Having a premature baby is hard, but having one during a global pandemic was on another level. Harris arrived 9 weeks early. He just had to do one better than his big brother by arriving even earlier and during the coronavirus pandemic.
During my pregnancy with Dylan, I developed pre-eclampsia which led to him being born ahead of schedule. This meant that when I was pregnant with Harris, I had extra monitoring and was seen by the consultant throughout my pregnancy. Aside from a bit of sickness early on and some back/hip pain as the pregnancy progressed, my blood pressure was behaving and everything seemed to be going really well up until my waters broke one Thursday evening while I was sat on the sofa.
An Early Warning
I was 30 weeks, 5 days pregnant and not at all ready to meet our baby. We had mentally prepared ourselves that we might end up having a premature baby again this time, but we never imagined he would be even earlier than last time. The further along we got with my blood pressure behaving, the more we let ourselves believe that this time we’d manage to get closer to full term so it was a total shock when my waters went with no warning.
We quickly phoned Mik’s brother to come down and watch Dylan while we went to the hospital. Dylan was already asleep and I felt so bad leaving him as I knew I probably wouldn’t be there in the morning for him. I’d never been away from him for a night before and had thought I’d have more time to prepare – both him and me.
On arrival at the pregnancy triage ward, they quickly confirmed that my waters had indeed broken. I was surprised that there wasn’t much urgency from the nurses and midwives but they explained that just because my waters had broken, it didn’t necessarily mean I was going to go into labour right away. Sometimes it could be weeks and the waters aren’t essential at this stage of pregnancy. I had no idea and started to calm down a little at this point.
They started me on a course of antibiotics as one of the main purposes of your waters at this stage is to prevent infection and kept me in overnight for observation. I was also given a course of steroids to help mature baby’s lungs, just in case. I ended up staying in hospital until Saturday evening when they decided to let me go home as it didn’t seem as though I was going to go into labour any time soon.
Early Sunday morning I started feeling cramps but as I’d had cramps in the hospital which turned out not to be contractions I didn’t think too much of it. During breakfast they seemed to become more regular and we realised we needed to get into hospital. Mik’s mum had come to stay after my waters broke so we were sorted with childcare for Dylan and were able to get into hospital by 7.30am. I’d only been back home for 12 hours since being discharged.
Having A Premature Baby
Back in the triage unit I was hooked up to a monitor. Baby was happy and it appeared that yes, I was in the early stages of labour. I started trying to do the breathing techniques from The Calm Birth School book but to be honest I was panicking quite a lot because of how early this was happening so my breathing was a bit all over the place. I’d been so hoping for a normal term birth this time round. With this baby coming earlier than Dylan did, it meant an even longer stay on the neonatal unit and more potential health issues and all I could do was worry.
All of a sudden, after about 2 hours on the triage ward, I felt baby move down suddenly. I knew he was coming and Mik ran to get the midwife. The midwife looked shocked when he examined me and I was immediately wheeled through to the labour ward. I was already at 10cm. Harris was born at 10.30am and I was allowed a 10 second cuddle before he was whisked away by the neonatal team. I didn’t get to cuddle Dylan so this was a bonus. I was in total shock that I’d just had a baby so quickly and so much earlier than planned and couldn’t stop shaking.
Throughout this pregnancy, I’d been more nervous about delivering the placenta than delivering the baby as last time it hadn’t gone well. Thankfully all went smoothly this time and I was wheeled down to the neonatal unit just an hour and a half after Harris was born. This was much better than the 9 agonizing hours I had to wait to meet Dylan.
Now that Harris was here, we had to face the fact that he’d be in hospital for a long time yet. He needed breathing support to begin with and needed time to develop the ability to suck and swallow before we’d be allowed home. Dylan was 6 weeks early and had been in for 3 weeks so we thought it would be at least 6 weeks until we got Harris home. It was longer than we’d hoped for but at least we had our mums staying with us to help with Dylan and he’d be able to come in to visit every day. Or so we thought.
NICU With Covid-19
Harris was born on March 15th which was before lockdown started in Scotland but the neonatal unit had already started limiting visitors to parents only due to Covid-19. This meant that Dylan wouldn’t be able to meet his new brother while he was in the hospital. I was devastated when I found this out as I’d felt mentally prepared for a neonatal journey where Dylan would come in every day to visit and would see what was happening and realise why his mum had suddenly disappeared.
