An Early Arrival
By Tina Ditoro
Kilbridge, Ontario, Canada
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 12 No. 1, January-February 1995, pp. 8-9
We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time
After four long days in a hospital bed and two-and-a-half hours of unusual labor, I gave birth to Emily Anne Ditoro, twelve weeks before she was due. My husband, Italo, and I had planned a home birth with a midwife, so this was quite a change of plans.
Emily was pink and breathing on her own at birth. This was followed by very loud cries. Since Emily was so small, this was a welcome surprise. All two pounds and fourteen inches of her appeared healthy, with a powerful will to survive.
Italo and I were standing at Emily's side one hour after her birth. Nothing could ease the shock and pain of seeing this tiny person lying on her belly, very red, all skin and bones in an incubator. She had an intravenous line in her foot and three quarter-size stickers attached to wires on her chest to monitor her heartbeat and breathing.
Within two hours of Emily's birth, I was formally introduced to a new friend we nicknamed "Mr. Pumper." Although I had nursed Karl for almost three years and tandem nursed Lisa, I had never had the need to express my milk. Now here I was getting acquainted with an electric breast pump.
This is where all honor and glory go out to the nursing toddler. Lisa and I became good friends with Mr. Pumper over Emily's ten-week stay in the hospital. I would nurse Lisa on one breast and pump on the other. I always experienced a good let down reflex, producing enough milk to keep ahead of Emily's needs. I would pump between five and seven times a day. If I had not had a nursing toddler I would have increased the number of pumping times not only during the day but also at night in order to meet Emily's needs. The last two weeks were difficult. Emily gained weight, required more milk, and I soon wanted to send Mr. Pumper on a one-way ticket to the moon.
Emily received nothing but breast milk during her stay in the hospital. She was fed through a gavage tube every two hours, twenty-four hours a day. A gavage tube is a fine plastic tube that is placed down the throat into the top of the stomach. The tube was attached to a large syringe that contained my milk. The milk was then siphoned into her stomach. The amount of milk given was determined by her body weight. Emily had always appeared to have a great sucking reflex right from birth. I desperately wanted to put her to my breast but because the hospital staff believed that nursing would be too tiring for her, they were against it. At last, when Emily was four weeks old, I put her to my breast to nurse. She latched on in minutes and sucked contentedly. What a beautiful sight! We decided that during the remainder of her stay, we wanted Emily only to be gavage-fed when I wasn't there to nurse her. We felt that if a bottle was introduced it could create some nipple confusion or otherwise interfere with nursing. The hospital agreed to our wishes, but made it very clear that they thought Emily would gain weight faster if allowed to suck on a bottle during my absence.
Our entire family visited Emily for nursing. We drove thirty minutes each way, twice a day, every day for ten weeks. Two weeks after her birth we moved into a new house and new community. We had planned the move to be two months before her due date, but Emily's early arrival changed that.
My husband's work hours were flexible which allowed him to be with us during the more hectic times. Family and friends supported us in many ways. We lived one day at a time and tried not to worry about tomorrow.
When Emily finally came home from the hospital she weighed three pounds, fourteen ounces. Her weight was not the only factor in deciding when she could go home. The hospital also looked at the stability of her vital signs, the length of time spent in the hospital, her original due date, and whether or not Emily was nursing properly. I knew in my heart that if I had Emily attached to my body and let her nurse unrestrictedly that she would gain weight faster. Soon she weighed ten pounds, and within six months she was up to fourteen pounds. Often we are asked "how long will it take for Emily to catch up to children her own age?" According to her doctors, studies show that most premature babies take two years. Well, they were right! At twenty-two months nobody would ever know Emily was born prematurely.
Some women experience postpartum blues after birth. I experienced them twice. The first time was right after Emily's birth and the second upon her homecoming. During those ten weeks of her hospital stay, I was not awakened for a nighttime nursing. When Emily came home, my body was shocked into the demands of twenty-four-hour mothering of a newborn.
Premature births are common, yet not many people know much about them. We tell our story to anyone who will listen just to make them aware. How we admired the first-time parents struggling through the shock of a premature birth. Although it wasn't easy for us, we could hardly imagine going through that for our first birth. Because Emily was our third child, many things were already decided for us--breastfeeding on demand, parenting priorities, etc. Many of the first-time parents were still working out what was best for them long after the birth. Hospitals can be a great help with a lot of information, but parents must have the strength and courage to ask for what they need. They must then find the support to encourage and sustain them.
Breastfeeding a premature baby is so important. All the best nutrition a struggling infant could need is right there. Many mothers of premature infants feel alone and believe that nursing is impossible. It takes time to work out a strong but flexible plan.
Babies are miracles. Each one is so different. We tend to take our full-term healthy babies for granted. It is when we are faced with a challenge, a situation we have no control over, that we stop and realize that our children need to be held close to our hearts and nurtured safely along, one day at a time.