'It’s opened my mind to how fragile life can be and how precious they are' - Little Eli, born at just 25 weeks, has 'rollercoaster journey'
Ten-month-old Eli McCarthy Curtin has a smile that would lift the spirit of a gloomy room.
The force that he is, it’s hard to believe that the first few weeks of his life were something of a rollercoaster.
Eli arrived early, at just 25 weeks’ gestation, or “half a pregnancy", his mum Marguerite explains simply.
He weighed 905 grams, or two pounds, one ounce.
“It was very scary because there are babies that don’t make it when they’re born that early. There are a lot of babies that do make it, but you just don’t know.”
“The paediatric consultant said to me that there’s a 10 to 20 per cent mortality rate for babies born that early, so I held onto that as a positive, that there was an 80 to 90 per cent chance that he’d survive.”
Before Eli was born, doctors had ordered full bed rest for Marguerite, who’d been experiencing spotting. There was a concern that Eli could arrive early, so lactation consultants at the Rotunda hospital recommended antenatal breastfeeding workshops.
Breastfeeding can be a lifeline for babies born prematurely.
“I was glad I went because the workshop gave guidance around expressing, and the importance of the initial colostrum to the baby. Eli wasn’t able to breastfeed when he was born initially. He was on breathing support, an incubator, and tubes for feeding. The nurses were able to put a small drop of colostrum in his cheek even and that helped him.”
“After giving birth I expressed straight away with a tiny little syringe to have colostrum for the baby.”
“When I was in the labour ward, the nurse assisted me in getting the colostrum and the early milk and brought it very quickly to the baby. I continued to express every three hours, eight times a day, to bring my milk in. I hand expressed for the first few days, then I started using the pump in the intensive care unit.”
Eli was in hospital for the first 115 days of his life, a journey with many bumps.
“You walk into the hospital every day not knowing what news you’re going to hear. One night, we got a phone call to say that Eli had to be resuscitated; they worked on him for 10 mins and gave him three shots of adrenaline to bring him around. His lung had collapsed. They thought an infection had gotten into his blood.”
“He went through a lot. They thought at one stage that he had sepsis and queried meningitis, and he had to be on antibiotics for 23 days.”
“And within the first five or six weeks he had to be transported to Crumlin - he had an open duct in the heart, a murmur, a duct they had to close.”
Little Eli also suffered a grade II brain bleed while he was in hospital. He also has chronic lung disease, which still leaves him at risk of infections.
It wasn’t until January 12 that Elie was allowed home for the first time.
“He had a rough journey. That’s why it was even more important that I breastfeed him,” explained Marguerite.
Figures released today confirm that the numbers of mothers who are initiating breastfeeding in the Rotunda hospital after the birth of their baby has risen.
Some 73 per cent of mothers initiated breastfeeding while at the hospital last year, a “reassuring and positive step in the right direction”, the hospital said.
In recent years, Ireland had been found to have the lowest rate for breastfeeding in Europe.
Marguerite explains that eventually as Eli grew, he learned to breastfeed, and she doesn't need to express anymore.
“I tried to wean him onto the breast at home. He’d get top ups of my expressed milk in a bottle before that. Now he’s fully breastfeeding without any bottles and he’s on solids as well.”
“I’m very proud that I stuck with it but I’m also very proud of him… Since he left hospital in January, he hasn’t been sick once.”
Marguerite says she would not have been able to breastfeed Eli without the support of the medical team at the Rotunda hospital, her husband James and her family. She says the service whereby donor breastmilk is giving to premature babies is invaluable for babies of mothers who can’t, for various reasons, breastfeed themselves.
Now at home with Eli, and looking back at all they’ve achieved together, Marguerite brimming with pride.
“You always value your children but going through a journey like that, it’s really opened my mind to how fragile life can be and how precious they are.”