Sunday 19 November 2017

Emani was born at 32 weeks. At six months she said 'hi' ...

Lynn Meagher daughter's premature birth was traumatic but Emani is a healthy, happy little girl now

Lynn Meagher with Emani and, right, Emani as a ‘preemie’.
Lynn Meagher with Emani and, right, Emani as a ‘preemie’.
Emani

Lynn Meagher

I didn't lay eyes on my newborn daughter for the first 36 hours of her life. As she was being born, I lay unconscious under anaesthetic and was closely monitored in intensive care in the days that followed.

When I was stable and well enough to be helped into a wheelchair, a nurse took me up to the neonatal intensive care unit for a brief visit. As I was wheeled through the doors, I quickly scanned all the incubators and wondered which one held my baby. The emotion was overwhelming and I almost hyperventilated with crying into my oxygen mask as I prepared to meet Emani for the first time.

When I saw her, my heart overflowed with love. She was incredibly tiny and utterly exquisite; a perfectly formed baby in miniature. Emani was born after a gestation of 32 weeks and two days. She weighed just 2lbs 14oz. I wouldn't get to hold her until the next day, but that incredible moment of seeing her for the first time will stay with me forever.

She had been due on July 5 last year. On the morning of the bank holiday in early May, I had woken to find that I could barely make out my knees as my legs had swollen to more than twice their usual size. I had badly swollen ankles and feet for about a month before this, which is common in pregnancy, but this was different.

The next morning, my legs were back to normal and despite a headache and some light-headedness, I got ready to leave for work. When I looked in the mirror, I got a jolt; someone else was looking back at me. My face was not mine, but that of someone who'd had botched plastic surgery, or challenged Katie Taylor to a few rounds. My eyelids had ballooned and my lips resembled those of a blowfish.

There was no doubt about it, something was very wrong. I phoned Holles Street maternity hospital and spoke to a midwife who advised me to come in straight away. Previous to all of this, my GP had had some concerns about protein in my urine and we were awaiting further test results. I had also had a headache that didn't seem to be going away. It all added up to what one obstetrician would call "a classic case of pre-eclampsia".

It was only with hindsight that I realised I had been calmly ushered through the blood and urine tests with none of the usual queuing. The medical staff were relaxed and pleasant so I was relatively unstressed by the situation. It was only as I was told I would be admitted that the term pre-eclampsia was first raised.

The severity of my condition was revealed to me as I quickly progressed from a night in "just to be safe" to being informed that I would definitely not be returning to work in the foreseeable future, and worse, that it would be highly unlikely I would be discharged before my baby was born, even though my due date was two months away.

Another shock awaited as it soon became evident that while everything would be done to keep my baby in utero for as long as possible, it would probably only be a matter of days before she would have to be born for her own safety and mine.

Daily scans monitored placental blood flow to the baby. The paediatric team told us she was expected to do well at 32 weeks' gestation, though she would probably not cry at birth.

I was injected with steroids to speed her lung development. We lasted three days before it became too dangerous to continue with the pregnancy.

I paced the corridors in the small hours, unable to sleep and almost delirious with headache pain and exhaustion. I was so desperate for relief that when I met a midwife in the corridor, I found myself asking her if there was any way she could sedate me without endangering my baby.

When she took my blood pressure, she visibly blanched and before I knew it, an obstetrician was telling me that my baby would need to be delivered now. I just had time to call my husband John.

I was prepped for surgery, and when I was wheeled into theatre and saw a busy team of doctors and nurses in scrubs, the reality of it winded me and I burst into tears. I just wanted to protect my baby and I cried, "She's so little, she's not ready to be born yet" as an empathetic nurse reassured me.

As I was laid flat in preparation for the caesarean section, I suddenly couldn't breathe. I didn't know it then but my lungs were starting to fill with fluid. I endured a few moments of terror as I wondered how I was going to stay still for the operation and not flail about gasping for breath. How would my precious baby be delivered safely with me moving on the table?

Within a minute or so of this (though for me, time was standing still), the obstetrician lowered her head over mine and as if she had read my mind, told me that I would need a general anaesthetic due to the baby's slowing heartbeat.

Her composed assurance told me I was in highly capable hands and I felt relief that my baby would be delivered quickly and safely. This thought was the last thing I remember before our daughter was born.

John had to wait outside the theatre, so neither of us witnessed the birth of our little Emani. But across a hallway and through two sets of doors, he heard her loud, vital cry.

I don't remember waking up. John tells me I was in a lot of pain and completely out of it. I didn't quite realise that I'd had a baby, and I was unresponsive when he showed me the first photographs of her on his phone. Emani was a much-longed-for and beloved baby. I wasn't myself.

I have no memory of any of this.

Despite the dedication of the nurses, one of whom was almost superhuman in her pre-emption of my every need, I spent a hellish few days in intensive care recovery. I couldn't lie down properly because of the fluid on my lungs and whether it was because I was so ill or an effect of the medication, I felt like I was trapped in a Victorian asylum, complete with dark thoughts bordering on the paranoid.

After three days, I began to feel human again. A nurse would wheel me up to see Emani every day and when I was strong enough to visit her on my own, I spent my days at her side, speaking softly and singing to her with my hand placed carefully through the hatch in the incubator door. The usual landmarks that other parents may take in their stride felt momentous to us. The first time one of the nurses asked if we'd like to change her nappy, we could barely contain our excitement. I handled her as delicately as I could, barely patting her little bottom which had no meat on it whatsoever. As we shared precious moments like these, our first as a family, we fell more and more in love with her.

As Emani was too premature for normal feeding, she was fed my expressed milk intravenously. John and I were so happy to be part of her feeding routine as we took turns pushing milk through the syringe. After a few minor hiccups, she was tolerating her feeds well and growing in strength.

We were then encouraged to begin 'kangaroo care' whereby she was placed against my chest for skin-to-skin contact. After a few days, John got to try kangaroo care too.

Emani began to blossom. Despite some initial concerns about a few small 'areas of brightness', which showed up on a routine brain scan, she continued to thrive and exceed everyone's expectations.

After a fortnight in hospital, I was discharged. I knew Emani was in the best possible place, but it was very difficult leaving her behind.

Exactly a month after her birth, on the happiest day of our lives, Emani was discharged. As we carried her along Merrion Square to the car, anyone who passed us did a double-take.

She continued to attract a lot of attention for the first few months given her diminutive proportions. People nudged each other to "Look at that tiny baby!"

Emani knew how to make an entrance and on several occasions, people actually ran up to us to meet her. One woman in a café asked me if I'd just come from giving birth.

Emani had a rough start in life. She was forcibly taken out my womb two months before she was ready and then endured countless procedures, wires and tubes as she was cared for by a legion of nurses. But I wonder if it all toughened her up. She's very hardy and went through teething without a tear. She seems to take things very much in her stride.

Everywhere we go, we are complimented on how happy she is. People say she's the happiest baby they've ever come across and there's no disputing it; she can turn the most dour looking grump in seconds.

She's been very verbal from early on and said "hi" at six months. At 17 months, "hi" remains one of her favourite words and she will repeat it to people until she gets a satisfactory response. She's highly sociable, with a particular fondness for waiters and more recently, to the detriment of her father's nerves, bikers. She's flying around the place and into everything, so she keeps us on our toes.

Being a 'preemie' has certainly shaped her character. Perhaps her rough start is the very reason she's so robust now. She's a feisty little creature who already knows her own mind.

She really is special, our little Emani – and we're so very, very proud of her.

Irish Independent

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