Daniel's Story by Paul O'Brien
My Story by Ronan Halpenny
My advice to my two-pound miracle baby boy as a teen receiving his Junior Cert results? ... Don't sweat the small stuff, son by David Diebold
My humble journey- dad of two premature babies
Seven weeks before my daughter was due to be born in 2005, my wife developed pregnancy related complications and was admitted to hospital. Hours became days. Days became weeks. The doctors knew that birth was imminent and brought us up to the Special Care Baby Unit to familiarise us with the surreal environment that is known as SCBU. It was a daunting experience. Machines were beeping, nurses were running and babies were crying. It is a reassuring place but overwhelming nonetheless.
Three weeks later, baby Tara came into the world screaming. Nothing prepared us for the emotions; the jubilation of bringing a new citizen into neither the world nor the heartbreak of going home without her. She spent a staggering eleven days in Galway University Hospital. She was perfectly healthy and had no side effects but the encounter of the Special Care Baby Unit was one that we will never forget. In truth, it was just another task for the nurses and doctors but it is quite traumatic for parents. Besides, Tara was only four weeks premature. There were dozens of other babies born earlier than that at the same time in the same hospital. Two years later we got the wonderful news that Tara was going to be a sister. We subsequently found out through the wonders of medical technology that she was going to have a little brother. What we didn’t know was that her little brother was going to be tiny. The official due date was in November 2007. As parents, we were prepared for all eventualities but nothing could prepare us for what was around the corner.
This all happened at the time when Celtic Tiger was roaring across Ireland in August 2007. We attended an elaborate function for Galway United Football Club which was hosted by broadcaster Hector Ó hEochagáin at the world famous Galway Races. My wife Arlene felt unwell during the meal. Within hours, she was in hospital and wasn’t going to be allowed to leave hospital until such time as the baby came out. Arlene remained strong and focused; these traits were undoubtedly passed onto the baby inside her. The amazing medical staff at Galway University Hospital were unbelievable. By unbelievable, I mean that we could not believe how brilliant they were. It was almost beyond belief. They monitored mother and bump around the clock. Suddenly, it had become a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if.’ Eight days later, she had an emergency C Section. Daniel O’Brien entered the world three months before we expected him to. I counted thirteen people in the theatre for the procedure. I was given a very brief opportunity to take a photograph of him. He was wrapped in plastic and looked delicate. There was a very real chance that we would never see him alive again. He was put on a life support machine and an emergency plan sprang into action like clockwork.
Meanwhile, his mother was not doing so well herself and needed rest and constant medical assistance. Three hours after he was born, I got a phone call to drop what I was doing and run to the SCBU. We were rushed to our baby’s incubator as he had taken a bad turn. Arlene was brought in a wheelchair to her sick baby son. One of his lungs had collapsed and we were told that he may not survive the day. Daniel was literally fighting to breathe. He was baptised by the Hospital Chaplin who used a syringe with tap water to christen him with the names Daniel Paul. There were no family present; not even Godparents, just a team of nurses who had seen it all before and will see it all again. Yet still, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Arlene’s condition worsened; she was transferred to the High Dependency Unit at the other end of the hospital. She physically couldn’t be with her newborn baby at a time when he really needed his mother. He fought hard and defied the odds even though he remained critical. The Consultant repeatedly reaffirmed that he did not have a crystal ball. Anything could happen at any time. Daniel needed constant monitoring and intervention. He had wires attached to his limbs and chest. He was fed tiny drops of expressed breast milk through a tube. There were pipes inserted down his throat to assist his breathing. His tiny nappy was way too big for him. Sometimes, he would forget to breathe which set off an alarm. He was hanging in there by a thread.
