At 9.12pm on Monday 13th August 2012, I became a mum. There’s no feeling quite like it. All I wanted to do was hold my boy; to comfort him and tell him how much I loved him. I couldn’t.
I lay awake all night thinking about him. After surgery I’d been taken straight to the High Dependency Unit, whilst Bruce was taken to the Neonatal Unit. He was placed on a ventilator within minutes of being born and now lay in a special incubator.
Each hour that I lay awake felt like a whole day. I couldn’t sleep, and didn’t sleep, all night. I couldn’t shake the thought of my little boy lying alone. What if he felt scared?
By the time morning arrived, I still couldn’t move. I had wires coming from each arm and the pain from last night’s surgery was excruciating. My husband arrived early that day. He told me that Bruce was doing well but there was a lot of medical equipment around him.
Throughout that day I was on limited liquids. My body still wasn’t draining fluids as it should be so I was only allowed about 60mls of water each hour. I spent the day asking when I could see my tiny boy. It was difficult for the doctors to say. I was still very ill and needed to rest. In what was the most stressful time in my life, I had to stay calm. My health, my life, was still at risk.
I had visitors in the afternoon. Both family and friends. It was difficult to hold a conversation though. My thoughts were constantly clouded by a mother’s instincts; to be near her child. Visiting was limited to an hour on the ward, though my visits had to be cut even shorter. My blood pressure was starting to rise rapidly and the nurses were getting concerned.
After a few extra hours of rest, the monitors next to me had stopped alarming. The nurses started to talk to me about possibly seeing my boy later that evening. Finally.
At around 7.30pm, they pushed a wheelchair next to my bed. I was under strict instructions not to stay off the ward for very long. I didn’t really have a choice in that rule though. My husband was my wheelchair driver and could easily wheel me back to the ward if I started to deteriorate.
It didn’t take long to arrive at the neonatal unit. Extra hand washing and antibacterial hand gel is a must in these units, so John pushed me over to a wash basin to get extra clean and ready.
To my left were the double doors that led to Bruce’s bay. When we’d finished washing, John opened one of the doors and pushed me through. There he was. My tiny boy.
The nurse directed me to a space by the side of his incubator. The experience was surreal. To describe things in completely non-medical terms, Bruce was in a small Perspex-type box, an incubator. There were bright purple lights switched on inside the incubator and a thin blanket covering the top. Bruce wasn’t wearing any little clothes but he did have the tiniest nappy on that I had ever seen. He also had a little white hat on his head. The hat was specially made to hold the tubes in place that were over his nose and in his mouth. Then there were the cat stickers. He had 3 stuck to his tiny body with wires coming from each. I later learned that these were monitoring his vital signs like his heart rate.
Bruce started to cry. I cried too.
It’s not how you picture spending time with your child for the first time. I wanted to hold him and comfort him, but I couldn’t. The nurse by my side opened the small round doors at the side of the incubator. They were just big enough to fit my hands through. I reached in and touched Bruce for the first time. I didn’t want to let go.
His toes. His tiny toes. I couldn’t believe how small they were. I touched them and he wriggled. ‘Is that because it tickles him?’ I asked, smiling. The nurse looked at me quite sad, ‘no’, she said. She explained that the skin of my little baby was highly sensitive. A direct touch, such as that, could feel uncomfortable to them. She showed me how to comfort Bruce to make him feel safe and secure. I covered my hands over the top of my little boy’s body. The nurse explained that doing it in this way, imitated a similar feeling that he would have felt in my womb.
The feeling of being able to touch my little Bruce was overwhelming. I don’t think I stopped crying the whole time that we were there. John told me that we needed to go back to the ward. Although we’d only been gone for 30 minutes, I couldn’t have stayed any longer with my health being the way it was. I said my goodbyes to Bruce and left. As I looked back at the incubator, there were his little feet sticking up, his tiny toes.
My tiny toed boy.
Talking about my experience of a premature birth has been emotional yet a relief to finally speak up. Have you ever been through something similar with a tiny toed baby? Please feel free to share in the comments below.