Today's the day. I'm going to try and tackle the monster of a story, because I get asked all the time and I know that lots of people want to know.
Time has lapsed, and in time, you forget and are 'healed' of the agony that you find yourself awash in sometimes. But I'm ready.
This is the story of Mr E, and his 11 week premature arrival.
While pregnant, someone said to me "everything about this baby, the day he is born and the name you give him will be significant." I filed this away for the day sometime in December 2012 he was meant to arrive.
Knowing he was likely to be my last baby, things were going smoothly with this pregnancy until I hit about 22 weeks. I started to grow exponentially. I went from being "small" to being "massive" in a short time. Then it started... contractions. On and off contractions, JUST like last time with Mr A (who was 6 weeks early).
They were painful, every well meaning person kept saying - "oh that's braxton hicks" you know, practice ones. I've had two babies previously by this time. I know what BH contractions are, and I also know these are NOT them.
I'm full of fear. Absolutely terrified that my baby is going to arrive soon. I'm 26 weeks pregnant. I decide it's time to be as much of a couch potato as possible. Lots of rest, extra sleep and being extra kind to myself. I'm reassuring myself that it's going to be ok and telling myself that I will carry to full term.
I'm 27 weeks, a visiting ministry comes through our church. He says something from the front about a person having gone through a traumatic event, and now, being in similar circumstances, is feeling terrified that history is going to repeat itself. My last baby nearly died. He was premature. My heart is thumping and tears are flowing as I know that this is for me. I go up to get prayed for at the end. I feel nothing.
I'm 28 weeks and I start having 4-5 hour long stretches of consistent painful contractions every couple of days. I'm still paralysed in fear.
It's Friday night and I'm in Delivery Suite.I've had a killer back ache for a couple of days. The contractions are coming again and this time my midwife says I need to be monitored. I had called her and all I could do was sob and tell her that "I know there is something really wrong". She takes me seriously. I spend several hours there. The obstetrician then decides I need a foetal fibronectin test. This, when negative, predicts with 99.8% accuracy that you will not go into labour in the next week. It is negative.
I reassuredly jump into the car, confidently knowing I am not going to go into labour in the next week and that I do not need to worry.
Saturday the back pain intensifies. I can't sleep for sheer pain. This is not normal. Lucky I have osteo booked for Monday I tell myself.
I'm one day off 29 weeks. I'm at church again and I decide I need to get more prayer after Friday nights episode. I go to my precious friend and Pastor and ask her to pray. I explain what is happening to my body. She prays. Fervently, a prayer like she had seen my heart fully and completely and hears heavens answer. Mostly, she prays against fear.
Monday comes, I am 29 weeks and today I am trying to feel confident I will carry to full term. I am not afraid. I go to osteo and there are some things out of place. I leave hoping for the best. My backpain turns excruciating and debilitating. I figure it needs a day or two to settle, so pop a tramadol and go to bed.
Tuesday arrives. I lazily get out of bed at 730am. There is some bleeding. I calmly tell Dave he wont be going to work and call my midwife, while packing a suitcase. I know I wont be leaving the doors of the hospital for a while. I arrive at Delivery Suite to a virtual roll of the eyes that says "here comes the hypocondriac mum to be again."
My midwife, still taking me seriously arrives. She throws all the jurisdiction between doctors and midwives out the window and pulls strings to arrange a scan for me later that day. I cannot get comfortable with my back. I writhe and roll and stand and sit. I am being monitored but it seems to show a non-event. They doubtedely run tests and leave me to it for long stretches. Ihad the negative test remember.
Scan comes and goes. The sonographer tells me that there has been a bleed, that there is lots of fluid, baby is quite large and that my cervix has shortened slightly. I am concerned. I dont know what to make of this. She tells me she will prepare a report and have it sent to the doctor.
I relay this to a staff midwife who confidently tells me I will not be going far, I will be closely watched from the hospital and they will closely watch my babies growth. I understand this. The obstetrician doc comes and reassures me, the blood seems to be an old, now healed bleed. I am weakly confident. She leaves me to await the scan report.
Within the hour, contractions resume. This time they seem a bit more hard and fast. And they seem to be getting worse... I hesitate and lie there trying to work out what is happening for over an hour. I then decide I better let them know. They come in to the sound of my buzzer, where I declare that contractions have resumed but feel more serious this time. They decide to check and I am now 2cm dialated and fully effaced and therefore in labour.
They immediately commence steroid treatment to try to stop labour and book a helicopter. I'm going to Auckland. The in-laws have our kids, so hubby rushes home to grab supplies, bottles, blankeys etc to get to their house so that they are ok for the night.
