Introducing Aiden

At 8:59 on Tuesday morning our son Aiden Mackenzie Rip was born. He came into the world five weeks ahead of schedule and via an emergency cesarean. On Sunday afternoon Colin brought me to the hospital because I was having contractions again. I was admitted and the initial assessment was that I had a urinary tract infection. However on Monday morning tests showed this not to be the case and after a kidney sonor, the doctor was on the verge of discharging me. However during a routine check of the baby’s heartbeat the nurse noticed that Aiden’s heart rate had decelerated while I was having a contraction – a sign of distress. I then went to the gynea for a scan and although everything looked good, he decided to keep me for another night for observation. During the night Aiden’s heart rate repeatedly dropped, although this time without any contractions being present and the gynea scheduled the c-section as soon as he’d seen the results of the night’s observations.

So our little boy is now two days old. Lung x-Rays showed that he either had fluid on his lungs or congenital pneumonia. A sonor of his lungs yesterday showed them to be clear of fluid so he’s on antibiotics for the pneumonia. They are going to do a blood test this morning to test the level of infection and will then increase or decrease the duration of the antibiotics depending. At the moment he is unable to digest anything. They are feeding him intravenously and trying him on 2ml of breastmilk every three hours. I am getting to know my breastpump again and getting a nice stockpile of milk going!

I am doing well but finding the recovery from the cesarean much more painful than last time (although it’s possible I’ve just forgotten how bad it was). I was mobilized yesterday and Col and I both had our first Aiden cuddles yesterday afternoon – Col got first dibs this time round!

The first occurrence of premature labour was on 3 September and Aiden’s arrival brought to a close a long and taxing month. Both Col and I are finding our emotional capacity to be a little thin. Col is having to balance work with hospital visits as well as playing the role of single dad to a demanding two-year old. Between my parents and Colin’s mom we’ve got an amazing amount of help with Cameron but logistics are complicated at the moment!

I am finding the NICU aspect of things much harder this time. When Cameron was in NICU everything was overwhelming and new and I sort of developed tunnel-vision. Now so much of it is familiar and it’s almost as if I have more capacity to notice other things as a result. I am far more conscious of all the wires and tubes attached to my baby. He just seems far too tiny to be in the world and I find myself getting tearful when I’m with him.

Besides all of that though I think we are both struggling to process the emotional fall out from Tuesday morning. The gynea said that if he’d discharged us on Monday I probably would have noticed a decrease in Aiden’s movements but by the time I did anything about it, it might have been too late. The doctor’s relief was palpable when Aiden was delivered and it was only when we saw that, that we realized how serious the situation had been. As the days pass I’m sure the gratitude we have for our healthy boy will override the fear of the close call. At the moment it’s a bit raw though and creeps up on us at unexpected moments.

I’ll try for another post later today or tomorrow with another update (the fact that I have the energy and desire to blog again is definitely a good sign). But for now, nap time!

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The preemie gap

Cameron is eight weeks today and getting cuter by the minute. He’s almost completely over his recent bout of bronchiolitis and is once again a predominately contented little chap. He is getting really chubby now, with little fat rolls everywhere (there is definitely a resemblance to a shar-pei developing). He has got the most beautiful blue eyes and is becoming increasingly alert. I am starting to see more and more of Col in him, especially in the way he stretches when he’s waking up. All in all, our boy is making wonderful progress.

However, having said all that, for the first time we are noticing the preemie gap. Until now there hasn’t seemed to be much different between Cameron and a full term baby. But while full-term babies have now reached that magic six week mark, Cameron is still very much in the two to six week phase. His smile reflex is very evident but we have yet to see our first social smile. He is still on a three-hour feeding schedule, occasionally pushing it to four hours at night. If he is awake for more than an hour he starts to get really cranky and he still gets over stimulated incredibly quickly. That initial gruelling ‘new born’ period is turning out to be slightly longer for us and we are starting to take a wee bit of strain.

