In 2016 I became pregnant to my first (& only) child who was due on 30 January 2017. Right from the very start we were made aware of complications and we really didn’t know what was going to happen. Romanticised by the pregnancy process we progressed through the weeks hoping that all the looming threats would disappear. I was determined that I would love this baby and give it the best life possible. We had been told the baby was small and there may be a chance of an early birth and a NICU stay but I don’t think I’d ever really processed what this meant or changed the dream I’d established in my head.
It was nearing the end of the year, around 7 months into the pregnancy. I was so excited for the times ahead. I’d had a baby shower, bought 4×0’s onesies, attended birthing classes, planned out the perfect natural birth and even began to picture a chubby, tanned baby with thick black hair. I had planned to finish work on Christmas Eve and celebrate Christmas and New Year at the beach with family and have my baby in the heat of summer. I’d picked out the perfect maternity outfit that I would wear on Christmas day when I would pose in front of the tree showing off my 8 month bump. I even already imagined the following Christmas when we would be celebrating with an almost one year old. Needless to say, things didn’t quite to plan.
Zachary was born via emergency C section on 10 December 2016 at 32 weeks and 5 days weighing 1 kg. I had arrived at the hospital alone that morning for what I thought would be a short appointment with only my handbag and plans to go Christmas shopping afterwards. His birth was quick, scary and like nothing I’d ever heard of. Zach was taken to the NICU and I went the ward and we wouldn’t meet for another day and a half. He as so tiny, his skin was almost translucent, his eyes were grey and hair was light. I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing. The nurse said to me “do you want to hold your baby?” I peered inside the incubator, he was tiny, covered in wires and medical equipment. I replied “I’m sorry, I don’t know how?” She placed him on my chest and he snuggled into me as if he knew where he was supposed to be. He felt like a tiny doll smaller than my hand. The only words I could utter were “he’s so small.”
I was discharged and Zach stayed in the NICU. Over the next 7 weeks I developed a whole new world, a bubble in which I would exist and dedicate myself completely to his care. I approached this routine as I would my work. I arrived on time every morning for ‘cares’ at 6am with my cooler bag of milk from the evening and left at 8:30pm. I pumped every 2 hours, attended doctors rounds at 10am and nurse shift hand overs. I did all the NGT feeds, changed nappies and kangaroo cuddled. I had charts, took notes and asked questions. I was determined to “manage” Zach’s growth and get him healthy and home. From the outside maybe I seemed like a dedicated mother but inside I felt like I was completely lost in an unfamiliar world trying to control the uncontrollable.
Suddenly out of nowhere weeks had passed and it was Christmas Eve. I felt like I’d been living on another planet and part of me was annoyed that Christmas was interrupting me. The NICU was buzzing with visitors and staff preparing for the next day. Nurses dressed in elf hats and reindeer ears were delivering fruit and chocolates to the parents and exchanging holiday greetings. That afternoon a hospital staff member dressed as Santa arrived at our room. He delivered a present, a ‘Baby’s 1st Christmas’ ornament and posed with us for Zach’s first Santa photo. Having been relatively strong until this point I completely broke down, this was not what I’d imagined. I cried for everything I’d not only hoped for but expected. However, this was my tipping point, this was the moment I realised I’m the Mum to the most beautiful boy I could have wished for whose sheer existence is a miracle and the greatest gift the universe could offer. I suddenly jumped out of my chair and exclaimed “Oh crap, I’m Santa!”
In my quest to be the perfect parent I’d somehow forgotten to just be a happy & excited Mum who shares special days and makes memories with her child. What would I say in years to come when he asks what did Santa bring me for my first Christmas? I made a mad rush to a nearby toy store busting through the door at 4:50pm. “You’re leaving it a bit late aren’t you?” said the owner as I grabbed the 1st teddy bear and rattle I could find. That night family bought small decorations for his cubicle and read him Christmas stories. Before I left I kissed his head and hung a stocking off the end of the incubator. I felt a small rush of excitement as I realised that this was the first of many times that I would hang his stocking at the foot of his bed on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t what I’d imagined but it was ours & it was perfect.
On Christmas day we arrived to find a beautiful card with which said Merry Christmas Mummy & Daddy and presents from the hospital and the Life’s Little Treasures Foundation. The nurses were playing carols and singing to the babies they cradled. I did go home and enjoyed lunch with my family but longed to be with my little boy. That night I held him for hours in a lovely kangaroo cuddle singing carols and feeling completely and utterly content with the world.
Life hasn’t been all roses since his discharge. Nonetheless I have no reason to complain about life with a miracle baby who excites, challenges and delights me every day. We’re constantly reminded how lucky we are to have made it home and never take a moment for granted. I am the proud mum of a happy, brave and kind three-year-old who is completely full of energy and adventure. He has opened my eyes to an exciting new world and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us.
This holiday season if you find yourself in the NICU cuddling your Christmas miracle try not to view your time there as a dark tunnel home. Do your absolute best to celebrate, smile and enjoy a moment or two of holiday spirit. Make the day your own so that one day you’ll look back on it as a happy memory and tell your child the story of the time you celebrated Christmas in hospital.
Even though you’re not where you thought you’d be, the place where you are can be beautiful and exciting, you just have to embrace it.
This story is dedicated to Zachary, my Christmas miracle, & the wonderful Doctors and Nurses at the Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne who made Christmas Day 2016 very special.