Written by Stacey Matthews

I never thought I’d be the mum sat in NICU with a premature baby, especially after having 3 older children whom I carried to term.

At 32 weeks plus 5 when I hadn’t felt baby move most of the day and felt a little off. I decided to go to bed early to see if I could shake it off and get bubba number 4 to have a good wriggle like he usually did at night. I warned my husband Dan that we may have to pop to the midwifery unit to get checked over the next day if movements hadn’t resumed.

The next morning I still hadn’t felt much of baby. So we dropped our older children off at my mum’s and made our way to the midwifery unit at RSH. We were expecting to be strapped up to the monitors for an hour or so and sent home. To be reassured that all was fine and baby was just sleepy that day!

Pregnant woman holding her bump. Photography credit: Michalina
Pregnant woman holding her bump. Photography credit: Michalina

Being checked over at hospital

Strapped up to the machines we were, ice cold water drank and on my left side I lay. Dan holding the Doppler disc on my bump who remained still the whole time. My blood pressure was unusually high so the midwife went to call the consultants to see what they suggested. Our worries about baby were reassured though as we could hear his little heart beating away.

Still lay there feeling a little worse for wear, the midwife returned and told us we were being transferred, NOW, by ambulance to our consultant unit as they weren’t happy with my blood pressure. Dan went ahead to meet us there and the midwife accompanied me in the back of the ambulance as we were blue lighted to PRH, our nearest women and children’s hospital. During our journey, I started to feel contractions but baby still wasn’t moving.

We arrived onto labour ward and Dan met us soon after. Lots of concerned faces entered and left our room and after being prodded and poked, scanned and monitored we were met with a dilemma.

Nobody could understand why baby wasn’t moving or why he wasn’t responding to my tightenings. They knew he wasn’t happy from his heart trace. Although it wasn’t ideal because of our gestation, the only way they could be sure of what was going on was to deliver him today!

Keagan Matthews: premature baby on CPAP
Keagan: premature baby on CPAP

Everything happened so quickly from then.

I was stripped and put into a surgical gown. A drip was attached and I was stabbed with steroids as an anaesthetist explained the emergency c section procedure. Then, before we knew it, we were in theatre with a huge team of people and our baby was born. I remember the tiniest of little whimpers and then them passing his lifeless little body over to the neonatal team.

We could see them trying to resuscitate our precious boy as they congratulated us on the birth of our 4th son. I felt completely helpless. This was not how I envisioned the birth of our final baby. I wasn’t the first person to see his little face nor hold his tiny hand. I never got to cuddle him skin to skin and smell that new baby smell. All I could do was pray please god let him be OK.

The team managed to resuscitate and ventilate our boy and stabilise him enough to transfer him up to then NICU upstairs. They asked us if we allowed blood products as it was evident baby would need a blood transfusion. We later discovered this was due to a huge fetal maternal haemorrhage which explained his lack of movement and my high blood pressure.

Premature baby Keagan ventilated
Keagan ventilated

Handing over all decision making

I agreed and handed all decisions over to them. Permission was granted for them to do all that was needed to give our boy the best chance of survival. And at that, they whisked our son away.

We were praised for going in to be checked when we did. They told us our boy was hanging on by a hair. This was all I could think of during those next few hours which were the longest hours of my life.

I lay waiting in recovery not knowing how our baby was, if he was still fighting or if it had all been too much for him. Dan was allowed to pop up to the NICU briefly to see him once he was stable. He managed to take a few pictures to bring back to show me, but we couldn’t see our boy for wires and tubes. I still didn’t know who he looked like, his body and limbs tiny and pale like a little wax doll.

That evening, once my spinal had worn off, I was able to visit my baby. I could only touch his hand through the hole in the incubator and still couldn’t see his little face. It was taken over by the tubes from the ventilator. Everyone was asking me if we had chosen a name yet but I couldn’t decide. How could I decide what name would suit our fighter when I didn’t even know what he looked like yet?

Stacey Matthews: Cuddles with her premature baby, Keagan
Stacey Matthews: Cuddles with her premature baby, Keagan

Going home without my baby

I was discharged from hospital on day 3 without my baby. Although our boy was doing well in NICU, no mother wants to leave the hospital after giving birth, without her child.

The turmoil of leaving our son was horrendous. I looked forward to seeing our older boys and sleeping in my own bed but I was completely heartbroken.

Over the next few days, I travelled up to the unit as soon as I was awake. Riddled with guilt for leaving my older son’s at home, passing them from pillar to post to be cared for whilst I spent my time sitting next to the tank that housed my baby. I watched the nurses do all of the jobs I should have been doing; changing his nappy, eventually feeding him my expressed milk through his feeding tube. It was horrible not being able to console him when he cried as his skin was too sensitive to stroke. Listening to the beeps of the machines and whooshes of the cpaps. Sharing anxious smiles with the other parents whose babies were also born too soon or poorly, not knowing what was going on behind their bay curtains.

The days all rolled into one but with each day that passed, our boy now named Keagan, grew stronger and stronger. Our NICU journey became a little easier. We soon got our first cuddles and in to our own little routine and even began to complete some of his daily cares.

Breastfeeding a preemie was a different experience

On our 2nd week Keagan started rooting so I was finally allowed to try breastfeeding alongside his tube feeds. This was a completely different experience to feeding my older boys and brought its own challenges due to Keagan’s prematurity, it was in those moments I felt like a real mum. Keagan felt like he was mine and I started to really bond with our baby.

Keagan: Premature baby successfully breastfeeding
Keagan: Premature baby successfully breastfeeding

We had a few issues with temperature control and weight gain. As Keagan started to wake between feeds showing signs of hunger the consultants decided it would be useful for me to ‘room in’ to establish exclusive breastfeeding to see how he would get on.

Our tiny 4lb 1oz little wax doll began to thrive. Keagan fed like a trooper! He finally managed to maintain his temperature (albeit needing a few blankets and a woolen cardigan).

He began putting on weight and after a 15 day stay we were allowed to bring our son home!

Coming home to be a family!

I was elated that we could finally be a family altogether. The fear of not having the medical professionals there in case something happened was overwhelming. It was a bitter sweet moment leaving the hospital with our new addition lost in his huge car seat. We were ecstatic that we could finally enjoy him fully but incredibly anxious about ensuring he continued to thrive.

Although out stay was relatively short considering Keagan difficult start. Having a premature baby in NICU has an everlasting impact. We will never forget our time on the unit. The emotions we felt or the people that we met and although our boy won’t be little forever he will always be our prem baby and we will always be NICU parents. We are forever thankful to everyone who played a part in our journey!   

Premature baby Keagan Matthews
Premature baby Keagan Matthews

If you want to see more of Stacey then you can follow her on:

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Stacey has also become an Amazon number 1 best-selling author in the book she has co-authored called Mumpreneur on Fire 4 in chapter 4 of the book!