The thing that is getting to me the most is the lack of sleep. At six weeks most babies start to skip one of the night feeds, giving moms a blissful six-hour stretch. I’m still on a two-hour sleep schedule and it’s starting to show. My short-term memory is completely shot. I am heavily dependent on my lists as I can’t remember what medication I gave Cam at his last feed, never mind what happened yesterday. I read a page of my book and can’t process what it was about. It’s a bit of a miracle actually that I’m managing to string these sentences together at all (please ignore the typos – I am sure there are many).

But the worst part about it, and the real irony, is that I’m not sleeping all that well when I do sleep. I am so aware of Cameron’s every little noise that often I leap out of bed ready for the next feed but he still sleeps for another hour while I doze fitfully in the nursery. I dream that I’m feeding him in our room and then wake with a jolt and frantically start searching for him in our bed. And invariably when I lie down for a nap during the day he stirs 20 minutes later, waking me with a rush of adrenaline which leaves me wide-eyed while he drifts back to dreamland. Suffice to say I am starting to understand why sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture.

Taking the preemie gap into account, Cameron should start moving into his next developmental phase in about two weeks. It seems an eternity right now, but we’ll continue to take it one day at a time and try to take the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.’

Due date

If things had gone to plan, Cameron would only have been making his appearance sometime around today. It’s quite strange for me to consider this alternative – another month of pregnancy, possibly a natural birth as opposed to the C-section I had, only now starting with the daunting task of caring for a newborn. These post-post-partum reflections have been simmering in my mind over the last weeks, but this auspicious date has brought them all to the fore and now they are demanding some serious attention.

An abrupt ending

I have had moments over the last month when I’ve missed being pregnant. There are two reasons for this: firstly I never got to the really uncomfortable stage so was still enjoying it; and secondly, my pregnancy ended so abruptly that at times I’ve felt a bit short changed. But in those moments I remind myself that there wasn’t much awaiting me in that last month except a deeper understanding of what it feels like to be a beached whale. That quite effectively shatters those rose-tinted glasses.

An unplanned route of arrival

Having my stitches taken out 10 days after Cameron was born acted as some sort of trigger and I started having these flashbacks to the C-section. My plan had been to have a natural birth, but I remained open to the idea of a caesarean if necessary. When crunch time came, it was really a very simple decision to go under the knife, but once it was all over I realised that during all my preparation I never actually thought it would become necessary for me to go that route. This left me in the very odd position of trying to mentally prepare myself for something that had already happened.

Then of course there was dealing with the actual op. At the time there was so much going on that I zoned out and just did what needed to be done. But it’s a stressful procedure and at some point that suppressed emotion had to be dealt with. I remember sitting in the theatre waiting for the spinal block with my legs shaking like the last leaves of autumn. Once that had been administered it was utterly bizarre not being able to feel more than half of my body and at times I had to fight down a sense of panic. While the op was actually taking place, I couldn’t feel specific things, but I could feel general tugging and pulling. I tried not to think about what they were doing, but when the bed bounced around beneath me it was hard not to imagine what was happening. And then that magical moment arrived when Cameron was born. But after that brief island of relief and joy, all attention switched to him and I was left feeling like a slab of redundant meat.

Dealing with all of these feelings after the event resulted in me reacting very negatively towards my scar for the first few days after the stitches were removed. Combined with my flabby tum, leaky breasts and general state of tiredness, I had never felt more unattractive in my entire life. (Reassuringly, my books all state that most women feel this way and that patience is the order of the day during recovery.)

I am sure that the natural birth process brings with it a myriad of other factors that play havoc with one’s state of mind post-delivery, so it’s hard to know which of these feelings I would have had to deal with anyway. I must also confess that when I look at the size of Cameron now (small as he still is), I am immensely relieved that he made his entrance when he did. Whichever way one does it – birthing a baby is no walk in the park. So in juxtaposition to my feelings on pregnancy, I am so grateful that the birth is behind me and this last month has left me feeling a lot more at peace with all that it entailed.