We’d talked lots about him having a new brother or sister but we hadn’t prepared him that it would be right now as we thought we had at least another month or so to go. I felt so bad as he didn’t really understand where I’d gone and why I wasn’t looking after him. He was allowed to visit me on the post natal ward so at least I could see him, although that meant leaving Harris on the unit.
Harris was born on the Sunday and on the Tuesday morning, my mum developed a cough – one of the symptoms of coronavirus. She’d been staying in the house with Mik and Dylan while I’d been in hospital. This meant that Mik and Dylan were now not allowed into the hospital at all – for 2 whole weeks. And if I went home I’d not be allowed in either, even though my mum had gone home immediately and neither Mik or Dylan had symptoms.
I ended up having to stay in hospital for 2 whole weeks without seeing Dylan or Mik. It was awful. I couldn’t believe that we’d just had a baby and now our whole family was split up for 2 weeks. I had no idea how I’d be able to go 2 weeks without seeing Dylan.
I’d not been away from him for more than a couple of hours until my waters broke but somehow we made it. There were lots of video calls and I cried a lot but we managed it. The nurses and doctors were great and did their best to cheer me up. One positive to the situation was that I didn’t have to go home every night and leave Harris in the hospital. I wasn’t able to have him in the room with me but at least I was only a 30 second walk from him.
Once those 2 weeks were up everything felt more bearable. Mik was allowed in to see Harris but by that point the visiting had been further restricted so only one of us could be there at a time. So while Mik was at the hospital, I went home to spend time with Dylan.
Harris spent just over 5 weeks in the neonatal unit and Mik and I barely saw each other during that time. It’s not how you imagine the first weeks being after having a baby. The whole family apart and barely able to see each other. Dylan didn’t really understand what was going on but he loved having all this extra time with his Dad. He ‘met’ Harris through video chats but it just wasn’t the same as meeting him in person.
It was so stressful having a premature baby in hospital and a toddler at home. I really felt like I was having to pick between them. When we’d thought about another neonatal journey, we’d planned to make sure Dylan kept going to the same toddler groups and swimming lessons with his friends so he had some normality.
Never did we imagine that the week Harris was admitted, every single one of Dylan’s activities would be cancelled and he wouldn’t even be able to see his friends. Literally everything changed for him almost overnight and I just felt so guilty. None of this would have been such a big deal if I hadn’t given birth so early.
The visiting restrictions on the unit kept changing and there were rumours that maybe only 1 parent would be allowed in for the entirety of baby’s stay, or we might be limited to 1 hour per day. Luckily this didn’t happen but I was constantly fearing the worst which only added to the stress. We did have to start wearing masks to visit and I hated not being able to sniff Harris’ lovely baby head.
It was hard seeing how upset our families were not to be able to meet Harris. While we were in the unit, I think I was just focussed on getting Harris home and trying to stop Dylan from feeling neglected but once we were all home together it really hit me that we’d all be missing out on those first few weeks together. And those weeks have now turned into months. Almost three months old and he still hasn’t met the rest of his family. It makes me want to cry every time I think about it.
We’d planned to have my mum to stay for the first few weeks to help with Dylan once Mik was back to work so I could get breastfeeding established, but obviously that hasn’t happened. Breastfeeding has once again been a major challenge for me, see here for an update. While we know that the lockdown restrictions are keeping everyone safe, it’s still so hard not having the support of family and not being able to show off our new baby.
What was supposed to be a joyful experience has turned out to be the single most stressful time in our lives. We thought it was stressful having a premature baby the first time around with Dylan but it was nothing compared to this time. The added stress of having another child at home, the Covid-19 lockdown plus the fact that Harris needed longer in the unit made everything so much harder.
Having Harris home is amazing and we are so grateful for everything the neonatal unit did for him. They really are brilliant, especially during such a scary time. Dylan loves being a big brother and seeing him meet Harris in person was the best. He’s been so gentle and caring. While we’re enjoying our time together, it’s hard thinking about everything Harris and the extended family have missed out on and will continue to miss until this lockdown finally ends.
If you find yourself in the position of having a premature baby who needs to spend time in hospital, Bliss are a wonderful charity who help families through this stressful time. They are usually found on neonatal wards but until visiting restrictions are eased they are supporting families remotely.