At 12.50am on the 17th of March, 2006, my husband Mark and I welcomed our very premature son, Ronan into the world at just 27 weeks gestation. This was a day of joy, excitement & celebration but also great concern about the road ahead.
My whole pregnancy was trouble free until I reached 26 weeks, when I was diagnosed with a condition called Carpal Tunnel. This did not affect my pregnancy but I had to live with this uncomfortable condition and continue on in my pregnancy very swollen from fluid retention.
I was counting down the days until June, when our son was to be born. With 88 days to go, our son had other ideas. After finishing work for the day in my job as an Admin Assistant, I felt some uncomfortable pain which I put down to Braxton Hicks (false labour). After a few hours the pain was getting worse, Mark and I decided to contact the hospital for advice. As I was looking for the hospital’s phone number I felt a gush, and after running to the toilet I found blood. For a moment, time stood still. In my mind I tried to prepare myself for the possible outcome and told myself there was nothing I could do, and this was life – be strong.
A few short hours after arriving at the hospital Ronan was born naturally without drugs weighing 1.14kg (1140g). He was born due to PROM (Premature Rupture Of Membranes) & Premature Labor which was too late to stop. He was taken to the NICU at Monash Medical Centre Clayton which was to be his home for the coming months. To see our son so tiny and breathing with machines was an amazing yet terrifying experience. We were allowed to touch him through the humid crib and as time progressed we were able to hold him. Each passing day was different. On the days that he was making progress we skipped with joy but on the odd days he was going backwards was very hard and disappointing. No matter how much disappointment we felt we were so blessed to know our son was still with us because we were ready for the worst and not expecting any miracles but he always pulled through and surprised us.
Only two weeks after giving birth I went back to work part-time. I was working 5 hours each day because I needed to express but also rest as we had a baby to look after. My husband and I would both go to work and see Ronan each night. It became such a routine that by the time Ronan came home we didn’t know what do to with all the extra time we had available. The nights were long and felt lonely at times as we knew we should have had our baby at home with us but we also knew that he was in the best place possible to thrive and become strong enough to come home.
Ronan had many complications but this did not deter our positive thoughts, no matter how much of a “rollercoaster” ride our journey was. He was on oxygen for 3 months as he had Chronic Lung Disease, a PDA (Patent Ductus Aretoris) in which he was given medication to close the valve. It took 6 weeks from birth for the valve to close. His last main hurdle was a Hernia which was operated on one week before we came home. We certainly had many “ups & downs” like any prem journey but we never shed a tear. I felt in my heart that if I cried I was not being strong for Ronan, which of course I knew was not true but it was my way of dealing with the situation we were thrown into.
Many premmie parents are so overwhelmed by the whole experience that they find it hard to understand so feelings of guilt, frustration, & why us? Questions start being asked. I started blaming myself for the premature birth and was going out of my mind thinking about what I had done wrong. Had I eaten something I shouldn’t have? Did moving a piece of furniture a week before cause this to happen? Did doing the gardening a few weeks prior cause stress on the pregnancy? It took me a while to understand that it was just “one of these things” as I was advised by medical professionals and nothing could stop it from happening.
Our family & friends were extremely supportive with our journey. My family who are all living in Sydney rang each day to see how Ronan’s progress was going and Marks family cooked us many meals and they encouraged us when we felt a little down. When we were given cards & presents and phone calls congratulating us on the birth of our son, it helped us believe that life no matter how fragile should be celebrated.
Throughout the journey my main priority was bonding with my son but also provide the best ingredient possible for him and that was my milk. I was expressing every 4 hours and freezing milk to take it to him each day. In the beginning it was stress free as he required little milk but as he was getting older and the daily intake was becoming more it was quite draining not only physically but emotionally. Because I was physically unable to breastfeed it made it very hard to bond with Ronan. Kangaroo Care helped the bonding between us as Ronan lay naked on my bare chest `skin to skin’ but breastfeeding was just that step closer to feeling complete. It wasn’t until Ronan reached “36wks gestation” that we started teaching him to breastfeed. My milk supply was dwindling by this time as I had been expressing for 9 weeks but the moment I had been longing for had arrived and my supply was slowly boosting back up.
It took three weeks to teach Ronan to completely breastfeed. There were many high and low moments but we kept battling through it. He finally had the galvage tube removed NEVER to be placed in his nose again; this was a moment of glory for us. Ronan was successfully breastfeeding and also bottle feeding – a time I never thought would come. Sadly when Ronan came home he refused the breast & no matter what advice we were given and the many tricks we tried he was unable to continue. This did not deter me and I continued to express and did so for 6 months.
After 110 days in hospital Ronan was due to come home. We were excited but VERY nervous about what lay ahead. I was worried about giving him his medications each day, how I was going to feed him, how would I know when he wanted a feed, what happens if he doesn’t latch onto the breast, how much spare milk have I expressed, is his bed ready, has his sensor monitor been set up, what do we do as soon as we walk in the door with our new son? We had a million questions going through our minds because we had been around nurses for the past 3.5 months watching what we do and helping us when we weren’t sure what to do, but it was also the most thrilling time for us because we FINALLY had our beautiful son home with us.
Today, 17 months on Ronan is still inspiring us each day. We are very proud parents and every milestone he achieves no matter how slow is celebrated with a huge cheer. He is now 14 months old “corrected” and is the most placid, happy, cheerful and energetic baby we know. When looking back at photos it brings a lump to our throats just to see where he battled from and how amazingly brave and determined he was to live.