Neo-Natal

neo-natalHe is barely ten hours old when the neo-natal retrieval team arrive. They attach him, my first-born, to an electrocardiograph, they wrap him in what looks like pliant aluminium foil, they place him in a space capsule on wheels. They turn on the oxygen. They close the lid. They will take him to the airport and to a city hospital where they will look after him. I watch him roll away from me, I listen to his heartbeat until the maternity ward’s wide doors close and he is gone.

I know as soon as he is born there is something wrong. His first cry is a mewl of complaint, not wholesome newborn outrage. His stomach retracts with each breath, he pouts ferociously and for a legitimate reason. He is born too early. ‘Why,’ the retrieval team doctor asks, ‘was he induced two weeks early?’ I want to reply, ‘Because I trust my doctor,’ but offer only this; ‘My doctor said that even though it was two weeks overdue the foetus was too small.’

I join him 24 hours later. I am re-admitted to hospital. I endure, as all postpartum women must, the tedium of having my weight, height, blood pressure and other details recorded yet again. Finally, I visit the neo-natal intensive care suite. They have tied down my baby’s arms. A tube sprouts from his chest, just above his midget heart. He cries but I cannot hear him; another tube is threaded down his throat. ‘We have to restrain his arms, he keeps pulling at his tubes,’ the dark-haired nurse says. ‘He’s the biggest bub here at the moment. His lungs aren’t quite developed yet, but he’s a fighter.’ I am too easily read; she pauses then says, ‘It’s okay. You can touch him. Talk to him. He’ll recognise your voice.’

Later, exhausted, I sleep and dream. I take my baby to a staff meeting. My work mates are polite, they smile but we must work; there is no time to praise my newborn. There is only one place I can put my baby; an empty aquarium. I lower him into the glass casket and he sleeps. I contribute to the meeting, I watch him through the glass but the aquarium fills with water. His blankets are soaked, the water rises, the wet swaddling drags him under.

I wake before I can reach him.

Two hours later a doctor from the neo-natal unit walks into my room. My baby is fine, she says. The clip board with his medical details are her shield, a black pen her sword. ‘Tomorrow,’ she says, ‘we will try to feed him through a tube, one millilitre only of the breast milk you expressed for him. We won’t give him your milk today. There was a little problem this afternoon. Do you remember the tube that drains fluid from his lungs?’ I nod. ‘For some reason, it became blocked.’ She moves her shield so it covers her heart. ‘We had to drill a second hole in his chest and start the drainage again. There is nothing to worry about now.’

‘When,’ I ask, ‘did this happen?’ She tells me and I count the hours since I arrived at the hospital.

While I slept, my son almost drowned in his own mucus.

8 thoughts on “Neo-Natal

    1. My son will be forty later this year. Apart from struggling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in his teens he’s a big boy and relatively health; he’s a wonderful son husband and father to my precious grand daughter. I’m blessed despite, all those years ago, my rather bumpy introduction to motherhood!

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  1. Is this your story Janet? Premature birth is so fraught with challenges. However, the maternal bond, as you so beautifully describe from your drowning dream, is strong. It is a scary time for everyone.
    A good friend of mine gave birth to her daughter at 24 weeks. Amazingly, she survived. And to date, over 12 months later, she is home, thriving with surprisingly few health issues. She is a dainty little doll in 00 clothes 🙂

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    1. Hi Raili. This happened almost 40 years ago, when the trauma of an event like this wasn’t well recognised. The babe will be forty this year, he is strong and healthy, though has suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the past. He’s a wonderful son, husband and father but he did have a rough start to life.

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      1. I’m glad he’s strong and healthy. Some things have changed for the better, although a friend told me yesterday that SA Health has pulled funding for prem baby follow up. She has just returned to Adelaide from interstate with her little girl who will need ongoing treatment for some years. They cancelled all her appointments … what’s happened to transforming health ?!

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      2. What indeed? That’s terrible news. I was living in the country at the time and there was little in the way of support. Several people who read my post suggested I probably suffered some trauma, but I didn’t think that back then. It’s frustrating to know others might have to go through what I did. 😦

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