Despite the trauma of his introduction to the world, it wasn’t hard to see that Daniel was a handsome little man with a pronounced chin and big eyes. He had brown hair and the nurses frequently quipped how tall he was. Yet still, he was no heavier than a bag of sugar. My wedding ring could fit all the way up his arm. In my mind, I wondered if I’d ever get to watch him play sport or whether he’d make me a grandfather. I also thought about arranging his funeral and whether I’d be able to carry his little coffin. A few days later, his mum Arlene was discharged. From the High Dependency Unit. Thereafter, she spent most of her waking hours with her tiny baby. A few days passed. He was far from being out of the woods but he was breathing with the help of a Ventilator. He would show signs of improvement but then an alarm would trigger a stampede of medics to resuscitate him. One step forward, two steps back. Sometimes twenty steps back and one step forward. He had good days too, which lifted the spirits. Our little family had become more united as we gained a whole new perspective on life. What used to be important had become insignificant. In fact, the word ‘insignificant’ totally understates how insignificant the insignificance really was. Time moved slowly. We prayed that it would speed up to a snail’s pace. When we were at home, we’d jump frantically if the phone rang. In fact, we’d also be quite frantic if the phone didn’t ring and we’d be checking the battery levels and strength of the signal. Thankfully, the phone call that we feared never came. A month after he was born, we were allowed to hold him for the first time. He was still attached to all sorts of machines but we treasured the moment. Whenever he got blood transfusions, I would watch in awe as he changed colour from grey to blue to rosy pink. Little did I know that when I first donated blood ten years previously, that I would witness the benefits of it before my own eyes.
Weeks passed and Daniel graduated from the incubator to a little plastic cot that resembled a basin. He still couldn’t breathe on his own but he was making great progress on the C Pap machine. Other babies came and went but our little man had settled in. We compared notes with other parents. In particular, we befriended a German couple who were on a holiday in Ireland when their daughter was born at 24 weeks. She was very ill and needed a heart operation. Two months later, an Air Ambulance plane landed in Galway Airport to transfer them back to Germany. The following year, they came back with their beautiful daughter to thank everyone who helped them. Three years later, the German family had another daughter born at 25 weeks. This gave them a unique insight into how pre-terms babies are treated in both countries. They observed that the standard of care in Galway was by far superior. They didn’t get any follow-on assessments in Germany despite the fact that it is one of the leading economies in the world. In Ireland, there is an ongoing array of appointments from physiotherapists to nutritionists to speech therapists to name just three.
Before we knew it, Daniel was a whopping 100 days old. That was the day when they told us to get ready to bring him home to meet his sister. The following week our boy was home. He was a great sleeper and eater.....just like his Dad. It was November and the weather had got significantly cooler. We had to replicate the temperature of the hospital which meant having the heat on almost all of the time. Our home became our sauna. We didn’t sleep well but we appreciated this type of restlessness. For Daniel’s first birthday, we throw a big party for our friends and neighbours although Daniel slept for most of it. He was oblivious to the occasion. After Daniel’s second birthday, I wrote to the then Minister for Health. I believe that had something gone wrong during this time, I would have been writing a letter of complaint. This however, was a letter of thanks. I enclosed photos of Daniel and thanked her because this effectively happened under her rule. The Minister sent a lengthy personal reply and she wrote to the Special Care Baby Unit to congratulate them on a job well done. She said that she will keep an eye out for Daniel on the future as he is surely destined for sporting greatness.
One thing is for sure; if he ever gets an opportunity to represent this little country of ours at any level in any sport, he will appreciate the honour unlike Stephen Ireland who doesn’t seem to know what side his bread is buttered on. I suspect that Daniel will more in the mould of Paul O’Connell or Pickie Bonner. Deep down, Daniel knows he is special and he has a permanent smile on his face. He eats what he is given and sleeps for twelve and a half hours straight every night. He has a tremendous sense of humour and is much liked by his peers. Daniel is mischievous and robust but he is also gentle and affectionate. He is quite simply a little dude.
To the wonderful people who work at St Claire’s Special Care Baby Unit at Galway University Hospital, you saved Daniel’s life and enriched the lives of his parents, sister and grandparents so many amongst others. Thank you; we will never ever forget anyone of you.
My Story. Written by Ronan , father of Harry.
This is a long story, perhaps you should get a cup of tea, or four...
I imagine that for most people, when they think about the phrase “putting your feet up”, it invokes images of relaxation, comfort and rest. Almost four years after the birth of my son (and hero) Harry, I am glad to say that these are (now) the images that are invoked in me also. That said, almost four years ago the phrase held a much more daunting meaning, particularly for my wife . There was certainly no relaxation, no comfort, and the only rest on the agenda was bed-rest. For my wife, twenty six weeks pregnant at the time, in the four days leading up to Harry’s birth, “putting your feet up” was roughly translated to mean “keeping the baby in”.
In short, the cervix had begun to open prematurely (no pun intended!), and had done so to such an extent that the amniotic fluid-filled sac, in which Harry was growing, was bulging from the cervix. The most significant potential consequence of this was premature birth; hence, my wife was prescribed an indefinite course of bed-rest. Now for someone who is very tired and needs a good sleep, this may sound like a heavenly prescription, but for a pregnant woman at risk of giving birth prematurely, it is far from that. It is a pregnancy prolonging, potentially life preserving activity, which, as stated above, fulfilled the almost exclusive function of keeping the baby in.
