Alexander's Story

Posted: Dec 18, 2010

Alexander's Story

We knew fairly early in my pregnancy (due to a pre-existing condition I had) that our son would be early. My obstetrician was confident I would make it to 35 weeks, still early, but without a lot of the problems that very premature babies have. It was not to be. At 25 weeks, my membranes ruptured. I was quickly hospitalized and confined to bed. At 28 weeks, I went into labour and Alexander arrived by C-section on a hot summer afternoon. Nothing could have prepared us for the roller-coaster ride we were about to embark on.

He was a very sick baby at first. It took more than an hour to get him stabilized. Later, while I was resting in a demerol-induced sleep, my husband received a 2 a.m. call that he should get back to the hospital, fast! Our tiny son's vital signs were not looking good. Thankfully, by the time my poor husband arrived at the NICU, Alexander had stabilized and the doctors and nurses were pretty sure he would make it through the next 48 hours.

48 hours became 96 hours, then a week, then twelve days. But on the 21st day, almost as if on cue (our son's doctor had warned us that infections seem to show up about 3 weeks after birth), Alexander got a very serious infection. He was re-intubated and placed on very powerful antibiotics to fight the raging infection. We were on pins and needles for the next 20 hours while we waited for the antibiotics to kick in. Finally after a very stress-filled day, our little son went back to his lovely soft pink, as opposed to the pale gray he had become with the infection.

About six weeks after Alexander was born, I decided I wanted to go back to work. I didn't want to use up any more leave while our son was in the NICU. I wanted to save the leave I had so that I could care for him when he did come home. I thought it would be easy to explain to the Human Resources department what I wanted to do - it wasn't. Because I used the incorrect terminology, the HR department kept insisting, that I had to use my 'maternity' leave. What I found out was that I wanted to terminate my maternity leave and then use my 'parental' leave when my son came home. It was finally sorted out, after a number of stressful calls to head-office. I went back to work, but it wasn't easy. I was pretty distracted and found it difficult to concentrate. I often counted the minutes until I could leave to visit my little guy in the NICU. We were also preparing his room for him, so after our cuddles and rocking, I usually raced home to paint and wallpaper.

In the midst of all this stress I was trying to express enough milk to give to Alexander when he was ready to start feeding. I managed to get about two months worth of breast milk (plus the colostrum) that was frozen and stored in a freezer in the NICU. I read all the lovely pamphlets that are put out on breast-feeding and even talked to a 'coach', but no matter what I tried, my supply of milk quite simply dried-up. By the time Alexander had learned to suckle, I had ceased producing breast milk. I was assured, by the nurses in the NICU that I shouldn't feel guilty and that my wee son would definitely benefit from even the two months worth of breast-milk.

We faced two other infections, plus feeding problems and a couple of hernias (not uncommon in male preemies) but finally our son was ready to come home. He arrived home on a hot, late summer day, three-months and four days after he had been born. I think both my husband and myself looked at each other and mentally said, 'Yikes! Now what do we do!' But surprisingly we rather quickly developed a routine. We had been expertly coached in feeding, changing and bathing Alexander while he was a guest in the Special Care Nursery at the Ottawa Hospital, Civic Campus (wonderful doctors, extraordinary nurses). However, we did have many moments of 'high anxiety' when we wondered what to do next. Every small sniffle, sneeze or cough was viewed with alarm. We would often wake up a couple of times a night to tip-toe into our son's room to make sure he was still breathing - he always was. In hindsight, we probably were a little more cautious than we needed to be, but our 'touch and go' situation upon his early arrival had probably left us somewhat over-protective. Luckily, the staff of the Special Care Nursery was only a phone call away and very understanding. They were marvelous for the support and reassurance they gave us. Our families were extremely supportive as well. Once Alexander was old enough we felt comfortable getting away for a weekend or a few days. We still agonized over leaving him with grandparents. But it only took one short trip to make us realize that he would be just fine. W e came back to find that he was completely content and sleeping through the night for the first time. Grandmothers are special!

As we watched Alexander grow, we were thrilled at even the smallest progress. His progress was slower than other babies of his birth age and we always took into account his Corrected Age. Most people were very understanding of his small size once his extreme pre-maturity was explained, but we still got some uncalled for comments. "Are you feeding him right? He sure is small." "Why can't he sit up yet?" But you know, they do 'catch up'. By 28 months you couldn't tell anymore that Alexander had even been a preemie. Today he is an active, busy, normal 6-year-old in grade one and reading up a storm!

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