Sharing stories connects us. This post was submitted to me by a reader. A reader who wanted to share her story of having a premature baby in hopes of helping others like her. Here is Jen’s story about her premature journey into Motherhood.
I’ve considered writing down my thoughts for a long time- but I have not made the commitment, because it’s just another thing I’d have to do-but as I sit on the couch this morning with my son, my head is filled with thoughts that need to go somewhere. I actually debated for a moment to get a pen, a paper, and a journal but I decided on the computer, after all it does have spell check;)
My Grandma kept a diary and it was one of her very treasured possessions. Her journal contained clippings of hair from various grandchildren, a thorn pulled from the back of cousin after he had a run in with a thorn tree. It also contained her most intimate thoughts that were only for her. She was a pretty smart lady, so I thought I would journal my thoughts too. This one’s for you Grandma.
I consider myself the average person whose been blessed with ambition to work hard. My ambition has given me a successful Iife.
I have a well paying job, a house, a vehicle, a husband who committed to me long before marriage, a sweet little boy, my health, friends, and many other material things: Loads of running shoes, clothes, a swimming pool, a boat, etc. etc.
But let’s back up to 2012 when I found out I was pregnant with my sweet boy. I knew I wanted a baby and once I knew, I wanted it to happen yesterday!
Within six months I got that double line, I can’t even describe that feeling. Fast forward seven weeks and I started to get the dreaded morning sickness. My supportive husband laughed knowing full well that he helped create this little being who was providing such innocent torture.
I work as a Paramedic, and I continued to do my job with ease. I continued to go to the gym. I felt normal. At 12 weeks I felt some occasional tightening in my abdomen but was assured it was normal. Around 20 weeks I was sitting in training at work and felt the first kick. I probably told everyone with much more excitement then they cared, but like most first time Moms, it was big deal to me. I continued to work. I vomited out the ambulance door on the way to calls more then once, but I kept it together.
Fast forward again, I went into labour at 30 weeks. Details are a different story. I had my boy Brandon. He weighed 3lbs 4oz. I was thrust into parenthood 10 weeks early at a critical time. I learned in that moment, I hadn’t truly experienced stress, until right now.
I remembered all those material things, I was spoiled and selfish. I now was up close and personal with stress. I had support from family and friends but I had an internal battle of my own to try and cope with through this experience. I felt guilt, loss, self pity, anger, denial, happy, sad, not in any particular order. I felt less than blessed.
I should mention during my labour a “Fellow Pediatrician”, made me aware of all the negative potentials, void of emotion or anything positive. This is my first memory of “Mama Bear.” I leave that to your imagination of how that conversation went down.
Seeing my son in the incubator, which I soon dubbed the greenhouse, was surreal. I sat there in a wheel chair, legs still like bambi, my hemoglobin in my boots, my skin feeling so soft and lacking the belly that was just starting to really show. I didn’t know what to feel. People were talking to me from all corners. My response: I picked up my phone, called my employer and asked if I could have private insurance coverage. Why did I do that? I have no idea. My point, we do strange things under stress.
I do have knowledge of the health care system and pathophysiology –I did take that at some point in school and apply it at work but the NICU was a whole new level. These nurses are the elite, caring for the most precious of our existence. I caught on quick to be part of my son’s circle of care but what impressed me the most was how quickly my husband caught on. He not only advocated for our son, he largely helped care for our Brandon. Our relationship had never been as strong. I feared he’d blame me for having our son so early. I worked too much, I didn’t slow down-I quickly learned those were my own guilty feelings.
Three weeks in Kingston General Hospital NICU, two weeks in PRHC NICU and finally home we came with a baby just under five pounds and less then 48 hours ago was still having “spells”. These “spells” were moments where he’d temporarily forget to breath and brady down his heart rate. We were coming home with no monitor, no nurse, no ng tube, just us and this tiny human. We were happy though. “We’ve got this”, we said-and we really did. We were a team, even champions. Day 2, I locked myself out of the house taking the garbage out. Insert panic, as I ran to my neighbors (who are all retired but no one was home (wtf)), in reality most of them were home it was just my panic. They likely thought I was nuts. I made a quick phone call to my husband who works 2 minutes away. The door was unlocked and our baby was sleeping peacefully. Then I thought, “Here I am, a mom just screwing it up”. I’ve come to learn that seems to be a universal feeling among moms.