In such an instance, gravity is not your friend and mundane tasks such as standing, walking or going to the toilet suddenly become high-risk activities, so these were to be avoided at all costs. The implications of this were bleak; potentially spending the last three months of the pregnancy in a negatively inclined hospital bed with your legs elevated to a level that would counteract the effects of gravity on your cervix, not to mention not being allowed to get out of bed to go to the toilet.
Although we had started discussing how we would deal with such a situation (Lisa was going to take up knitting, and perhaps learn a foreign language!), these conversations were short lived, as four days after being admitted on bed-rest, Lisa had a significant bleed and a physical examination culminated in the doctor declaring “I can feel the foot...”. Anyone for an Emergency Caesarean Section? EMCS, I will never forget that abbreviation in Lisa’s file, or Harry’s either for that matter.
Less than an hour later, Lisa was on the delivery table and I was in a changing room down the hall with our consultant (Dr. Michael Geary), the Master of the Rotunda Hospital...the same changing room as the Master no less, what on earth was going on? During what was a very surreal few minutes, we both got changed into identical green scrubs. I was shaking with fear; he was completely calm and composed. Both of us had very different roles ahead of us in the next hour; he would safely deliver our beloved son Harry, and I would hold Lisa’s hand and cry with her, hoping everything would go OK. Of course in hindsight it is obvious, but at the point where I was hoping everything would go OK, I had no clue of the actual seriousness of the situation, because there isn’t much that can be considered “OK” about a twenty six week birth.
I will never forget those minutes in the changing room. All of a sudden I was sharing the intimate surroundings of a small changing room with a man who I didn’t really know despite having the utmost respect for and trust in, but who made me feel like I was the most important (or indeed the only) person in the world for that few minutes. I was almost embarrassed, in the sort of way that people get embarrassed when they are in a situation or environment that is completely alien to them. What the hell was I doing in a changing room usually reserved for doctors, consultants and life saving surgeons? I shouldn’t see the clothes and personal belongings of such people, maybe my local football team, but not these great men. Am I honoured to be here? Am I really here? Am I a bit star struck? These were all the thoughts in my head at the time. “Don’t forget to put the covers on your shoes...here is a surgical mask...” he said. What I do know is that for those few minutes we were equal, just two men getting changed together, I felt that there was a bond. I needed to feel that because I was scared. He reassured me that Lisa was in safe hands, and that made me feel better. Such a consummate professional I doubt I will ever meet again, but I’m probably biased.
I will also never forget the image of numerous pairs of white rubber surgical shoes with the names of doctors written on the heel of them in black permanent marker. They are on my list of “things you never think you will see in your life, and if you do it means that something is wrong”. Needless to say, you think you have gotten away with it when you see them once. You certainly don’t think you will ever see them a second time, but I did, about two years later when my daughter Holly was born. Same room, same fear, perhaps the same white shoes...but that’s a story for another time, and it’s taken me long enough to write this one as it is.
I did not know it at the time but during that few minutes I was in the presence of the man who would safely deliver my son in about twenty minutes time. Had I known it at the time, I would have hugged him, such is the love and respect I have for him now. Each time I have seen him since then, I have wanted to hug him. It feels like the only way I might be able to truly show him how grateful I am for all he has done for us. Sometimes words are just not enough. I well up most times that I see him, as I am doing now.
We finished getting changed. I sat dazed in the hall listening to the sound of the automatic doors opening and closing as various people moved around in preparation for the surgery. I couldn’t see Lisa but I could hear her talking in the theatre, only ten feet away, and there was a swarm of people around her. “I’ll call you in a few minutes...” he said as he entered the theatre. It felt like hours. To occupy my time and my mind I took out my diary. The first entry reads like this...
It was at this point, mid-sentence, that Dr. Geary called me into the theatre. Game on.
