23 weeks 3 days, 668 grams

My partner and I had just moved from Melbourne over to Wellington. A big step for us but one we were looking forward to. About a month after our arrival I found out I was pregnant with our first child. We were a little shocked but also excited, we knew it would be a challenge given we were in a new country away from all of our family and friends. Little did we know just how hard that challenge was going to be. This is the story of our miracle baby son Samuel.

I attended a clinic for a check-up, when I was 23 weeks + 3 days pregnant. I had been having regular check-ups because I am a Type 1 insulin dependent diabetic. A scan was ordered because I had experienced a little bit of spotting but everything showed up normal and I was sent home. By 6pm that evening I was having severe pains but didn’t even contemplate that I was having contractions, by 9pm I couldn’t bare it anymore so I rang the hospital and was told to come in immediately. Our son Samuel James was born at 12:31am. I remember looking at him and commenting to my partner about just how small he was, we later found out he was 668 grams and 31cm long, a decent size for a 23 weeker (apparently). He made a very small cry upon delivery but that was it. He was quickly rushed off by the Neonatal staff who incubated him in the delivery room before rushing him up to NICU. I really don’t remember much else as I think by that stage I had gone into shock. It was hours before I was able to go up and see him and when I did it was like a bad dream. He had wires everywhere, his head and trunk were bruised from the delivery and all I could hear were all the beeping machines. The nurse told me that his first 24 hours were the most critical and it would be touch and go.

During the first few days Samuel showed a tremendous fighting spirit which he has never lost; this gave us the strength and hope that we needed to get through it all. We were told by the nurses that our time in the Neonatal Unit would be a bit of a roller coaster and that it certainly was. The lows being a collapsed lung, a Grade 2 brain haemorrhage as well as some other questionable brain scans, low blood pressure, unstable blood sugars and numerous infections. Samuel also had Patent Ductus Arteriosus. There was talk of this being rectified through surgery but Samuel seemed to be doing well so the doctors opted to leave it and see if it would eventually close on its own, which it finally has.

Then there were the trials of getting him breathing without assistance.

After 23 days of being ventilated he began trials on CPAP, we had to stretch his nostrils just so that the prongs would fit up his nose which for me was just awful (one nostril is still bigger than the other). There were a few instances where he had to be ventilated again but that was to be expected. It wasn’t until just before coming home that his reliance on supplemental oxygen ceased.

At one month old Samuel contracted Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC). This meant after finally starting on breast milk he had to be taken off it and a long line once again being put in to feed him – his lasted for 2 weeks. Our next major hurdle occurred during a time when we thought we weren’t too far from being sent home. After numerous eye tests it was discovered that Samuel had developed Stage 3 Retinopathy of Prematurity in his left eye (Stage 2 in the other) and the doctors decided that he would have laser eye surgery to correct it. I think this was one of my most emotional days, my tiny little boy was being operated on and I felt helpless, but he got through the surgery and it took a couple of days for him to get better and continue on his way towards coming home.

Much to our joy just four days before coming home he decided it was time to start breathing on his own, a big step for such a small boy. After 116 days, 10 weeks of these spent in Intensive Care our precious baby boy finally came home. Looking back I think it was this event that finally allowed me to feel like a Mum. The first few days I kept going to check on him while he was sleeping to make sure he was breathing even though he came home with an apnoea monitor. Even though I was a little scared it was just wonderful to have him home.

I look back on those early days and really can’t believe how far our little 23 weeker has come. He was given little chance of survival but has defied all odds and apart from being on the skinny side he now shows little evidence of being a premmie. He still has lots of appointments with his medical team but they are more about keeping an eye on him rather than treating anything in particular.