A head start

Last night Col and I had a braai while Cameron slept upstairs. When we look back on the last month it seems both incredibly short and unbelievably long. Caring for a newborn is a fairly routine and mundane process and provides ample opportunity for getting up to speed. (As an example, Cameron needs roughly eight nappy changes a day, which means we’ve already changed at least 176 nappies. One’s proficiency improves pretty quickly with that kind of repetition!) Having said that we are still experiencing new things every day, and the last month has had its own special brand of stress to deal with. As with the birth, we are glad that it’s behind us!

Having discussed all of this though, our overwhelming sense at the moment is one of gratitude. Arriving a month ahead of schedule seems to have done Cameron no harm. Despite its trauma, the caesarean went as well as it could have and we are actually a lot more positive about that route than we were before. I’ve recovered quickly from the op, the breastfeeding is going well and our boy is growing beautifully. Our family and friends have provided incredible support. We are privileged to have so many friends, that three weeks in there are still people waiting to meet our little man (and we’ve had visitors as often as we can manage). There is much to be thankful for. Yes there is indeed!

‘You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!’

Psalm 139:5-6 (NLT)

Cayden and Keeno

The theme I had planned for Cameron’s nursery before the Dr Seuss baby shower changed everything was ‘Knights and (friendly) dragons.’ I had it all planned out, but it centred on these cute felt dragons I’d seen at the Irene Market in February and a dragon wall sticker I found on Amazon. When I tried to actually buy these items, the stall at Irene was no more and I discovered that Amazon wouldn’t ship that item to South Africa. I was disappointed, and in an effort to lift my spirits my Dad went on a dragon hunting mission. At Mr Price Home he found this awesome dinosaur which I decided would work as a dragon – albeit a wingless one.

At the baby shower a few days later, my dear friends Katy and Lee, who had been in on the dragon theme, presented me with the same dinosaur. Except that Katy took it one step further and sewed wings on it! When I changed my theme to Horton hears a who the matching dragons still earned a place in the nursery, purely on merit of the love and dedication that had gone into finding them. (Besides which it’s entirely possible that there are dragons/dinosaurs still living on Mount Nool.)

When Cameron was in ICU, there were twin girls named Cayden and Keeno in the beds next to him. They were born the day before Cameron, and were 35 weeks and 6 days to Cameron’s 35 weeks and 5 days. The nurses joked that Cameron would one day marry one of them (bets are on Cayden because ‘Cameron and Cayden’ has such a nice ring to it). One tends to strike up conversations with other moms in ICU, and on chatting to Karen, the girls’ mom,we discovered that we actually live in the same suburb. Friendships have started in stranger ways and perhaps Cameron and the girls will get to know each other after all. In the meantime, we’ve absorbed this part of Cameron’s story into the nursery by naming our twin dinosaurs after these special little girls!

Parenting’s first casualty – logical thought

The cumulative effect of interrupted sleep is starting to take it’s toll and my brain is really not functioning that well anymore. This means that firstly I can no longer seem to trust myself with admin tasks of any kind. Yesterday I persistently wrote ’28 August’ while labelling all my bottles of breast milk. And while always a believer in lists I can absolutely no longer seem to function without them.

Secondly, I’m committing serious faux pas at every turn. Thank heavens for name badges because I can’t remember the nurses’ names, even though I’ve been getting to know them for days now. Then last night my friend Tash came to visit. I spent half an hour in mental anguish trying to work out if this was the first time I’d seen her since Cameron was born. She, in fact, came to visit me on Monday, but I bored her with all the same stories I tell first time visitors before that sluggish part of my brain finally got through with the message that she’d heard it all before. Darling that she is, she listened with just as much enthusiasm as a first time visitor and didn’t let on that she was probably wondering if I was going mad.