Insert social media: Do we craft enough? Is there enough sensory toys? Does our kid eat healthy enough food? f@#$ it’s not organic! His bedtime is to late. Don’t let him in your bed. Use sunscreen. Don’t use sunscreen. Forget bug spray. Read 50 stories by lunch. Go to play groups, swimming, the zoo, etc etc etc.…Was it this brutal to do the “right thing” or was this just me?! I like social media (hence I’m on a blog right now;) but I felt like it was judging me. Then I got over it, no one is perfect and here I am just keeping it together for my family.
We have rules, wash your hands when you come to visit. If you have a snuffle and you think it’s an allergy I don’t care-stay away. We limited our outings, especially during that first year.
It was isolating.
January 2014, another blow to motherhood, Brandon got RSV. I’ll leave out all the medical details but was air lifted to Sick Kids (amazing hospital). After a few days we all came home, a little battered, a little stressed, a little high on caffeine but we were home. This was the beginning of months of illnesses. I was supposed to return to work in February but had to extend my maternity leave, unpaid for another month.
I wearily returned in March and within 2 months had to take a leave from work for my son’s health and my own mental health.
In May, early in the morning we found my son in seizure in his crib. The only reason we went in when we did is we heard a grinding noise-we thought he might have just been chewing on the edge of the crib (you know those kijiji adds-advertising cribs with not many chew marks). That wasn’t the case; he was grinding his teeth in seizure. I immediately said call 911. I panicked. This is my child, and what do I do? I know seizures, I’m a Paramedic, I grew up with an Uncle suffering from Epilepsy-this seizure was different it was MY son. We ended up driving to the hospital as it was close; it was likely unsafe-but we got there. I ran with my son still in active seizure shouting his history, shouting orders-it may have been bossy-but this was the Mama bear-this is the person I am, protecting and advocating for my most prized possession. My son seized for over an hour He was intubated, air lifted to Sick Kids, and placed in the ICU.
My husband and I didn’t know what our son would be like when he woke after he was extubated, 12 hours after he’d been intubated. It wasn’t until 4 am, hours after seizure, until my sweet, tiny, just over one year old boy reached his hand over and held his Dads hand that we knew he was OK. You’re not typically allowed to have both parents stay in the ICU room overnight. Staff encourage you to rest-but it was never a discussion, we were not leaving. We made a decision to bring this child into the world and we were going to fight right along side him. After more testing and a couple days we were sent on our way-with a diagnoses of prolonged atypical febrile seizure. Of course, atypical.
This is now my life, atypical.
Sure we had times of asking, “Why us?” But that question was deflated by seeing the faces of parents at Sick Kids. We feel lucky. Although it felt like we were living a nightmare, Brandon gets to come home. He will hopefully grow out of respiratory problems that seem to be the stem of his illnesses; “Preemie lungs.”
I’m writing this just after going to the hospital to get my son a dose of Dexamethsone. He was coughing continuously and experiencing an asthma exacerbation. He dislikes hospitals, for good reason-it is associated with discomfort. As he was losing “it,” I began to cry because my heart was breaking, I was tired and thinking “not again.” The triage nurse was holding my crying son, my son looked at me and said, “Mommy you’re crying”. He reached for me and gave me a hug. In all his agony he wanted to make me better. Kids are innocent. In the midst of my horror, horror was happening in the world with America having the largest mass shooting deaths in history. Hatred is taught. These sweet children are not born this way. Hopefully the cycle can stop and we live in a world of freedom, openness and understanding. This is the world I want my son to grow up in.
Submitted by Jen Wood-Bjarnason