No mum expects to spend the first days, weeks, even months, watching their teeny baby grow in the NICU. To spend countless hours beside a humidicrib, to watch your newborn fight to survive, to leave the hospital each day with empty arms. 

But premature birth happens. Countless babies, countless mums, countless newborn moments that happen inside the NICU.

Rachel Southwell is one of the many NICU mums who experienced premature labour with her son Miles. This is her story.

Rachel and Miles - premature baby story
Photo: Rachel Southwell

‘I had a gut feeling something wasn’t right’ 

My pregnancy was a ‘normal’ pregnancy. That’s what I thought anyway. But at 28 weeks I felt reduced movement and had a gut feeling something wasn’t right.

I went into the hospital for monitoring and the doctors discovered my fluid levels were high but they were not worried.

They were having trouble monitoring the baby, though so they kept me in for a few days. Then, three days after I was admitted, my waters broke while in bed. There was A LOT of fluid.

I remember hitting the alarm button, but, after that, it’s all a bit of a blur. They gave me a few injections and pills to keep the baby in but my son and my body had different ideas.

It’s almost as if my body knew this baby needed help and had to be out.”

The pain was increasing, we were rushed into the delivery and I was told my son would need to go straight to the neo-natal ward. I remember thinking – What is that?

I was one of the lucky ones – my son came out crying so my husband got to cut the cord and I got a cuddle before he was taken away. Then he was gone and my husband was gone and I was alone.”

Baby Miles - premature birth story
Miles was just 1.1 kg at birth. Photo: Rachel Southwell

Surgery at one day old

When my husband came back he told me he was fine and settled in his little fish tank. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be settled for long.

The doctor came to see us. Our newborn had oesophagus atresia – a condition where his oesophagus had not formed in the womb and was attached to his trachea (windpipe). He would need major surgery. He was only 1.1 kg – barely the size of a bag of rice and would be cut open tomorrow.

Little Miles in the humidcrib
Photo: Rachel Southwell

Tomorrow came and it was the hardest day of my life. This tiny little human was going to be cut open and have major surgery. I just felt numb.

My husband and I only had each other to lean on. However, the nurses and doctors were outstanding – they kept us calm as we waited and waited for news on his surgery. Hours later a doctor came to our room and told us that it went really well and he was a strong little baby.

We decided to call him Miles, which means fighter.

Miles - Premature birth
What a little fighter. Photo: Rachel Southwell

85 days in NICU

We were so grateful our little man was going to be okay. All I wanted to do was pick him up and cuddle him. But we couldn’t hold him – not for another week. Instead, we had to leave. Without our son.

Leave our baby and go home, back to our normal lives? How could we do this?

This feeling of leaving the hospital empty-handed is indescribable. An empty capsule in the back of the car, an empty bassinet at home  – it’s so unnatural. Worse still, this feeling remains with you throughout the NICU journey – whether it be four days or 100 days.

Miles and Rachel
Photo: Rachel Southwell

For us, it was 85 days. 85 long days of travelling back and forth to the hospital, of leaving our son every night, of returning the next day.

It takes all of your energy to go back and forth to the hospital every day for three months. I was expressing every three hours and constantly trying to keep up with pumping, even throughout the night. 

Waking every night without your baby – pumping all alone in the dark – is one of the hardest things I had to do.

But I did it.

‘The NICU journey is like a roller coaster’

Everyone will tell you this and it is so true!

Walking through the doors, pressing the bell, washing your hands because a common cold can make your baby very sick. Going through the familiar hallway, wondering “What will I find out today? Has he put weight on? Is he well? Please, please, please be well.”

Miles at one month old
Photo: Rachel Southwell
Miles going home - premature birth story
Miles spent 85 days in the NICU. Photo: Rachel Southwell

Miles celebrated a lot of milestones in the NICU and I am eternally grateful for the doctors and nurses that took care of him. They became my family – they are the ones that look after our babies, that save their lives, that give out the best cuddles to our babies when we’re not there.

‘I wish I knew about premature birth’

Looking back at our journey seven months on is still quite painful and brings up a lot of emotions.

I wish I knew about premature birth, I wish I knew about the world of NICU – I had no awareness, no idea a baby could be born at 500g and thrive in life, no idea you could perform surgery on a 28-week old baby.

What I hope is that my premature birth story can raise awareness for people who will go through this journey. I want to let you know you are not alone. If I could give one piece of advice, go to parents’ group, join Facebook groups – reach out to people who have been there. This community is amazing, it’s supportive, they listen to you. They just get it.

Miles has been home for four months now and is doing great. He is on oxygen support 24/7, but we are used to all the wires. He is a happy baby and hitting all his ‘miles’ stones.

Miles entered this world way to soon and had to do a lot of things on his own. But babies are strong and resilient and we get to love him a little longer and that makes us lucky. I would not wish this journey on anyone but if you do go through it, you will witness what a true miracle looks like.”

Baby Miles after NICU
My, have you grown! Miles at seven months old. Photo: Rachel Southwell

Premature birth awareness and support

Premature birth is the leading cause of death of children under five. It is more common than you think, it is on the rise and it can happen to anyone. To learn more, please visit www.miraclebabies.org.au or www.miraclemumma.com.au.

Please see our previous premature baby and birth stories as well:

 

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