My first born son (here known as BC – short for ‘Big Chicken’ his loving nickname!) was born five days after his due date, very close to midnight in September 04 following what was for the most part a long, painful but not particularly complicated labour. He was in a posterior position (hence the pain) but otherwise the labour moved slowly but steadily along.
The first hint of the potential for complications came when we’d moved to the final stage of birth. Once I started pushing, the progress was very, very slow. He was very reluctant to leave his warm little space!
Then things started to get scary. His head crowned, but despite me pushing he wasn’t moving forward. The midwife realised that his shoulder was stuck (shoulder dystocia) and she quickly changed my position and performed the “McRoberts’ manoeuvre“.
He was born almost immediately, but he was not breathing. They resuscitated him in the room. My husband was frantic, but I was totally oblivious as to how serious things were. I was exhausted and dazed but I think I had seen too many emergency room TV shows and just felt totally confident that while not normal, the situation would be taken under control in no time.
They revived him and took him almost immediately to the Special Care nursery. I showered and was then taken him to see him. He looked terrible – he was intubated and his breathing was shallow and uneven. He had already been medicated because he had apparently had a seizure. He looked so perfect. All 4.02 kgs of him. He had a mess of curly black hair and gorgeous little fingers. I just wanted to pick him up and cuddle him, but I couldn’t. And did not get to for another 10 days.
It was when he was taken to a larger hospital in an emergency ambulance a few hours later that it really sunk in just how ill he was. They wheeled him in for to see him before they took him away. He was in an enormous fully sealed humidicrib, wired up to several machines, intubated, drugged and looking about as different as I could imagine from the bouncy pink baby I’d expected to be cuddling. I’m sure the emergency ambulance staff are very good at their job, but their bedside manner was pretty appalling. They handed me an out of focus polaroid photo of my son, told us he was ‘gravely ill’ and that they’d do all they could but there was no guarantees he’d survive the journey, let alone the night…..
The next day at the hospital, BC’s condition was described to us by the head doctor of the NICU again as ‘grave’. We learnt that the medical term was HIE (Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy)- and that he had suffered a brain injury because of oxygen deprivation. We also learnt that it would take a few days before we would get a clearer picture and even then it would take a very long time before we would really know the extent of the effects of the injury to his brain.
I plied the doctor with lots of questions. I did my best to ignore all the negative possibilities (including the chance that he still might not make it through) and clung to anything positive that he had to say (including the very slight chance that the injury would have no lasting impact).
I could (and should, and probably will) write another whole entry about the experience of spending the first month of motherhood with my baby in hospital. It was very disempowering, very scary and very challenging, but also definitely not as dire as it could have been because after the birth there were very few additional added complications. He didn’t have any more seizures, he learnt to breathe on his own without too much difficulty and once the drugs wore off, he became responsive and alert.
An MRI was done when he was 3 days old which confirmed damage to the basal ganglia – which I now know is part of the brain associated with movement.
We were blessed that our lovely boy left hospital just before he was one month old. He was fully breastfed. The doctor who signed his release form admitted that she was surprised and impressed with how well he was doing and that he had ‘that sparkle in his eye’ that suggested he was going to do OK.
Since then we’ve had our fair share of challenges, but also lots of joy.
The diagnosis of cerebral palsy came when BC was 14 months old. The paediatrician was very gentle and very worried about how we would handle the diagnosis. But she didn’t need to be. It was not really a surprise, and in lots of ways it was great to have something more concrete to research and to deal with.
And that sparkle in his eye gets brighter and brighter each day.