My daughter was born almost four weeks early. Although her arrival was unexpected, she wasn’t worryingly prem. I had a nine-hour textbook labour, vaginal delivery and no medical intervention. The baby was a bit under-cooked (2.5kg, hairy shoulders) but her APGAR scores were great – hello, perfect lovely offspring!
So I got stitched up, had a shower, and was dismissed from the birthing suite. My husband and I wheeled our new tiny person up the hallway to room 514 – I got the bed near the window, sweet! – and we sat down together on the scratchy waffle weave blanket, overwhelmed and overjoyed.
And this is where my memory gets a bit fuzzy. I suppose we were probably staring at the baby, touching her soft cheeks or rearranging her hat or something. Maybe we were discussing names – we hadn’t picked one yet – or just saying things like “Whoa, we have a baby!” and smiling deliriously at each other.
Then our swaddled daughter forgot to breathe.
I must have been in some kind of post-birth daze, because I didn’t notice the violet tinge that swept across her skin. I didn’t see her little chest stop moving, or detect the absence of her warm breath. She was right there, in my arms, and yet I didn’t realise that anything was wrong.
Fortunately my husband was on the ball. His new-father elation suddenly disappeared and he said, “She’s gone blue.” Then he pressed the nurse buzzer and leaped out into the hallway to call for help.
Meanwhile, I… Well, I don’t know. I can’t picture the scene at all. I have no memory of it. What was going through my mind? Did I gasp? Did I put the baby down on the bed? Did I do anything at all? I have no idea.
But I do remember being impressed at the midwife’s swiftness. She was in like a shot. Then she unwrapped the swaddling and rubbed the baby’s tiny body, and a few seconds later our daughter was breathing normally again.
And that was it. No movie-style CPR or mouth-to-mouth; no ventilation machines or people shouting “STAT!”.
“She just forgot she’d been born for a moment; thought she was still swimming about safely in the amniotic fluid,” the midwife explained. “Premmie babies can do that.”
Although the crisis seemed to be over, we were told that our newborn could have more “dusky episodes” and therefore had to be moved to the Special Care Nursery and have an oxygen saturation alarm attached to her foot.
My husband and I spent our days sitting by the humidicrib, patting our daughter’s skinny legs, listening to her alarm go off, discussing baby names and wiping tears off our cheeks. As predicted, she forgot to breathe again, and again, and again – probably five or six more times in total – but the close monitoring meant that each emergency was quickly resolved.
After a week the paediatrician decided that the patient, known only as “Baby of Jean” was no longer in danger and could therefore be discharged. I didn’t want to take her home. I mean, I did – of course I did – but at home she wouldn’t have an alarm. At home there would be no swift midwives. At home my husband and I would be completely responsible for her welfare.
When we walked in our front door, baby capsule in hand, this is what I was thinking: How on Earth am I going to keep such a fragile human alive?
As I transferred my newborn to the bassinette I resolved to watch her day and night to make sure her chest was rising and falling in the correct manner. I told myself that I would just need to be extremely vigilant for four weeks (an arbitrary period of time that I made up), after which point everything would be okay.
I couldn’t really do this, of course. Turns out I was quite tired! Fortunately there were no more breathing issues. Our daughter was not as fragile as I’d imagined – in fact, she put on so much weight between her two and four week check-ups that the maternal health nurse raised her eyebrows and said, “Are you sure this the same baby you brought in last time?”
And now, eight years later, she’s still extremely robust. She has a good appetite, an impressive immune system, and is surprisingly strong. I feel so lucky to have her, and am forever grateful to my observant husband and that speedy midwife. Oh, and I love that she has the brightest, rosiest cheeks I’ve ever seen.
Did you have a premature baby? How did you cope?
TAP on the image below and scroll through the gallery for pictures from "The Preemies" photo series by Canadian photographer Red Méthot...