Reaching 20 weeks is a major milestone in pregnancy. You’re ‘halfway’ through, you have a scan to check on bub (and find out the sex if you can’t wait like me!), the excitement builds and you start preparing for the arrival of your special baby.
If you are at risk of premature birth, this can change, with the arrival of 20 weeks bringing you all the more closer to the 24 week milestone, otherwise known as ‘viability’.
It feels like such a cold and clinical way to describe your baby. However it is at this point that most Doctors and Hospitals will go ahead with lifesaving measures to help your baby survive (although I have heard of some babies being treated at 23 weeks).
We were introduced to the term viability during our first pregnancy, when I was admitted to hospital at 20 weeks. In a short space of time, we went from being blissfully unaware of the complications which can occur during a pregnancy, to discussing how much further along I would need to be before I would be given steroid injections (to help our babies lungs), and at what point they would perform ‘life saving measures’ on our babies. For us, we fell short of the ‘magic’ 24 weeks, with our daughter and son being born just shy of 21 weeks.
Knowing from the outset of our next pregnancy that it was going to be high risk, and the risk of another premature delivery was there, our goal was 24 weeks. I started counting down the days to this milestone from the time our pregnancy was confirmed. We didn’t tell many people that I was pregnant, initially I didn’t want anyone to know until we were past that 24 week mark. Then after numerous hospital admissions starting at 17 weeks, we started to share our news, with the thought that if something did happen to our baby, we wanted people to know about him, and acknowledge him.
I reached 24 weeks with the celebration being marred with the news I would be staying in hospital until Liam arrived. We knew all the stats. We knew each week the chances of Liam surviving if he arrived early increased, as the chances of him developing a disability decreased. We toured the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and Special Care Nursery (SCN). I met with lactation consultants who educated me about expressing and feeding a premature baby.
We thought we were prepared. We weren’t. When Liam arrived at 30 weeks + 6 days, he was quickly shown to us and whisked away. It wasn’t until several minutes later that we could hear his faint cries, and while I couldn’t see him, and was straining to hear, that small sound bought me to tears – our baby was alive.
There were similar feelings when I became pregnant with Aiden. Again the countdown to 24 weeks started, with this milestone coinciding with Easter, I again eagerly counted down the days, with a strange mix of apprehension and relief as the day drew closer. Then when I was still pregnant (and at home!!) at 31 weeks, we celebrated… thinking it may be possible that I could go close to full term! Like our babies, our celebration was premature. Four days later I was back in hospital – just two doors up from where I’d stayed prior to having Liam, and chatting with the midwives who had previously looked after me. The sense of deja vu continued, when Aiden was born at 32 weeks + 1 day – we were in the same theatre, our same obstetrician, the same ob assisting and the same anethatist. This time, Aiden cried when he was delivered (and also weed all over me!), and we got to spend a few seconds more with him before he was taken to NICU. Being thrown back into the NICU/SCN world after only leaving it 16 months before felt like we had never left. As soon as I walked onto the floor, the smell of the NICU hits you and all of the memories come flooding back with a huge force.
We are fortunate, we had relatively smooth journeys with both of the boys during their NICU/SCN stays and there are no long term issues that we are aware of. Once home, there have been the odd bumps in the road, and the anxiety of having a prem baby/child never fully goes away. You are often anxious, are they putting on enough weight, is their development delayed, will a simple cold put them back into hospital? Often this isn’t helped by well meaning people, who will compare their full term child’s development with yours or strangers who comment on how small your child is, when they ask how old they are, and when you say they were born early they go so far as to ask what the cause of their prematurity was – I was once asked ‘what was wrong with you?’ by a complete stranger whilst shopping with Liam in Woolies.
Today is World Prematurity Day. The aim of today is to raise the awareness of premature birth and the journey families go on not only whilst their little ones are in hospital, but often for the rest of their lives. It is a day to celebrate our little fighters and an opportunity to remember those babies who didn’t survive, by lighting a candle at 7pm.
Today I will be giving our little miracles extra hugs, and reflect on the long and crazy journey we have been through to have them here with us. We will also be lighting a candle tonight in memory of Amber and Riley, and all the other babies who were born too soon and taken from us.
Have a wonderful Sunday
Linking up with the Multitasking Mummy for Mummy Mondays