As told by mum, Courtney

Our story started years ago when we started first trying for a baby. Like most couples we thought we would fall pregnant straight away. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, so we started hormone therapy. Again after many rounds of treatment we still were unable to fall pregnant. We then decided to have a consultation for IVF.  We eagerly awaited our appointment on the 7th of January after our last hormone treatment at the end of December.   At the appointment we had decided on a plan and bloods were taken to see how soon we could start treatment.

The drive home from Hamilton to Taranaki was long, discussing how we were going to manage our money to afford the treatment needed. Little did we know that our little one was already growing inside me. A few days later we received a phone call telling us that IVF was not going to be an option as we were pregnant!  The joy we felt was like nothing else. Complete elation and excitement.

The next few months were a rollercoaster with taking extra hormones to ensure I kept the pregnancy and there was also the pandemic, an added threat to our growing bundle of joy, a stress and worry that definitely wasn’t needed.

On the 2nd of July 2020 I arrived for a routine appointment in the morning before I started work. This was the appointment I had been waiting for as I was going to find out the date of the Caesarean section. (This was due to a medical condition I have which would cause a natural birth to be to high risk.)

The nurse checked my BP, to which she stated it was high. I advised her it was likely due to excitement. She advised me she would re-check it after the appointment with my OB as it wasn’t just slightly above normal it was very high. The date of the Caesarean section the 18th of September, 8 days before my due date of 26th of September, my BP was checked again and once again it was high.  I was taken through to the birthing unit where a CTG was put on me to monitor the baby.

While I was waiting, I rang work and advised I would be late as we were just checking the baby. Afterwards a nurse came in and explained to me that it was likely I had Pre-Eclampsia and so I was going to need bloods.  During this time I genuinely didn’t think I had Pre-E. My bloods came back just above high/normal. I was sent home advised to take the next two days off and to come back on Saturday.

Well as I still didn’t believe I had Pre-E, I had made plans for the Saturday afternoon. Once we arrived at hospital my BP was checked and the Drs made it clear that my BP was dangerously high. This meant that our baby may have had to have been delivered straight away. I was only 28weeks.

We then became acutely aware of how serious this was and how much of a dangerous situation our baby was in. The Dr and Nurse worked hard to place IV’s and administer medication to try and lower my BP. After many doses my BP had come down to a manageable level.

My BP had luckily come down by the afternoon but by the evening I had lost vision in part of my left eye, so for the next few days the Drs and nurses worked tirelessly to keep my BP low enough to ensure my baby and myself were safe and finally they had found the correct cocktail of medication to keep my BP at a reasonable number.

My care changed from my usual OB to the Dr assigned to me. My new OB was amazing. Along with the other hospital OB’s and nurses in the pre-labour ward they became our support and care givers.

Our parents all over seas were unable to get permission to travel to NZ, we relied fully on our amazing friends and the staff for everything.

Over the next three weeks there were many, many false alarms of potential delivery due to low Doppler’s. The nurses advised my husband and I to visit the NICU in the first week, to prepare ourselves for where we would be spending time when our little one arrived.

Walking into the unit, I remember one hand cradling my bump and the other clinging to my husband like a vice grip. I remember the blue lights and with one quick glance around the room I felt my resolve crumble. The tears came and so did the sobs. My husband’s strong arms held me up and the NICU nurse kindly gave me the time I needed to calm and gather myself.

We walked around and the NICU nurse explained everything, how it all works etc and gave us some leaflets and a little NICU diary , a small nappy (keepsake) along with two cloth hearts that I could use to start getting my smell on, so they could go in my baby’s incubator.

The day finally came when my OB advised me that if we kept our little one in any longer there was a chance he could pass. It was planned that the next day we would have our baby via Caesarean.  We visited the NICU again that evening to prepare. This time I was ready with my questions and the shock of seeing tiny incubators and machines I was ready for.

The NICU nurse’s (Blue aunties) made everything seem upbeat and happily answered my many questions and gave advice and told us what the process would be when our little one arrived.

The day came. Saturday the 25th of July at 31 weeks we started prep for the op, at 4am.  I was given an IV medication to help with our baby’s brain before delivery, a urinary catheter was placed and we were under constant monitoring of a nurse/midwife until the op.   Our friends arrived to support my husband and I, due to my medical condition it was a high risk of me bleeding heavily, so of course my husband was worried sick.

My amazing nurse/midwife and friends made the morning extremely special. Laughing and joking made the very scary time pass quickly.  Finally we were wheeled to theatre. My midwife held my hand the entire time, especially when the tears came saying goodbye to my husband. (Having a full GA my husband was not allowed in)

To avoid our little one getting too sleepy from the gas, I was fully prepped and everyone was in theatre ready before I was induced. I gripped my midwifes hand and took deep breaths not wanting to cry and distress my little one. The staff introduced themselves and were so lovely, it was only when my baby’s paediatrician introduced herself that I started to cry.  “I’m here to look after your baby”  words I desperately needed to hear.

