My second child Tommy was a premature baby. Not incredibly so – he wasn’t one of the teeny tiny tubed babies that you see on the Borne website, but he is proof that being born any amount early is too early.
Keen to come into this world, I fell pregnant with Tommy almost immediately after deciding to provide his older brother with a sibling. Unfortunately, I had tremendously bad issues with my pelvis from around 7 months of pregnancy, and I ended up on crutches and in a wheelchair, convinced my insides were trying to become my outsides.
Eventually, in extraordinary amounts of pain on a day-to-day basis, the doctors decided to induce me to prevent any further damage. The induction went without problem, but when Tommy was finally born he was whisked out of my arms and taken away. The doctors explained that the date of conception I had been given had been wrong, and that he was certainly less than 37 weeks. We had induced too early.
Tommy was cold and grey and needed extra help. The consultant told me it was all normal for a baby of his age, but it didn’t feel normal to me, particularly after three days with no sleep.
Eventually, he was given back to me for skin to skin contact, and I was so happy to hold him and be able to feed him. But when I sat Tommy up to wind him he was violently sick. He projectile vomited everything I had fed him all over me and the bed. I didn’t know it
yet, but this was the beginning of a long road. A long road that has consisted of an untold number of nights spent pacing the floor, crying along with my baby. Nights spent at various hospitals undergoing a battery of tests.
Premature birth affects children in different ways, and it became clear in those first few months that Tommy had been left with an array of digestive issues and allergies.
I lost count of the times we walked through those hospital doors, the times Tommy had to be nasal gastric fed to keep him alive because he just couldn’t keep even my own milk down. I would ring my Mum at 2am to say that I couldn’t cope, that I couldn’t go another step, because all my baby did was cry and vomit and I didn’t know how to help him. I couldn’t even cuddle him – he would arch his back in anger and pain against every hug, he would flail and pull his own tubes out.
I didn’t go to post-natal groups because my baby was different to theirs. Ignoring the fact he was just as likely to vomit on his baby friends as anything else, he was so skinny, kind of baggy – his skin was too big for his bones. Visible proof that I couldn’t seem to be able to feed my own child.
They became known as the crying years. Both me and him. I remember sitting on the hospital doorstep when he was 10 months old and only weighed 10lbs, begging the nurse for help. But prematurity is a legacy that doesn’t end when your child is no longer a baby.
Recently, during another hospital stay for a 3-week spate of cyclical vomiting that just wouldn’t stop, my 13 year-old Tommy looked at me accusingly and said ‘Mummy, why did you born me so wrong?’.
And in that instant, my heart broke for him, and for us. I have wondered over the years, as most mothers would, perhaps it is my fault. Did I eat too much tuna, or sugar, or the wrong soft cheese – did I cause this to happen to my own baby? But I know that isn’t true, because the tragedy is that he was just born too early. And whilst with Tommy we know that he was simply brought into this world too soon, there are far too many other premature babies for whom we don’t have answers as to why they arrived when they did.
Sometimes, when Tommy is tired and having a bad turn, and I see a forlorn, sick little boy, who is tired of vomiting up to a hundred
times a day. But I know five minutes later he will be looking at me with a big grin on his face, telling me his newest funny joke, and playing batman with the hospital bed sheets. Above everything else, Tommy is brave. He has put up with every test and every set back. Determined to go on his school trip to Barcelona, the teachers said he essentially ‘puked his way around’, but he didn’t give up, determined to have the normal fun with his friends that he wants. So much of his progress has been down to him – his strength, and his stubborn refusal to be left behind.
Tommy is a fighter because he must be. He fights to fit in, to do all the things his friends can do, to live a normal life of a 13-year-old boy. I am incredibly proud of my strong, courageous baby, but it breaks my heart that there are so many premature children out there who have to be this strong to get through life. And if they have to fight this hard, then we must fight too, and be as strong as they are in the quest to put a stop to this terrible ordeal that really does last a lifetime.