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By Trudie Sinclair

My journey to motherhood began soon after we got married in March 2015. I got my first positive pregnancy test in July and was of course over the moon. I told everyone! Sadly we found out at just 8 weeks the pregnancy was ectopic. We were living in Vienna and this resulted in a rather unpleasant round of surgery in a Viennese hospital (at which stage my German was worse than basic!).

We were told to wait 3 months and try again. To cut a long story short, we ended up needing IVF and were finally successful in June 2016 with my estimated due date being March 3rd 2017. I was cautious but optimistic this time I would get to take my baby home.

I had a relatively stressful first trimester as I had some bleeding, however after the 12 weeks mark I had an uneventful time. Like any first-time mum, I was excited. I spent time buying all the new baby things, thinking of names and going on a babymoon. At 36+1 we went to Ikea (which in our relationship almost always ends in divorce!) and went to bed that night like any other night. I awoke at 1am to what I thought was my pelvic floor giving way. I went to the toilet, to find it was definitely not urine and in fact my waters had broken. I shouted for my husband who realised that things were happening and called an ambulance as instructed by the midwife. The midwife asked me to sniff my underwear to see if the water was sweet or urine smelling(!). At the time I took this task very seriously. Looking back I’m laughing to myself at the things we do in these panic situations!

At the hospital

When we arrived at the hospital I was immediately examined and found I was already 4cm dilated. This baby was coming, a month earlier than planned! The exact words from the midwife were ‘You are not going home’ (in a strong Austrian dialect).

Despite this, I had a positive birth experience (including an epidural which kept me sane!!) and my son Arlo arrived on the evening of Feb 6th 2017. When he came out he was didn’t cry and was rather a tanned (yellow) colour, mixed with hints of grey, thanks to his jaundice and circulation.

Arlo needed some help to kick start his breathing when he arrived. Neither my husband or I were really aware what was going on. I asked loudly a few times if all was ok and asked my husband to go and check on Arlo. The midwife advised against this so he stayed with me. We just stared at each other and I could see my husband’s face getting paler and paler. After 3 minutes I heard him cry, which of course made me cry, and then my small man was placed on my chest.

He was taken to Special Care

The doctor then told us that he would need to go to the SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit) and be placed in an incubator with a course of IV antibiotics and glucose as his sugar levels were low. It was a good hour before we could go to see him as I needed stitches and (due to the epidural) couldn’t move. I don’t remember anything from that hour, apart from my husband continually telling me ‘well done’. Apparently I was also demanding food in quite an aggressive manner!

When finally got to see all 2.5kg of Arlo, it was a moment I will never forget – my little man was here and the love was overwhelming. They placed him on my chest, expecting him to try and latch on. Our breast feeding journey did not begin here though as he hadn’t developed the ability to suck. Even after trying various nipple shields we were told to rest. I remember feeling hugely deflated. I so badly wanted that dream scenario of the baby taking to the breast straight away. Still, the breastfeeding journey requires a whole new blog post!

The doctor did some more tests on Arlo and told me he would need to continue to spend a night with the other sick babies in SCBU to be monitored more closely. Of course, it’s fair to say that after giving birth I had a fair amount of adrenaline running through me. I wanted to tell everyone and go and stare at my new baby, however the midwife persuaded me I needed rest. We woke up early the next morning and went to see him. He’d done well overnight and his blood sugars were stable and was off to get treatment for his jaundice. I still wasn’t able to enjoy new born cuddles but I was confident he was being well cared for.

The first day

I spent all day staring at him. We tried to breastfeed again, however it was still not successful, so I was encouraged to pump. Day 3 followed which bought about all the usual tears as my milk came in. I felt like I had very little control over my son at this stage, which for a control freak was hard. I had a long chat that day with an English speaking midwife who said all the right things and finally that night (with 2 hourly monitoring from a midwife) we slept all together in the hospital room. I remember it so vividly. I finally was responsible for this small little boy who was, coincidentally, too small for any of his newborn outfits! That night my husband and I didn’t sleep. We had to go and collect milk bottles from the midwives every three hours, try to burp him, and of course being a new mum watch him take every single breath!

We had a few ongoing struggles with breast feeding which after 2-3 weeks we managed to crack, with nipple shields, pumping, a lactation consultant and tears!

So, in technical terms I had a premature baby. Our start was not as smooth sailing as someone who went full term, however I know just how lucky we are. We had a few minor issues but after 6 days in hospital, we were able to go home with just a few hospital appointments to attend.

When other babies are meeting their milestone early and I start to panic, I stop and remind myself that he was born only 36 weeks and I know that he will get there. I do feel more awareness about prematurity is needed. Even waiting those 3 minutes for Arlo to start breathing – we were both totally unprepared for that. There were a few other things to. Arlo was also born with only one descended testicle and the other came down when he was two months old. As well, after being discharged we needed to attend a few more appointments to check he was developing normally and treat his jaundice.

Add to that, being premature meant breastfeeding didn’t just ‘happen’ like other mums. And all the beautiful clothes I had bought didn’t fit him and needed premature ones to tide him over.

I always feel a fraud when I discuss prematurity. Arlo in my eyes was so so lucky. I’ve been surrounded by some amazing babies since having my own and their journeys have been so different and more traumatic. I’m inspired every day by what I see from these premature babies that are so keen to arrive early at the party.

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Trudie Sinclair recently relocated back to her home town of London after spending the past 7 years living in Munich and Vienna. She is mother to Arlo, born 06.02.17 at 36 weeks gestation. She is a Dietitian, and has worked within both public and private practices and international organisations.