I am at ease as I walk into the hospital. It is busy at the reception. The receptionists show visitors where to go, they make patients comfortable, and they direct the taxi drivers to their passengers. Just as they did six months ago. And as they will undoubtedly also do in six months.
I do not need directions, I know where to go now. I look around me and walk down the hallway, past the pharmacy and shop with flowers and cards, on the way to the ninth floor. I greet the cleaner. It’s weird, I don’t feel like a visitor.
Six months ago I took the same route. Down the hallway, past the pharmacy and shop with flowers and cards. On the way to the ninth floor, the maternity ward. Just like now, without any worries. The difference? Then the baby was still in my belly, now he is in the stroller.
Six months ago I was 32 weeks pregnant with my first child. The previous day I had gone to see my midwife, who had accompanied me through my entire pregnancy, to check and measure my belly. She finds it a bit on the small side. As a competent and skilled midwife she makes her diagnosis and refers me to have a growth ultrasound. Reassuringly she explains that I do not need to worry, but that she just wants to be sure there aren’t any complications. My pregnancy until now was unproblematic, almost like a dream. Thus, I am not worried as I walk into the hospital for the ultrasound. I was, after all, a small baby myself. That baby boy in my belly probably resembles me, his mother.
After the ultrasound I get connected to a device to monitor the heartbeat of my baby. Whenever my belly becomes hard from a Braxton-Hicks contraction, the heartbeat of the baby decreases. These results confirm the midwife’s initial diagnosis and she is content to have arranged this ultrasound based on her knowledge. Then it goes fast. During the meeting with the midwife and the gynecologist it becomes clear that my placenta is not working properly. Despite the fact that they want to keep the baby in my belly, the baby is trying to wriggle himself out. We manage to stretch the pregnancy one more day for the first important dose of medicines that aids the lung development. Then a decision is made for an emergency Caesarean section. Within half an hour I am laying on the operating table and a moment later I hear - luckily - a cry as the baby is taken out of my belly. My son! My premature son, who is even too small for his gestational age.
He is briefly shown to me, then he is quickly put in the incubator. After an hour I can go to see him. He is so small. And so red. With feather-like hair all over his tiny body. Just like a small chicken. The nurse picks him up with all the tubes attached to him, out of the incubator and puts him on to my chest. This is how we spend our very first hour together. It seems like five minutes to me.
The first days are exciting. Is he breathing well? Is he not too yellow? Is there a risk of infection? Does his heart beat regularly? It seems to go well.
The midwife comes regularly to see us. Together we talk through the events that happened so quickly after each other. I'm glad she has guided me so well until now and continuous to do so. Not only the technical side get her attention, she also offers emotional support. She is there for me in the difficult times, when I’m worried or scared. She tells me how well my son is doing and how proud they are of him. I'm just as proud. We are proud together and share the joy about each of his little progresses.
When I go to the incubator, I sit in a relaxing chair. My baby on my chest. His skin against mine. I hold him. I get a cup of tea from the midwife. The sun is shining outside, but I see nothing of it. I look at my son who always sleeps when he is on my chest. With his tiny hand he holds my little finger. Precious time. I hear the nurse and midwife chat with each other distantly. A nurse lets some of my breastmilk run through the probe.
We spent 42 days at this hospital. I haven’t skipped one single day. Those 42 days were sad, difficult, but also good, beautiful and very special.
In those 42 days the hospital with all its staff, nurses, midwives, doctors, cleaners, receptionists and everyone else, has become our second home. And when I come here, it still feels like that. Even if we are only visiting.
Written by mother Irene and father Roland from Rotterdam, the Netherlands