Paul* and his partner had their daughter prematurely at 32 weeks. Here he recounts his feelings about the hospital and birth experience, and the days and weeks after his baby’s premature arrival.
Paul’s story: from premature birth to Teletubbies
‘We leave the car out front and get into a ward within a few minutes. People make quick introductions and start assessing and managing the situation.
‘All I feel is a lack of knowledge of what is happening and what will happen. I feel relief as our doctor arrives, assesses, leaves, prepares, sets up monitoring and tells us what is likely to happen.
‘Silence. We are in the system. There’s no time for talking. This is serious. More hospital wards. We and others are getting ready for an emergency procedure. But we are not ready for this. We are not prepared, and time, we are told, is running out.
‘The baby might not be getting an adequate supply of oxygen. There seems to be trouble finding an anaesthetist, but we are not supposed to know this. A few quiet words and we are trying to get my partner comfortable between contractions, straps and uncomfortable pillows.
‘We don’t have anything with us but our work bags, and nobody knows where we are.
‘The team arrives, and we are getting ready for her to go in. Jewellery is coming off. In a corridor I’m introduced to more people, and I go for coffee in a windowless staffroom so they know where I am. Television seems trivial, and why is this room such a mess?
‘I am waiting on edge, and I do not know if there is a bridge in front of me or a precipice. I can’t move forward because someone else is dictating my steps. I am quiet, not running down any emotional path, just waiting and hoping. My expectations and plans now seem naïve and I put them away for another day. I don’t wish to see them. Why do I even have them when this can happen?
‘OK, everything is fine. The paediatrician has the baby, and the mother will be coming out in an hour or so. Still so much can go wrong, but immediate tests were good, and when repeated, they were excellent.
‘I walk in and must wash my hands. There are three people around a perspex box – the centre of focus. I move to see what is happening. Tubes are being attached, feet are being pricked, veins are being found, and they are happy because the signs are good.
‘What is this haze around everything? I am tearful and tired and trying to gather information and look at the baby. After a while I realise there is little more to be learned, and I need to see how my other girl is doing. Now there are two people for me to look after.
‘I walk down corridors, find the right waiting room, tell the staff who I am, and then I’m led up to a bed half covered by green curtains. A still grey figure is all alone. I am there to comfort and support and provide a report, and all I feel is sorry and sad. This is not what we expected, yet we knew it happens. Everything is OK – and no, it isn’t.
‘She surfaces and her first reaction is relief as she sees who I am and learns the baby is OK. A minimum level of strength and energy returns as she tries to recollect what has happened and learns what has happened. Those first hours are a jewelled jigsaw that she has lost, and which I struggle to provide.
‘We’re meant to be happy, a baby has arrived, but I don’t want congratulations and a cigar. I am tissue paper vulnerable to so many things that might go wrong and I feel as if it all might fall apart at any point.
‘Tomorrow, tomorrow, I want to put everyone off until tomorrow. Let us do well tonight so we can progress tomorrow and begin to fathom what we have ahead of us.
‘Back at work after a few days and someone else had a premature baby so now it is – how many weeks premature, and what developmental stage, where the lungs are at, how much oxygen and what happens if you get too much. How things have improved and yet it all seems so fragile. And by the way, congratulations.
‘I’m in a world of probabilities, likelihoods, and I’m sure it will be fine. I will take anything positive.
‘Now I have a sense of what the baby can overcome. She has tissue paper ears that can be unfolded. Every morning I am going in before work to wash the baby and see how she is doing. Mum will come later. Lunch time and I am back in the nursery. Mum is already there learning as much as possible.
‘We are mapping her progress, the doctors gently providing information, the nurses not wanting to give false hope.
‘Will she always be a “premmie”? What stigma will be carried by our little girl? You start building up a list of premature people who have succeeded, don’t look premmie, or are doing fine, have overcome the problems they did have, and some of them you know, as adults or children. We even consider that it might not matter at all.
‘Was the biggest problem not knowing what it was all about and what we could do?
‘But we are still in a routine of tests and doctors’ appointments and whenever something is wrong, we wonder about the contribution played by her early arrival.
‘Two and a half years later, we have learned to speak like Teletubbies and we know the bananas songs and my little girl has helped me “laugh in the face of danger” (The Lion King).’
* Not his real name.