in immediately.

Within minutes of being admitted to the labour ward and monitoring equipment being strapped to my belly, I felt my first contraction. The doctor told me that the bleeding had come from inside my uterus, but had stopped, and gave me tablets to try to stop the labour and a steroid injection to mature the baby’s lungs. My husband called the airline and cancelled his flight. We were thankful this hadn’t happened when he was on the plane or already in Sydney.

At 7am I was still having mild contractions but hadn’t started bleeding again so the monitors came off and I was transferred to the antenatal ward. Another ultrasound revealed a healthy baby and no obvious placental separation. The doctor said if I didn’t start bleeding again I should be going home tomorrow. This was great news because my mother and I had tickets to see the Grease musical the following night and it was an important outing because my mother saw the original Grease movie when she was pregnant with me.

At about 3:30pm, only an hour after my husband had left to go home to get me some things (I didn’t have a labour bag or clothes for the baby prepared) and grab some sleep, the contractions intensified and I started bleeding heavily again. So it was back to the labour ward and the monitors again, while I waited for my exhausted husband to return. I was still receiving the tablets to try to inhibit my labour and we didn’t know if we were going to have this baby or if I would still get to see the Grease musical with mum.

The doctor performed an internal exam about 6:30 pm. Wide-eyed, he turned to the midwife and announced that I was 7 cm dilated and we would be having a baby in a matter of hours. “Well, I guess Grease is off then”, said my husband, leaving to call our parents. I couldn’t believe I was this far along without any pain relief.
An urgent delivery

As the contractions became more painful and the urge to start pushing followed, I elected to have the nitrous gas for pain relief. The baby was in a posterior position making it more difficult. The doctor broke my waters to help things along. The baby’s head was crowning when the monitor’s indicated our baby was in distress, the heart rate had dropped. All of a sudden there was a sense of urgency in the room and I noticed all the concerned faces (along with my husband, mother and midwife, there was now another midwife, 2 obstetric registrars and an obstetric consultant in the room). “This can’t be good”, I thought as I screamed with each contraction and sobbed to my mother that I couldn’t do this any more, to which she replied, “but darling, that’s what I said and you’re here.”

They couldn’t wait for my next contractions to deliver our baby, so at 10:40pm our bruised and distressed baby was delivered by forceps, weighing a very good 2.3kg for a 33 weeker. He was placed on my tummy for a few seconds while they cut the cord, he was then handed to the paediatrician and taken to the NICU.
Our little Travolta

The very traumatic premature labour and heavy blood loss, along with the fact that I didn’t have a baby with me in the postnatal ward, left me feeling depressed and detached from our son, who we still hadn’t decided on a name for.

The next morning my husband wheeled me down to the nursery to meet our baby boy. His whole face was purple due to bruising and his eyes swollen shut. There was this tiny little person in a humidicrib with monitors on him, drips in his arm, a tube in his mouth and prongs up his nose. Despite all this, I looked at my husband and said, “Can you believe we made him?”

We decided on the name “Riley” due to its Irish heritage and it’s meaning of valiant and war-like, because we knew this boy was a fighter. It wasn’t until we could have him out for a cuddle the next day that the motherly feelings I had always longed for hit me and it was very difficult leaving him each time. At home, despite not having the baby there, I got up every few hours in the middle of the night to the alarm clock to express. As all I could do for him was to try to give him the all important antibodies in my milk, I concentrated my efforts on expressing and bringing fresh breastmilk in to him every day.

Our little man was gaining strength and a quick learner. By day 19 he weighed 2.57kg and was being exclusively breastfed and we were finally allowed to bring him home.

We would like to thank all the nurses in the NICU and SCN at the Mater Mother’s Hospital in Brisbane who cared for Riley and my midwife Carol. The time in the nursery under the guidance of these wonderful nurses meant my husband and I felt confident in bringing our beautiful, although still bruised, baby boy home. Also to my friend and colleague Carol and her daughter, I hope you enjoyed the Grease musical in my place and thanks for suggesting an appropriate nickname for our son, depicting his early arrival – Grease Lightning!

Premmie # 2

At almost 2 years to the day from when Riley was conceived, I fell pregnant with baby # 2. After having a placental abruption and pre-term baby with the first pregnancy, I was told that I had a higher risk (about 5%) of having another abruption and premmie baby.

I had no early spotting this time around, but really bad morning sickness from about week 5 til 17 (I even took leave from work during the worst of it), otherwise the pregnancy was going well. The 20 week ultrasound revealed a healthy baby girl with no obvious placental problems. A 32 week ultrasound also showed everything was fine. At 33 weeks (when Riley was born), I breathed a sigh of relief – I had gotten this far. Another ultrasound at 34 weeks showed our little girl was a very healthy weight (I was told she would be about 4kg if I go full term) and no indications of placental problems. I went on leave from work with 6 weeks to go and had a bathroom renovation booked in to be done before the baby was to arrive.

At 7:30am, sitting at the breakfast table on the second morning of the bathroom reno, at 35weeks, I felt a cramp and went to the toilet. About 10 mins later I had another strong cramp and had to run to the toilet again. Thinking it was just a bit of gastro, I sent my husband off to work, drove my son to day care and got back home to meet the builder. During this time I kept having these so-called “cramps”. A phone call to my neighbour and the hospital led me to believe I might be in labour, so I got my bags together (I had packed them at 30 weeks this time) and told the builder where I wanted the fittings placed and got my neighbour to drive me to the hospital.

We arrived about 10:00am, with the contractions about 3-5 minutes apart and no signs of bleeding. Being only 5 weeks early this time, the doctor said that the baby’s lungs were mature enough and was happy for the labour to progress. An internal exam shortly before 11:00am revealed I was 8-9cm dilated. I quickly called my husband. With a completely natural labour of only 5 hours, our baby girl, Abbey, was born at 12:31pm. She was placed on my chest while I cut her umbilical cord myself. She was then left there to suckle for an hour or so before I sent my husband home to pick up Riley and my parents and I had a shower. She was very healthy for a 35 weeker, weighing 3.0kg, so I was allowed to take her with me to the postnatal ward.

It was a completely different experience to the first time around, having my baby with me in the ward, breastfeeding her and changing her, having the chance to bond with her straight away. It is amazing how much an extra 2 weeks inside the womb makes a difference to a baby’s ability to cope in the outside world.

Being that my chances of having another pre-term are even higher now, and knowing what it is like to have to come home while your baby is in the NICU, we have decided our family is complete. Abbey is now 10 months old and Riley turns 3 years next month with neither of them having any long-term impacts of their prematurity.

This article was written by Selina