The steroids arent working. And baby is breech.
I am loaded onto a very uncomfortable stretcher and whisked off to meet the chopper on the roof. My hubby is no where to be seen. He is met at security and delivered to the roof of the hospital. He is there waiting as I come around the corner. <enter sigh of relief>
In the chopper I think to myself that this may be my only ever chopper ride, I better enjoy it. The view was beautiful. I wish I wasn't in labour. The contractions seemed to have eased off a little.
I arrive in Auckland to a very organised Delivery Suite, where they immediately load me onto a bed. The contractions have resumed hard and fast. They (finally) offer me gas. This is the best feeling of the day as for the first time in a week my back is not bothering me. I have IV lines inserted into both arms. One for a drug to help babies brain.. magnesium sulphate perhaps. This is a four hour infusion and they hope that they can buy enough time for it to come through fully. They tell me this is going to make me hot and bothered. I am happy with the gas and this does not phase me. The other is for antibiotics and fluids.
I suddenly feel the urge to push. I tell them this, to which they check and advise me that my waters are bursting but I am not dialated more than 2cm and that if I push and break my waters they will have to put me to sleep and get my baby out. Lucky I have had babies before and therefore can control this urge.
Baby is breech, it is confirmed. The anaethetist arrives and asks me if I would like an epidural. I strongly decline. He then bribes me by asking if I would rather be put to sleep when they get my baby out.... I strongly refuse. He then says 'oh, so you want an epidural?' to which I agree. While he prepares this I ask if I can have my baby feet first, they refuse. I then ask if I am really going to have him today... they say yes.
I get the epidural in. By this time the contractions are coming on top of each other. They are long, I suck the gas, I stop for about 2 seconds and then another is coming and I resume gas-sucking. The anaethetist and Dave keep telling me, "you need to breathe some real air!" typical men. They do not realise that there is no let up at all. It is like one big contraction.
Finally the epidural kicks in. It is like heaven. Whoever designed those is a legend. I see why people rave about them, I cannot feel labour pain at all. I can relax and be fully aware of what is going on, not spaced on gas.
The charge midwife arrives, she takes a look at me, and the monitor. She notices something. She says, "we need to get this baby out now" and I jump the queue of all other cesareans booked for the night. I am rushed to theatre, which is smartly built into the Delivery Suite.
They check with some ice around my neck, can you feel this is icy cold...? yes. Can I feel it lower, no. Ok, she is numb. They proceed with the operation. I can feel the sensation, but have no awareness of what is touching me. I can tell which organs they are moving around and what they are doing inside me. Dave is gowned up and at my head.
They pop my waters and measure it. 3L of amniotic fluid. Most normal pregnancies have between 1 and 1.5L of fluid. This is probably a good reason why at 29 weeks I measured 37 and felt like I was 37. They find my baby, get him out and he is taken away. I ask if it is a boy, they tell me yes. They say nothing else.
They are gone a long time. Dave is still at my head. I begin to wonder why he hasn't been taken yet to see our baby - they told me he was going to go with them. They finally come and get him.
He brings me back photos of our son, wrapped in a plastic bag for warmth, with a breathing apparatus in his nose. He weighs 1660g. 3lb 9 oz. I later discover that he required resuscitation and he was quite deliberate about not breathing. He has a mechanical ventilator breathing for him for the next day.
They show me the placenta. We see that it looks very peculiar. It gets sent away for tests. As they cut it out they discovered that it was abrupting. If it had fully come away, bubba would have died instantly. I would have haemorraged and may have died.
I am taken to recovery and then later, on my way to my room, wheeled past him. He is tiny, but beautiful. Perfectly formed. His head is about the size of a tennis ball. Maybe smaller. His whole hand is the size of the tip of my little finger.
The next day, we name him Ezekiel David. It fits perfectly. Ezekiel means "God has strengthened" and David means "beloved of the Lord". We had chosen this a few days before he was born. We didn't know what was to come. His name is significant.
For the next 2-3 days I am written off while I recover. Sometime, I get up and go down to visit him in a wheelchair. I sometimes hallucinate from the pain relief I am given. I am on close watch in the maternity ward because of the haemorrage risk. There is not even coffee on this ward. The staff are kind, and show me where I can make coffee. I am about 200m away from bubba.
Bubba is strong. He had a blood transfusion because of being extremely anaemic when born. He had stopped getting blood from me. He is on CPAP, a breathing device which keeps his airways inflated but adds extra oxygen as he needs it. He is reliant on this for his survival. He starts having one ml of expressed breast milk every few hours. He begins to tolerate this quite quickly.
