An Angel Only Lent

angel

I felt so special to receive the gift of becoming a mother.

April 23, 2012, was my 22nd birthday and from that birthday on was also now going to be my first born’s birthday too.

Except I didn’t become the mother of just any baby, I was now the mother of a premature 1lb 8oz baby boy, born at just 27 weeks gestation.

When I laid eyes on my son for the very first time he was already around 16 hours old, I wasn’t allowed yet to hold him or even touch him. He lay in a warm incubator, connected to what looked like hundreds of tubes which were keeping him alive. Although he was fragile, he was my son and I instantly fell in love. As I carefully counted his fingers & toes, I shed tears of happiness. He was tiny but absolutely perfect.

Each day Macen’s father, Thomas and I would sit beside his incubator talking to him. We kept him company while he grew stronger and stronger. One of the lovely neonatal nurses gave me a diary to write in, she suggested I write down Macen’s progress each day so that I could look back on it after we took him home. So I did just that, it kept me busy on the days where I felt most vulnerable.

Macen was three days old when I was able to touch him for the very first time. That was by far one of the happiest days of my life. His skin was so soft and he reacted to my touch by kicking his little feet in the air. I was so proud, I finally felt like a ‘real’ Mum.

That same day as I chatted to one of the nurses I caught him staring up at me, I knew he recognized my voice.

His eyes were a very dark brown colour and although he didn’t open them up much, he was always wide-eyed every time he did.

The very next day he started to be fed some of my breast milk through a tube that led straight to his stomach.

The day he did his first ‘poo’ was yet another big milestone, it may seem odd to some, but to a parent of a prem baby ‘poo’ is like gold. Since he had proved to be digesting well we were then able to up the amount of milk he got each few hours.

By the time Macen was five days old, I was allowed to change his nappy, feed him through his tube, touch him and give him sponge baths. I was doing almost all the things any other new mother would be doing.

It was our one year anniversary as being a couple when things for our son took a turn for the worst.We had made our way to the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit) that morning, as per usual, when we noticed something was not right – Macen’s bed was vibrating! There were doctors surrounding our precious baby. Suddenly we were quickly ushered into another room accompanied with a neonatologist who then told us our worst fears.

“Your son is not doing so well today, he is no longer trying to breathe on his own and he is now on 100 percent oxygen.”  My world as I knew it was falling apart. And then she had more bad news; “We think Macen may have down-syndrome. We have taken some tests and we should know soon.” Though this kind of news is huge – it was honestly the least of my worries. We just wanted our boy to live.

As she continued to describe what they plan to do to help our son, my head just fell into my hands and even though I had literally just met this woman I couldn’t help but cry uncontrollably.

“We have put Macen on a high-frequency oscillator which is helping his lungs by vibrating air flow in and out of them, and it seems to be working well for him. This is why his bed is vibrating at the moment. We are doing all we can.”

As we walked back down the hallway to finally see our son, I wiped my tears off my face as quick as I could and decided from now on I needed to stay strong for Macen.

We sat with him all of that day and most of that night. He slowly started to recover from his ordeal and when they turned off the oscillator, I felt comfortable enough to leave to get some rest.

The next few days were a blur of information none of which were positive, it was like living a nightmare. Suddenly all our hopes and dreams for our baby boy had been shattered. Just when it had seemed like he was starting to get better, unfortunately with each step forward, he would take 3 steps back within hours. There was not much more that the doctors could do for him.

Macen was nine days old when we had to make the decision that no parent ever should have to make. We didn’t take long to make our mind up. We decided it was time to let him go. Watching him suffer as he was, was extremely heartbreaking. His tiny body had changed to a gray colour, he had no energy anymore and we could see he was struggling to go on.

We knew deep down, as Macen’s parents that it was the kindest thing to do for him…

My fondest memory of that next day was finally being able to hold my baby for the first time. All the family had the opportunity to spend a lot of time giving him kisses and just holding him close while he was still with us. We managed to take a few photos that are now precious memories.

When it was time to take him off the life, support the lovely neonatologist was with my partner and I every step of the way, along with most of our family who was all supporting us through this bitter process.

As I took the last tube out of his nose, I heard him start to take small breaths all by himself – this is a sound I will remember for the rest of my life.

All I did was hold him closely against my chest that was all I could do.
Our son, Macen, quietly slipped away one hour later.
The experience was very peaceful, I truly believe that he knew it was his mum holding him.

We later found out that one of Macen’s lungs was severely underdeveloped due to anhydramnios (no amniotic fluid around the baby during pregnancy). My amniotic fluid disappeared without a trace when I was around 23 weeks pregnant, which is why Macen had to be delivered early.

Other than his lungs, a post-mortem proved that Macen was perfectly developed in every other way. We also later discovered that he, in fact, did not have down-syndrome.

–Nicole Stanley 

Photo credit: adapted from caliopedreams | Flickr

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