Dr. Geary introduced me to the team of people who would be helping to deliver Harry. Hello, Hi, Hello. Everyone was so calm, so I felt calm (ish). End of pleasantries, down to business. Scalpel please. The procedure started almost straight away. There was a lot of what seemed like extremely deliberate and efficient movement behind the little screen that was perched on Lisa’s chest. I could not see past the screen, but there was still an air of calm despite the activity. In the reflection of Dr. Geary’s protective eyewear I could sort of see what was happening at ground zero, but not really clearly. Some more movement, the sound of the suction, ferocious concentration on his face, a final flurry of movement and then Harry emerged, at reasonable speed, pulled out by his legs, upside down (as far as I can remember). My recollection of some of these bits is a bit hazy (hence Lisa’s story may be slightly different, although maybe actually accurate), but I think Harry made a brief crying noise, a good sign at 26 weeks gestation for sure. Dr. Geary may also have briefly held Harry up above the screen so we could see him before he was put in an open top incubator for all the Apgar stuff, intubation (I think) and whatever else was required in order to help him in ways he could not help himself. I’m not sure how long all that stuff lasted but the next time I saw Harry he was all wrapped up and ready to roll (literally) down to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU, another abbreviation I will never forget in my life). I got to see him briefly as he rolled past; in fact they stopped the bus so I could see him. I touched his nose and cried hard, and then he was off to the next stop.
The rest of that evening is a bit of a blur. I chatted with Lisa in the recovery room for a while, both of us still entirely oblivious to the seriousness of the situation, as I remember it anyway. Later in the evening (Harry was born around 6:00pm) a nurse brought us a photograph of Harry from the NICU. What a ridiculous situation to have to have to experience; for one of your first glimpses of your son to be a photo printed on an A4 sheet. More tears.
Eventually we both got to go to the NICU together to see him (I had walked down a couple of times, a privilege borne out of not having your abdomen cut open), and it is at this point that things get really hazy, because I don’t quite remember the very first time we saw him together. Fortunately I had a camera from the outset so there are pictures and videos to document what my brain has not captured effectively. Indeed there are over three thousand photographs and about ten hours of video footage to document the three months that Harry spent in the NICU.
I have also maintained a written diary (the one that I started outside the delivery suite), to this day actually, of Harry’s life. I wrote entries daily when he was in hospital, now I write in it every few months. Keeping a diary is something I recommend to all parents who find themselves in this position. Please do it...
On your fourth cup of tea yet? Go make it now, I’m nearly done...
The three months that Harry spent in hospital were very tough. As I keep saying, we didn’t realise it at the time, but in hindsight it really was very difficult indeed. Clearly something inside us was protecting us from the harsh reality of the situation, akin to an inner protection system allowing us to be there for Harry without falling apart at the seams. I don’t know how we didn’t fall apart at the seams to be honest. There were days when we just about held it together; hearing word of yet another blood transfusion (twelve in total in case you’re wondering), or the day he had to be resuscitated after worst bradycardia ever, or four days before Christmas when instead of bringing him home we were greeted with the news that he had another infection and had to stay another week, and so on...
Personally my I-think-I’m-falling-apart-at-the-seams moment was when I found out that Harry had developed ROP (Retinopathy of Prematurity – Google it!) and would subsequently need laser eye surgery. For some reason I was there on my own that morning. I remember the look on the doctor’s face as she approached me, her pained expression while she did so, and afterwards just sitting staring into the incubator at Harry, in floods of tears, wondering if he could see me through his little eyes, and indeed if he would ever be able to see his Daddy. If I recall correctly, he had his surgery that evening. I remember someone suggesting that we leave the hospital and have some food etc. because the procedure would take a couple of hours, so we did. We sat in Jury’s Hotel on Parnell Street. We didn’t eat.
The most surreal part of that day was when we were walking back to the hospital. It was dark outside, and the room where the procedure was taking place overlooked the street. The blind was pulled down but we could still see flashes of red laser light from the room (sort of like what you might imagine seeing if Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s duel from episode III were to take place in that room, with red lightsabers of course!). Everyone on the street would have seen the light if they were looking remotely in that direction, however we were the only people who knew what it was; no Star Wars, no CGI, but a surgeon performing laser eye surgery on a baby who was about as big (or indeed small if you will) as a size ten shoe and not even supposed to be born for another month. Surreal indeed, but in the trusty hands of Professor Michael O’Keefe, the lightsabers saved Harry’s eyesight that night.
The most wonderful, happy and tear inducing moment was on Christmas day. When we arrived in Harry’s room, he was dressed in what must have been the smallest Santa suit in the world, sleeping soundly, with a wrapped Christmas present in his cot by his head, from Santa! Harry’s first Santa present ever, it was a small, brown toy puppy, which he still has to this day, although one of the plastic eyes has fallen out. There was also a small Christmas card in an envelope for myself and Lisa, with a beautiful photograph of Harry. Cue Daddy crying again.