His brother and sister are down for a visit. They are not allowed in Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU)to visit him at all. I show them pictures. They leave with their grandparents. Bubba is in a stable condition. This can change at any time.
His milk requirement slowly increases 1ml by 1ml. I am expressing 3 hourly around the clock.
The team who delivered him come to see me. This is about day 3. Here I am told that he didn't want to breathe. I am also told that the very same night they delivered a 29 week baby by cesarean - who died. I cry.
I am surprised when the paediatrician tells me I can hold him at 3 days old. I expected it to be weeks before I was allowed to hold him. I get my cuddle on Friday 5 October. I notice that his ears are stuck to his head. They haven't grown enough to be separate. He is so tiny.
Saturday arrives. It is our 5 year wedding anniversary. Dave gets his first cuddle. I weakly try to stomach my usual favourite turkish kebab for lunch. I can't eat it. Dave has to leave for Whangarei and our older kids, I am alone. I cry myself to sleep. Bubba has lost 250g. This is a lot when you only weigh 1.660kg.
Sun 7 Oct. Bubba opens his eyes a tiny bit, and looks at me for the first time. I cry. Today is my hardest day. I am full of emotional/hormonal baby blues, and the agony of the situation. I get lots of visitors, but there is nothing like being in a foreign city, away from your husband and family with a sick baby. For the first time I am buckled over in emotional pain and cry out "Papa, help me" - to God. I have no other words. I try to contain the big heavy sobs that are knocking at the door.
This buckling over in emotional agony and crying out "Papa, help me" occurs most days that I am alone in a big city from here on in. I don't have anywhere else or anyone else to look to than my Father in Heaven, whom I know has everything under control and knows all things.
7 days in I discover that the placenta had a large growth on it, called a chorangioma. It was 5cmx6cmx7cm. I googled it. I found out that this is the leading cause of maternal death in the world. And that it causes sudden infant death in utero from heart failure. I also discover it causes all of the complications I was experiencing in my pregnancy. I thank heaven that God knows best, and I realise that if Ezekiel hadn't of arrived on the day he did, we would of lost him, and probably me too. I am greatful for life, but again I cry with big heavy sobs. The day he was born was significant. One day later would have been too late.
I am now off the ward and down in Ronald McDonald House Family Rooms, emergency accomodation for out of town parents with children in Intensive Care. They feed me and are very kind to me here. Ezekiel has more tests, and they all return normal.
He has a brain scan. It returns normal. I cry at the overwhelmed goodness of God who has kept him perfect in every way. I realise that for many people the situation is very different. I am amazed that Mr E could be 5 weeks earlier than his older brother, and be in a much better condition.
For three weeks Auckland City was my home. I had visitors nearly every day. I had coffee and food brought to me. I had gifts delivered and friends arrive from my home town. I was loved upon. I spent a lot of time crying in sheer pain. And crying at the sheer goodness of God to me. I know it's going to be ok. Most of the time I am happy. I make friends with some of the nurses in NICU.
I pray in the Emergency Accomodation, for the families, for the children. I see people take their children home well, and the accomodation empty out to half capacity at a time of year that this "NEVER happens". I am pleased to know God cares for these people. I am also faced with the agony that in this place, families lose their children EVERY day. In one week, four children died out of the accomodation I was in.
We stayed as a family at Ronald McDonald house a few times. This is an amazing facility that accomodates whole families, and is on the Hospital Site. It meant Dave and the kids could visit me but I could still be with bubba. It felt like home. Each time my family leaves I am grieved inside. I cry and cry and have to tear myself away from my husband and not look back.
On 22.10.12 they finally tell me that they have booked the helicopter for us to fly to our hometown. On 23.10.12 after three weeks in Auckland we fly to Whangarei. I was hoping for fine weather, but low cloud made for a not so fun ride and I couldn't see anything!
For the next almost six weeks we were in Whangarei SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit) where the focus was to keep feeding and growing him until he was strong enough to learn to breastfeed and then get ready to go home.
People used to ask me where my baby was, not realising that prem babies have to develop on the outside all the things they would of had to do in your tummy between weeks 29 and 40. All the while getting fed, digesting food, learning to breathe etc. Its a long haul in hospital.
He was on the CPAP breathing system for about 5 weeks, then another system for a few days, then he was breathing on my own. The doctors all told me that I was "very lucky" to have my 29 week baby off oxygen before I went home, it doesn't always happen.
