Have you ever thought about what moms of premature babies go through? Someone I know recently delivered her baby at 34 weeks, and knowing what she has been going through over the last two weeks has reminded me of Lucy Ongaya.
Lucy delivered her baby at 30 weeks, with a birth weight of 1,900 grams. I’ll share Lucy’s experience again just so that if you know of a mom who may be going through something like that now, you can be able to empathize with them and possibly reach out. This is Lucy’s story*.
“I remember when I went to the newborn special unit, I saw a tiny little thing that I was told was my baby. She was extremely thin, hairy, and was breathing rapidly. She had tubes all over her body. As I looked down at her, I wondered if it really was my child and what on earth I had given birth to. I wasn’t allowed to touch her baby or breastfeed her.
I was numb from a variety of feelings: shock, disappointment, pity, love, anger, pain, worry. That was not the ending I had envisioned of my pregnancy. I was devastated. For two days, I stayed in my hospital bed and completely refused to see her despite the encouragement of nurses and doctors.
Why were other New Moms so Happy?
During those two days, I would stare at jovial mothers happily holding and nursing their healthy babies and would cry for hours on end.
One time, I went to the nurses’ station and complained about one particular new mom who would receive many visitors. I felt bad because she was happy, yet there I was, with an extremely sick baby I spent every minute agonizing over whether she would survive. I asked the nurses to stop this mother from receiving any more visitors. Now that I look back, I realize that I did that out of frustration.
Due to her premature birth, most of her daughter’s organs were not fully developed. She could not feed on breast milk as she could not digest anything but glucose. She had jaundice and was found to have holes in the heart. She also developed a severe blood infection, which saw her undergo six blood transfusions during her six-week stay in hospital. Several times her veins blocked and caused the blood and medication to flow into her tissues, causing her lifetime scars.
When I was okay to be discharged, I remember feeling so sad and empty because I had to leave my baby behind in the hospital. I had done everything right to ensure that I had a healthy pregnancy, yet I was leaving my baby in an incubator, very ill.
Hearing Voices in my Head
Daily, I’d report to the hospital at 6am and leave at 10pm. But the nights would be so tough! I would hear voices in my head mocking me about leaving my baby in hospital. Why was I sleeping in my bed, yet my daughter was alone, her only companion tubes and machines? What kind of mother was I to leave my sick daughter? What if she woke up and cried for me? Would anyone hear her? Would anyone comfort her?
I would stay awake, counting the minutes to dawn.
Fear of Death
I approached my daughter’s bed each morning stealthily, scared that I would not find her. This is because there are days when I would leave the hospital at night and when I returned in the morning, I would find one of the babies missing, a baby whom I knew was not yet ready to be discharged. The baby would most likely have passed away. My heart would be filled with panic, fearing the worst for my baby.
During that time, I shut people out of my life, only relating with immediate family members. I knew people were concerned about me and wanted to console me, but I shut them out.
Finally, after six weeks, my daughter Chelsea was strong enough to be discharged. Today, the once-sick baby whom I feared would not survive is a healthy, happy girl who has never suffered any major ailment.
Don’t be Hard on Yourself
Since this experience, I spend time talking to pregnant women and mothers of premature babies. I want pregnant women to know that the pregnancy may not turn out as they expect and that they should be prepared for any eventuality.
Also reflecting on how I blamed myself, wondering what I had done wrong during my pregnancy that had led to the premature birth, I tell moms with premature babies not to blame themselves for sometimes pregnancy complications are beyond their control. They should not feel guilty about it.
Support for Mothers of Preemies
I wish hospitals had a support programme for mothers of premature babies.
The nurses and doctors focus on the baby and do not pay attention to the mother. Mothers feel lost and emotionally abandoned. Medics forget that the mother’s emotional wellbeing is just as important to help her nurture her newborn to good health. They should have counsellors on standby to help mothers cope with the strenuous emotions they go through as they care for their sick babies, worrying if they will die.
There’s also the finances. Most medical insurance does not cover pregnancy-related complications. I had a good cover, but they did not pay our hospital bill. Chelsea would incur expenses of about Sh20,000 a day. We had to take a loan to pay the hospital bill.
The support of family and friends is important. All manner of support — emotional, physical, and even financial — can go a long way in helping the mother deal with the unexpectedness of a premature birth.”
So that’s Lucy’s story. Thanks for reading. Do you have a similar experience? What would you like other moms to know about delivering a premature baby? If you’d like to share your story, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be in touch with you.
*You can read the full article here.