A couple of days later, the day that we waited for so long finally arrived. On December 28th we finally got to bring Harry home. Bringing Harry home that day even went down to the wire though. It was to depend on how he got on in an eye examination early that morning, and by the way, just in case you think it was all plain sailing, Harry had had yet another blood transfusion the previous day. Sure why not, one for the road and all that.
I will (finally) finish with some excerpts from the diary entry on the day Harry came home...
“...We were nervous about your eye exam and we didn’t even phone in the morning, we just went straight in and the second we went in the door Breda said ‘He flew through his eye exam’. We asked could we take him home and she said yes! We went in to see you and we were so happy that we were taking you home...
...This was it Harry. We dressed you in your blue suit from Therese and the white suit Aunty Kerri gave you. (Dr.) Ireti came in and helped us put you in your car seat, were all set now...
...it was time to go home, after 12 weeks and 1 day, 85 days in total, time to go home finally! It was a bit emotional, your Mum was crying and I nearly was too. Ireti gave us a hug and we headed off. Everyone from ICU came to see us off...the door closed behind us, and all of a sudden we were in the corridor we walked thru so many times before, but always without you, but today was different, you were coming home...
...so we drove off and that was it, the end of one adventure, the start of another...we arrived home, opened the door, switched off the alarm...Harry is home at last... A day never to forget...”
This was my experience, thank you for reading it, and drinking so much tea.
David Diebold: My advice to my two-pound miracle baby boy as a teen receiving his Junior Cert results? ... Don't sweat the small stuff, son
By David Diebold
Like most modern-day fathers, I spend an awful lot of the time looking on in a mixture of bafflement and bemusement as the babies I helped produce begin growing into big, hairy, six-foot software engineers who sigh and roll their eyes while I still want to be in a rock group and buy a motorcycle.
We 21st-century dads bounce from milestone to milestone, often feeling like a sort of cross between Larry David and Niles Crane on Frasier, always trying to summon the right thing to say while uncomfortably plucking the lint from our band tour T-shirts and invariably feeling we've come up short.
At the time of writing, I'm waiting to find out my teenager Zach's Junior Cert Results. I call to ask him how he feels and to tell him not to worry.
"Hello," he says. "So," I say. "Do you want to talk to mum?" he asks. "Okay," I say. "I hope he's not worried," I tell her. "He'll be fine," she says.
And I know he will because whatever he gets in his Junior Cert, Zach is a survivor.
It's his birthday very shortly, meaning almost 16 years ago to the day, back in San Francisco, I awaited a different set of results -- an amniotic fluid test to tell me whether my wife, who lay in agony under the effects of magnesium to halt a premature labour, would have to give birth at just 26 weeks.
Seeing her in such pain and distress was unbearable. "Can't we just go for it, get it over with?" I begged. The nurse took me by the arm and frog marched me to an intensive care ward.
What she showed me was heartbreaking.
Tiny babies smaller than toys, many covered with the light layer of blonde fur that normal babies lose by the time they're ready to be born at 40 weeks. Rows of little ones in glass cases with impossibly small, creased up faces, tubes running from their noses and from arms taped to little wooden spatulas, mouths taped shut around breathing machines, bleeping monitors.
An alarm sounded as one miniature baby's blood/oxygen level dipped. A nurse ran in and shook the child gently and the electronic shrieking ceased. "They forget to breathe sometimes," she said. "Which one is yours?"
I did what any father would do in the circumstances, gulped like a fish and picked the fluff off my T-shirt.
"I'm just showing him," said my nurse "why he really doesn't want his child to be born at 26 weeks."
The second nurse's face fell. "Oh. Twenty six weeks. That's ... pretty small. We only have one ... " She stopped short, thought better of it and whispered her excuses before leaving hurriedly.
"Listen," said nurse number one quietly, linking my arm and ushering me out. "We're a pretty good hospital, one of the best, for premature care -- so you're lucky in that respect. But I gotta tell you, at 26 weeks, there's just no telling, the lungs aren't fully developed yet, there are some serious downsides.
"The fact is, if he can't process oxygen very well, your child may go blind and never fully recover his sight. At worst he could suffer some severe disabilities. If he survives at all."
We returned to the room where my wife lay, burning and writhing under the drugs, being bombarded with steroids to hyper-develop our little fellow's tiny bellows.
The results came in: too many white blood cells, a sign of infection. It looked like there was no stopping this.
