When I created Confessions of a Patchwork Momma over two years ago, my vision was to create an inspirational blended parenting blog. Then shit got real.
My unexpected month in maternity hospital left me somewhat traumatized. I spent a night in the high dependency unit, where only the sickest mothers end up, but miraculously avoided having an emergency cesarean section. I became acutely aware of the fact that my care might be compromised because of the Eighth Amendment in the Irish Constitution. (Remember, this was exactly one year before Ireland held the referendum which made abortion legal). During the spring of 2017, the baby in my womb held equal rights to me. On my darkest days, when fear consumed me, I remembered Savita Halappanavar, and the life she might have lived under different circumstances.
Though my health was deteriorating, and my body was pushed to its limits, induction was delayed until I pleaded for it 3 weeks after my hospital admission. My baby was no longer growing or gaining weight, my veins had collapsed from being poked with needles constantly, I was on the highest dose of Labetalol (for high blood pressure) that they could safely administer, I had daily injections of blood thinners, and the medication treating cholestasis in pregnancy wasn’t helping. (Yes, in addition to Severe Pre-eclampsia, I had developed another dangerous pregnancy related illness). I felt like an incubator. Thankfully the consultants met and agreed that there was no longer an advantage to the baby gestating in my womb.
On International Midwives Day, I was brought to the induction room where the midwives ruptured my waters. Three hours later I naturally delivered my Blessing Boy. We were prepared to have him immediately whisked away to the neonatal unit as previously discussed with our doctors, but to my surprise he was healthy enough that I could hold him for a moment. There was no opportunity to breastfeed like I had with my three full term babies. At 34 weeks, our little one hadn’t even developed his sucking reflex yet. He was under 4 pounds and looked like a frail baby bird, all sharp angles. Still he was beautiful to me. I have never felt so relieved as when staff brought us tea and toast in the delivery suite, and we could marvel about our precious baby and the fact that the labor and delivery went as smoothly as we could hope for.
After his birth, I was moved to the ward with new mothers. I don’t understand why women in my situation couldn’t room together. Instead I shared a room with a woman who had a perfectly healthy full term baby beside her. She was beaming with joy and talked more than I would have liked. I desperately wished for my own baby. It was hard waking to an alarm in the middle of the night, rather than naturally rousing to a newborn cry, to express milk. My roommate’s large family visited constantly which compounded my sense of being alone. My partner was working out of town and was away most of the time. The hospital is 90 km from home, making it difficult to see my other children or friends.
I spent as much time as possible in the neonatal department, watching my Blessing and willing him to be strong. He was hooked up to feeding tubes, was assisted with a CPAP machine (which pushed oxygen into his lungs) for a couple of days, and was also put under jaundice lights. The nurses were mostly kind and I eventually knew them all by name. I routinely came to the neonatal pumping room and expressed milk every few hours around the clock to establish my supply. After only 5 days Blessing was moved to the nursery, where the healthiest babies are placed before they head home. Once he slept in a regular cot instead of an incubator, I was allowed to hold him more often. Eventually he started taking feeds (of my expressed milk) from a bottle instead of the feeding tube, but he still wasn’t able to breastfeed. At times I felt frustrated trying to teach him- his mouth was so incredibly small and he tired quickly! I was determined not to give up and was offered support by a lactation consultant. Our pediatrician pointed out that the babies fed breast-milk went home quickest. He also made a point of telling my partner, on the day of Blessing’s release, that every time he did his rounds I was there with our baby; he said my devotion helped our little one to thrive. That bit of acknowledgement went a long way towards making a vulnerable, exhausted, still-recovering-from-preeclampsia postpartum mom feel a lot better.
A week after delivery, as my blood pressure began to decrease, I was discharged. I still required medication and needed weekly check-ups for 6 weeks postpartum. In Cork we are fortunate to have the services of Brú Columbanus. That meant that I could live nearby until my baby was ready to come home. I was able to walk back and forth to the hospital to visit Blessing and to deliver his bottles of milk to the nurses. I was away from my older children for a total of 6 weeks. Blessing spent nearly 3 weeks in the neonatal unit before we could finally drive him “home.”
“Home” was a spacious rental I’d never seen before. You see, two days before Blessing’s birth my house caught fire. My three older children and their American grandma were rendered homeless. Yeah… Now that’s when shit got even more real.
Our Blessing Boy, May 2017