I expressed milk 6-8 times a day (through the night) for almost 9 weeks, in hope that he would breastfeed.
I made friends with the staff (again). Coming back into SCBU was like a welcome reunion after my previous child spent four weeks in there. I was so glad to be back in my hometown.
Some days I had visitors, most days I sat next to my baby alone longing for the day I could finally take him home. The greatest emptiness I felt was at an extended family dinner when I suddenly realised our entire family was there, except for Mr E - and when I left to return to the hospital, my heart broke. That was the night before his discharge.
The day I went to stay with him to prepare him for home, I wasn't sure if he was really ready. I decided that I would take out his nose-tube and forcde him to have to breast feed. It worked, and two days later the paediatrician said I could bring my baby boy home. I cried and cried. She cried. The nurse cried.
I could go on forever about the experience, but I don't think words could adequately describe what it is to have a baby so early, to not know whether your baby will make it through the day, whether today will be good or bad. To be stuck in another city and reliant on the charity of others and their goodwill as to whether you will get company that day or not. To be faced with the rawest emotions, the deepest heartache, the loneliest place in the nation (hospitals) and have to cling real tight.
To have to daily choose gratitude instead of the 'why's' or wondering how you got to this place.
I don't know how people do this stuff without Jesus.
We are indebted to the countless people who prayed for me, for Mr E and for our family. Those who bought us gifts, cards, food, coffee. Those who visited. Those who text, some every single day.
We are indebted to the people who followed their deepest desires and dreams and became nurses and doctors and midwives and professionals and saved our lives.
Mostly, we are indebted to God, our Papa, who held us close and loved us and covered us completely with love during this time.
Traumatic and stressful as it was, for the vast majority of the journey, I was full of faith, full of hope and full of exceeding joy. I didn't fake it once. Sometimes I had to make a choice, but usually it was natural. I cried only a few days, but I laughed every day. I gloried and marvelled everyday in wonder and amazement at how good Mr E was, and therefore, how good God is. With all the complications and everything that could of and should of gone wrong, I stood in pure amazement and wonder that I had a healthy baby and that every single test came back ok, clear, normal.
Sometimes I felt undeserving of such goodness.
I wholeheartedly believe that we were supernaturally carried through the storm. I also believe that our previous experience with an early baby helped us to carry through.
We need to fight for our babies. For the babies that are born, the babies that are unborn, and the ones that aren't even conceived yet. We MUST fight for the next generation. They carry the greatest legacy the earth has ever seen. They carry destiny. We MUST stand for them and on behalf of them. Where they are non-existant we must find the courage to call them into being. But we also must live with our children fully surrendered to the will and purposes of God. They are not our own, they are His. They have been given, lent to us for us to do the best we can to raise them, grow them, teach them and release them.
I want to testify that even in the most dreadful of circumstances, when everything familiar and that you hold dear is shaken, when you're in the furnace of life's trials and the heat is hotter than ever - you can stand, you can raise your head, and you can carry joy, hope, life and love in that place. You can release those things into other people when you're in that place. You can laugh.
I want to say that the day my friend and Pastor prayed for me, just before I had him, neither of us had any idea what was to unfold. In the process of labour, delivery and the weeks that followed, I did not feel an ounce of fear once. If I felt like it was trying to knock at the door, I would suddenly think - if God made Him come on the perfect day, at the perfect time and preserved his life - He WILL come through for this too. I was confident and fully able to trust that everything was going to be ok.
People credited to me that I was 'such a strong woman' - I don't credit that to myself. The only place I credit that to is because I know where to find my strength when I face a struggle and a challenge. I have a God who is much, much bigger than life's problems, situations and circumstances. And I know Him.
I cried a lot, but I didn't cry in emptiness and despair to nothing - I cried to Him, and He came to me and held me and took care of me. He put people around me to love me and help me and encourage me. He anchored me. I had never known Him before this better than I know Him now. You get to know Him in a trial like you couldn't know Him any other way.
My prayer for you, is, whatever you are going through, wherever you find yourself today, whether you are in love with life, or whether you are at the dregs and don't know what you have left to hold on to - that you would truly find Him in that place. He longs to be found by every person, and if you really want to find Him, you will. I dare you to ask Him - if you are real, make yourself known to me. That is a prayer He simply cannot resist.
Afterall, He knows you and He made you and He sees you anyway - good and bad, everything about you. He is not surprised by you in the slightest.
I am more than willing to share with any one at any time if they want to know more.
For now, may you find the victory and freedom you are searching for in your life and your family.