Niles Crane suddenly needed a chair.
When Zachary was born he weighed a little over two pounds. You could hold him in just one hand, though we couldn't. He remained in an incubator for many weeks and we could only look at him at first and stroke his tiny cheek, living day to day on hospital canteen vending machine food and hope.
Going home without him was terribly hard at first but we adapted. My wife would spend the day with him, I would knock off work at midnight and fly into hospital across an empty Golden Gate Bridge to be with him, to eventually hold him and help feed him with a tiny tube inserted down his little throat.
Time passed, a series of tiny milestones, until one day they let us take him home, still on a heart monitor, just in time for Christmas.
We were there one day soon after and the fire brigade pulled up outside -- one of those humongous red American engines with a guy perched on the back in a turret on the ladder. Within moments the house was surrounded with firemen barking orders and tramping around peering in windows.
The Captain was rapping on the door as we were frantically unplugging Zachary and gathering up diapers, a photo album. What do you save in such situations? I grabbed a potted plant.
"Nothing to worry about, ma'am," he said, looking sideways under giant bushy eyebrows at the man in the rock T-shirt behind the leafy ficus.
"We've been informed that there's a youngster here who's just come home from hospital on a heart monitor and we're obliged to check out access.
"If there is an emergency," he explained slowly to our dropped jaws, "like a blackout?"
Blank faces. "A power cut? ... Your family are our priority. This him?" he asked, smiling down at Zachary, still tiny in his mother's arms. "Looks like you have a little fighter there," he said.
Zachary stayed unplugged. He bawled, soon crawled, eventually stood and before we knew it he was throwing food around and bouncing off the walls. If this was normal, and I sincerely hoped it wasn't, then he seemed to be suffering no ill effects from his prematurity.
In a couple of years we had another child, full-term, nine pounds this time and moved back to Ireland where we had two more, all big and bouncy.
As I write this, Zach awaits his Junior Cert results. I want to tell him not to worry, not to sweat the small stuff; that I know he'll do well in life. I want to say how proud I am every day of the tall, argumentative teen he has become, he who sits for hours staring at numbers pouring down a computer screen, like a character from The Matrix.
I want to say he's a fighter and a survivor; that everything will be all right whatever his results. Instead, I wait, picking fluff off my shirt, looking at a picture of a two-pound miracle, hoping he already knows.
A dads humble journey
From the day my first son was born I knew fatherhood was for me. It just seemed so right and it was something I had longed for, to be a dad. I knew after our first that I wanted another child. However, my wife had had a troubled pregnancy on our first followed by a preterm baby, so there was a certain amount of intrepidation in going for a second child.
When our first child was almost two, we decided to bite the bullet and try for another child. It happened quiet quickly and we both hoped that this pregnancy and the birth would be so very different. Everybody was assuring this pregnancy would be fine and we were just unlucky last time.
After 6 weeks of pregnancy, my wife began to have problems again, she suffered constant occurrences of heavy bleeding, necessitating us having to attend our consultant and his sonographer every week for scans.Everytime we went for scans, our hearts would be in our mouths, not knowing what the sonographer would say. Each time we would come home from the hospital drained but relieved that despite what was going on, that the pregnancy was still viable. I dreaded the phone calls from my wife because more often than not, it was to tell me of another bleed or problem. It was much harder to cope this time because we had a two year old that had to be looked after while we headed off to the emergency room. There were a few stays in hospital during the pregnancy which we found difficult to deal with, because you had to balance between work, the child and the fed up wife in the hospital, missing her little fella and vice versa. It was such a relief when we were all home again under the one roof.
At 11.15pm one Wednesday night, while sitting down watching television, my wife called downstairs to me to say she was bleeding again. I knew the drill at this stage. We had emergency cover arranged and a bag packed at all times. So off we headed to the hospital yet again. The hospital was busy enough for that time and the comings and goings keep you distracted and stopped you worrying about why you were sitting in an emergency room at midnight. As usual a fetal heart trace was done and it’s hard getting a good reading when the baby inside is still small. Then it was the usual dignified internal examination to see what was causing the bleeding this time. Just over a week earlier, my wife had got the steroids so at least if anything was to happen, I was hoping at least she has the steroids. The consultant was contacted and as per usual she was admitted. We headed off with a midwife and were admitted to a ward around 2.30am. I was not worried or concerned as I had been here more than once before so in my mind it was just having to wait to see if the bleeding settled down again and for the consultant to assess what was happening. My wife was getting a few irregular pains but the midwife assured us that this was probably from the poking around "downstairs" in the E.R.
