Our daughter is 54 days old. 54 days that she should have spent in the womb. She is supposed to be in my womb for a further 44 days before she is meant to be born. She was born 14 weeks too early and has faced and conquered unimaginable obstacles. I look at her in awe and wonder every day. The little miracle that she is, and I am astounded with how powerful and fragile she is.
J and I have found ourselves in a situation that I think one is only able to understand if you have experienced it yourself. We were essentially robbed of many of the moments that couples experience during a pregnancy. We’ll never get to watch my tummy expand as she grows, we’ll never experience seeing her move inside my tummy, we won’t be looking forward to the 4d scan to see her face. I won’t get the opportunity to plan the perfect maternity shoot with my big preggy belly or be tortured with diaper jokes and games at a baby shower. J didn’t have the chance to gloat about his perfect daughter over celebratory drinks and a clichéd cigar. So many silly traditions that we missed. So many silly traditions that we were robbed of and will never experience.
When C was born, at 26 weeks and 3 days, her eyes were still fused shut. Let that sink in…. Her skin was paper thin and we were unable to touch her, initially because she was so fragile, later I think because we were just too terrified of causing her harm. She spent the first two days of her life outside of the womb and inside of a special plastic packet which regulated her body temperature and moisture content. Her limbs were out of proportion, her hands, feet and ears appeared too large for her body because she was at an age where she is forming into the correct proportions of a fully formed foetus. Before 26 weeks in South Africa, a foetus is not recognised as a viable (survivable) baby worthy of trying to save.
When most parents are adjusting to the idea of having a baby and are disagreeing on how to decorate the nursery and are starting to buy all kinds of books, gadgets and goodies for their bundle of joy, we were staring at our bundle of joy straight in the eyes, faced with a thousand unknown possibilities and a daunting time ahead of watching helplessly as she and her medical team fought to give her a chance at survival.
J and I are both the type of people who try to see the best or funny side of situations and I’ll admit to losing that ability on many occasions in the early days of her story. In place of all the experiences that we are missing out on, is a journey that very few have experienced or will ever be able to fully understand. We are able to see our baby’s growth and development first hand. We were able to see her eyes open for the first time, ever. We have watched her grow into her hands and feet. We’ve seen how her eye sight has begun to develop and distinguish between light and dark, we can see how she attempts to track movement. We can see how her hearing has developed and how she responds to specific voices and sounds. We are physically able to see, on the machines, the effects that physical contact have on her, or the sound of dad reading to her, or mom singing to her. We are watching our child develop and form and prepare for life before our very eyes, months before we were intended to experience it.
We share as much as we can of our experience with our friends, family and now with the world, to try put into perspective just how phenomenal our little girl is, and in the hope that our story will offer some insight for anyone who is facing the possibility of entering this rollercoaster ride themselves. We share as much as we can, but I’m not sure we will ever truly be able to explain the range of emotions one experiences when going through this, particularly when you are faced with a step backwards (they are inevitable), or the level of overwhelming joy when you see your child’s face for the first time without a pipe sticking out a nose or mouth, when you see her breathing unassisted for the first time or when you see the last drip has been removed from her body.
We are often asked how we are and how do we cope with this situation. There is no magical answer to this other than, we are okay and we have survived thus far with some of our sanity intact. With regards to how we cope though, this is all we know of parenting, this is our version of normal so I’m going to assume that we are coping as well as any other parents would in this situation. I know the latter is fact because we’ve met so many phenomenal parents that have come and gone through NICU. Stepping into NICU for a new parent is absolutely terrifying, you are walking into the complete unknown, I sobbed my way in the first time and sobbed my way right out again after meeting my daughter for the first time. It must be said though that no parents would survive NICU without the support from the nursing staff and fellow NICU parents. The support and dedication towards our babies wellbeing and of ours has been incredibly humbling, they are part of our daily routine, they are considered family and loved ones.
NICU is a family unit in its own unique beautiful form and I will miss everyone who is a part of it terribly when we are eventually sent home. I like to think that C made such an early arrival because she wanted an early start on making an impression on the world. She’s made one hell of an impression so far!