Frustrating as this is, it did lead to lots of laughs last night. I stayed up for the 11pm ‘feed’ (read ‘expressing of milk’). Afterwards Col asked me what time I’d set my alarm for, with the next ‘feed’ at 2am. ’22:45,’ I replied. He looked at me quizzically and said, ‘But babe, you’ve just done the 11 o’clock one.’ I was completely flummoxed and asked in disbelief, ‘Have I?’ When Col realised that I had been genuinely confused we packed out laughing (incidentally a rather painful experience with my stiff tummy muscles). While he’s also sleep deprived at least he is still capable of logical thought so my new strategy is to run every action by him before I do anything!

This absent mindedness is bound to get progressively worse so if your birthday is anytime in the next two months I will most likely forget it and beg forgiveness in advance. And if I make plans with you please remind me on the day or run the serious risk of being stood up!

Day two update

Author’s note: this post breaks all the rules about the length that a good post should be but I so don’t care!

To start off with an update on both patients: Cameron could not be doing better. He’s really healthy and just completely adorable. We have no concerns about him at the moment other than the standard preemie baby ones (i.e learning to suck and keeping his under-developed immune system safe from infection). What a champion! I’m feeling strong, managing to move around easily and am not in too much pain all things considered.

We’ve had a number of breakthroughs today.
1. I could have a shower (first one since Sunday) and wash my hair. It was heaven!
2. I had an hour of kangaroo care with Cameron (that’s skin to skin care – google it if you want more info). It was so awesome to just to sit and bond with him.
3. I changed my first nappy! (I know I’ve opened myself up to them, but no snide comments please.) It was a really gooey, gross one but I didn’t care in the least. I had been struggling with the fact that I wasn’t learning how to care for him and was just so excited to be able to do something.
4. Cameron and I managed our first breast feed. He took a while to figure out what was expected of him, but got it in the end. The sucking reflex doesn’t fully develop until 37 weeks (he’s 36 today) so it’s hard work for him but we’ll keep practising.
5. Col changed his first nappy! There was no gooey grossness to be seen (snide comments are now welcome.)
6. Col got to hold his baby boy for the first time (this should really be number one but I’m listing them as they happened not in order of mind-blowing marvellousness.) It was the most precious moment to witness. Col’s been incredibly patient but it’s been a long wait for him.
7. Col got an hour of kangaroo care. So much bonding going on – its just brilliant.

We’re working on a day-to-day basis for the next week. I am being discharged tomorrow but Cameron can only go home when he’s established his feeds. The process for this is progressive and depends very much on how he responds so we have no idea how long it will take. If all goes well we’ll be able to take him home early next week. While this is hard, we’ve been separated from him since his birth and that makes it easier. The hospital only allows the mother to lodge (stay over) for the night before the baby is discharged so there is going to be a lot of driving backwards and forwards (and of course I cant drive myself because of the op; logistical challenges loom but we’ll make it work.) We are focusing firmly on positives and are going to try and use the time to recover some strength. For the next two or three days I won’t have to be at the hospital very much, and as much as I want to spend time with our boy, I figure I should try to get some sleep in preparation for when the feeding establishment process gets really hectic.

On Sunday when I was having my ‘I’m having a baby in 2 hours’ freak out, my friend Katy wisely said that God would give me grace to deal with each thing as it came. I’m really finding this to be true. I feel like I’m in some kind of calm bubble. Every now and then something will get through and I’ll have a stressed or tearful moment, but a few reminders of all the positives restores my perspective and sense of peace. This bubble may burst soon (the three day blues are expected tomorrow according to all the books) but I’m appreciating it while I can.

To sum up there are challenges to be dealt with but then our boy arrived a whole month early so there were bound to be. Col and I fall more in love with Cameron every time we see him, are marvelling at his teeny-tinyness and enjoying what interaction we have with him. We are so excited for the day when we can take home and you can come and meet him. In the meantime I’ll post more pics on Facebook.

PS Sorry about any typos. One my brain is turning to goo, and two I’m using my phone to type this which is a touch challenging.

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