When the wife was settled in, I was asked to leave by the nurse so I headed home. I was home no more than an hour or two, when my mobile rang waking me up, all I could hear was groaning and then loud moaning, and cries and lots of other noises. I kept asking who was there but got no reply, then someone spoke and said they said they were from the hospital and I needed to get in as quick as I could, that the baby was coming now. I sprung out of the bed, dazed and confused, had to dress our other son and headed off to my brother’s house to drop off the little sleepy head in my arms. I was in the hospital in no time as it was the early hours. As I headed towards the labour suite I was met by my wife’s consultant who told me that I was a daddy to a little boy again. He told me that my wife was not in a good position and had lost over 4 pints of blood and needed time to recover but he wanted me to go to the NICU to see my son first.
In I went to the ICU just like 2 years before. There was a team around his incubator stabilising him and they congratulated me on my son and it just seemed so unreal. I did not understand what had happened but somehow this little baby in front of me was mine. They were very happy with his progress, he had only scored 5 for his second Apgar but he was on cpap and doing really well. It was all I wanted to hear. I was then told that my wife was looking for me so I left the baby in the very capable hands of the NICU.
When I walked into the recovery room, I was horrified when I saw the state of my wife. There was a team working around her. She had tubes, wires, oxygen mask and vacuum like tubes coming from her chest and did not seem to be aware that I was even there. I was told to sit beside her but could not even take her hand as there was blood and wires over them. I was told that when she stabilised, that she would be taken to a high dependency unit for one to one care. It was just so surreal, a baby in ICU and in a wife in HDU. It is just so far removed from how you think giving birth to a baby should be. I should have been smoking a cigar or ringing around relatives instead of moving between HDU and ICU.
A few days make such a difference and my wife was on the road to recovery and the baby was doing well. He had all the usual problems, associated with an early preterm but he was much stronger than our other prem and we knew he was not going to spend weeks upon weeks in hospital. He came home at 34 weeks and after going through it all before, we were not fazed in the least. He has a few long term issues, needed surgery etc but he is doing really well and his consultant is very pleased with him. The only thing is now we have doubled up on the hospital appointments but that’s a small price to pay for a healthy baby, especially when I got the full details of what happened on that fateful night. I have since learnt that if my wife had not been in the hospital that night, my son would not have survived, so although having another prem was not ideal, I am so grateful that my wife and child were in the right place to get the immediate intervention they both needed. I don’t think I could ever go through another pregnancy or preterm birth again. I feel so blessed to have all my family around me now and I don’t want to compromise that. Sometimes you have to know when enough is enough.
My wife Anne was admitted to hospital in Wexford on September 26th 2012 when her waters broke at 22 weeks pregnant. She tried to call me but I had just boarded a plane in Dublin for a work trip to Germany. This would be the last day that I would switch my phone off for over 5 months.
We didn’t realise it at the time, but now know that she was expected to go in to labour within 72 hours. Thankfully, labour didn’t start. Scans showed that there was still some fluid left around the baby, baby was happy and growing well. The staff in Wexford hospital confined her to her bed, the aim being to keep her pregnant until that all-important 24 week stage.
After 2 very long weeks, Anne was transferred to the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin’s Holles St. As far as we knew at that time, Anne might well have been in hospital right up to her due date on January 28th. On October 18th in the very early hours, I received a phone call from Anne telling me that she was having contractions and that I should make my way to the hospital. I called my mother to look after our other daughter Grace (14 months old at the time) and raced the 40 miles to Holles St. I got there in time, and we spent the night in the delivery ward with contractions every 5 minutes.
This is where the seriousness of premature birth really started to dawn on me. Until now, a part of me was hanging on to the idea that the baby still might not be delivered until the end of January. There was a transport incubator plugged into the wall, warming up. All the medical equipment was lined up to deal with an extremely premature baby. The doctors, nurses and midwives were super-attentive. Everyone and everything seemed to be on high alert. The calm before the storm. At around 6AM, the contractions started to get further apart and to be shorter in duration. They finally faded out altogether. The sense of relief is indescribable. It felt like we had dodged a bullet. Maybe things would be OK after all!