Atlas (The Titan that held the world on his shoulders, the fiercest warrior among the titans)

Atlas Mawson was born at 15.12pm only 2lbs 4oz, 1090g. Screaming and letting the world know he had arrived. So much so that his daddy could hear him from outside.

“Is my baby ok? Is my baby ok?” was all I kept asking my midwife when I woke up. “Your little boy is ok, he is down in the NICU, Jack has gone with him.”

I wasn’t able to see my boy at first as the Drs were busy placing IVs (central lines etc).  I’m told I did get to see him that afternoon but I have no memory of seeing him, possibly from the strong pain relief.

That afternoon though was full of pure baby bliss. Even though we didn’t get the birth we wanted our boy was here and we were elated. I was shown pictures and videos of my baby.

The next day it really sunk in at how much our little one would need to fight. I remember going into the NICU and asking “which baby is mine?” desperate to lay eyes on my little miracle. I felt disconnected. I felt like I should have known which baby was mine because of a mothers instinct.

When I got to see him, my heart broke but felt whole all at once. My beautiful little baby, all hooked up to machines, I could barely see him. CPAP on his face, central line and a line into his umbilicus. Giving him nutrition and antibiotics that was needed. It was incredibly overwhelming. I felt helpless, I wanted to take away all of his issues, but I was helpless to do anything.

I started expressing milk and found comfort in doing so as it was the one thing that I could provide for him that no one else could. (Even though he wasn’t able to feed yet, little amounts were given into his mouth)  The first few nights were awful. I was on a ward with other mums. I could hear their babies crying during the night, while I stayed in my large empty room. My husband went back to work after two days saving his leave for when we were finally able to come home.

I would go down to the NICU in the morning and spend hours there just staring at my baby. The day came when I was able to have skin to skin. Excitement and worry battled inside me. The blue aunties were there the whole time with encouragement and support.

The days feel like forever and many times I just held my baby and cried. The staff in the NICU were amazing always offering support and also sharing their own stories some of babies they had looked after and also some of their own children.

Slowly Atlas started hitting his milestones, like coming off CPAP and coming off the extra nutrition.  It filled us with hope and we were astounded with his progress. The staff became a second family. I knew all of them by name and was genuinely interested about their lives. They always answered the many questions we had, and celebrated with us when Atlas would have another big milestone.

It soon became time for Atlas to be moved to a crib rather than the incubator.  During this time the Aunties encouraged us to walk around with Atlas and perform his basic needs such as getting his feeds ready and his CARES.  We felt like Atlas was a Faberge egg which would crack or break so easily. Walking ten steps away from his crib was huge for us but we did with the staff encouragement.

During our time in the unit, we made relationships with other parents and babies in the NICU, we celebrated with them when their babies hit milestones and shared heart ache when their babies took a step back in progress.

The many families we saw leave to go home while we were there each was like another dagger in my heart. I was so jealous and envious of them, while also rejoicing for them at the same time.  Our little boy all the while was living up to his name and holding the world up while also fighting a good fight.

I found comfort in reading, looking and following the progress of other miracle babies both on The Neonatal Trust and on the NZ NICU, SCBU and NNU Parents support group on Facebook.

We moved closer and closer to home and each time Atlas had blood tests, ultrasounds and Drs checks they were amazed with how well he was doing.

We finally got to the stage of living in and Atlas decided he would pull his feeding tube and therefore encourage us to breast feed fully. I found this hard and when the only thing stopping us from going home was for us to establish breast feeding, I seriously considered just swapping onto bottles. I didn’t however, and after encouragement, love and help we managed to establish full feeds within a few days.

When the day finally came for us to go home it was bittersweet. We had made some close relationships with the staff and we had relied on them to show us how to parent, we said goodbye and on the 8th of September we all came home.

I’m so thankful to have my baby home. We are still on a long journey as he has been back into hospital a few times for surgery and post op complications but he is a little warrior and hopefully we are on the home straight.

I couldn’t have done all of this, and I know for sure my boy wouldn’t be here, if it wasn’t for the amazing NICU staff and the support of the nurses, midwives, Drs and our friends and family.

I have definitely learnt that it’s ok to rely on other people and talking about your emotions and letting them show is a good thing. It’s ok not to be ok. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The days feel like years in NICU but when you’re home they fly past.

Cherish each and every day.

***Thanks for sharing Courtney!***

We get a lot of positive feedback from families in a neonatal unit who read these stories and feel strength, hope and positivity knowing that they are not alone going through these experiences and feeling certain emotions.

If you would like to discuss sharing the story of your neonatal journey, we’d love to hear from you. Please email info@neonataltrust.org.nz 

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  • The Neonatal Trust provides support to families of premature or sick full-term babies as they make their journey through Neonatal Intensive Care, the transition home, and onwards. We do not receive any Government funding and are entirely reliant on the generosity of individuals, companies and organisations in the form of donations, value-in-kind donations, grants, sponsorship and fundraising events to supplement operating costs and fund our services and initiatives.
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  • Here’s a gallery of support examples