The following night, my phone rang at about 1:30 AM. Anne’s number. Instead of my wife on the other end, I had a rather rushed midwife telling me “You’d better get here quickly, the baby is coming very soon!”. I called my brother to come and mind Grace, and flew out the gate for the second time in 24 hours. I arrived at the hospital about an hour later, prepared for a repeat of the previous morning with medical staff and equipment. I was shown to the cubicle where Anne was, and all was calm. I was relieved, but then the midwife prompted her “Go on, tell him what you had!”. She had already delivered our baby girl at 25 weeks and 4 days, weighing only 840g, 1lb, 14oz. Sophia had arrived 15 minutes after her mother had woken up with a severe pain! Sophia came into the world kicking and screaming, surprising everybody! All of the immediately necessary medical work had been done to stabilise her and attach some monitoring equipment before she had been moved upstairs to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Prior to the birth, we had been briefed on what it was to be an extremely premature baby. The lists of issues and complications and struggles due to their immature bodily systems being called on to work so far ahead of when nature intended. Nothing anybody could have said to me would have prepared me for the first time I saw our tiny little bag of bones lost inside that incubator with all the lines and monitors attached. She was all ribs and wrinkles. Her body was all covered in fine hair. She had no body fat at all and too much skin hung on her tiny bones. All I could think of was the shock and trauma she must have experienced in coming from her insulated, dark, floaty chamber inside her mother out into the bright lights, the hard, dry mattress, the cold, glove covered hands, the sharp needles, the firm grip trying to hold her steady while they threaded impossibly thin tubes into her even more impossibly thin blood vessels. The discomfort of the breathing tube from her respirator being shoved down her tiny throat. My poor baby!
Sophia was strong. So very strong for such a tiny little person. She was to spend 9 weeks in NICU in Holles St. before she was transferred back to Wexford hospital where she spent the following 10 weeks before she was transferred to Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. She spent another 10 days there before coming home, 139 days after her birth.
Sophia had a very bad skin reaction to an alcohol wipe when she was just 2 days old. She had a large burn over most of her back. She received morphine for the pain. She was jaundiced and needed photo therapy where she was placed under UV lights. She needed several blood transfusions as her haemoglobin levels would drop below safe levels. She was on a respirator for 1 week when she pulled the tube out of her own mouth and was moved to CPAP.
She started to take breastmilk, just 1.2ml every 2 hours which was slowly and very carefully increased as her intestines became conditioned to process it. She had ultrasound scans of her brain to check for bleeding (there was none) and of her heart to check that the blood vessel which should close after birth had done so. She had chest x-rays to check the condition of her lungs. She had a line in her belly button to give constant blood pressure readings and to allow the doctors to take blood samples without piercing her skin. She had one in each hand, and one in her foot. They delivered morphine, nutrition while she built up her tolerance of breastmilk and antibiotics to help her fight any infections.
She was given large doses of caffeine to combat her frequent apnoea episodes where she would stop breathing and her heart rate would slow to dangerous levels. She had to be resuscitated once when she didn’t recover from an episode. She had stage 3 Retinopathy of Prematurity and received laser treatment to stop the rogue blood vessels in her eyes from growing.
Nourished by her mother’s milk, slowly but surely, Sophia gained weight and started to grow. We noticed her skin which had looked like pink cling-film had become less see-through as we saw the cling-film skin start to flake off. After several weeks, we could see that all the wrinkles in her skin were slowly reducing as the space underneath it filled with a tiny layer of baby fat.
We got over our initial shock and got used to the NICU environment. We watched parents come and go some better off than us and some far worse. We came to rely on the doctors and nurses for our daily news updates. Gradually, we became more involved with Sophia, holding her, feeding her, changing and washing her. There were many big milestones along the way, each one giving us great encouragement and hope. Moving from respirator to CPAP, moving from CPAP to nasal oxygen only, managing with no oxygen at all, moving out of her incubator, sucking a dummy, starting bottle feeds, each one a step closer to home.
Sophia was physically well for a long time before she came home. The reason for the delay was that she would have occasional unexplained apnoea episodes. Eventually it was discovered that she was not coordinating her swallowing properly and some of her feed would enter her windpipe. She was put on a feeding tube again instead of bottles, and the issue went away. So, 139 days later, Sophia came home with her feeding tube to live with us as a family.
She will continue to have follow-up care for her eyes. Her development will be closely monitored. Her swallowing will be reviewed in time and the feeding tube eventually removed. From our perspective, Sophia has battled prematurity and won with a lot of help and expertise from all the medical staff who took care of her over the many months. Now she can get on with being a baby.