THURSDAY 10 FEBRUARY 2022
No matter where your miracle is in their journey, there are milestones every step of the way.
Whether it’s in the early days or weeks of moving from NICU to Special Care and finally home from the hospital, through to their first roll, crawl, walk, smile and giggle. But the milestones don’t stop there. As your miracle grows from a baby to a toddler to a preschooler, to their first day of kindergarten to their last day of high school and beyond - there are some many milestone moments to celebrate.
So many miracles have started kindergarten this year and Estelle (pictured) is one of them. Estelle's mum Rachel Taufer is our guest blogger this week, reflecting on her journey as a Miracle Mum titled The Last 'First Day'.
The Daily Telegraph also recently interviewed Rachel to find out more about her experience of delivering Estelle is 26 weeks.
View the article by Jane Hansen "Premmie mum ‘brimming with pride’ as miracle baby starts school"
The first few years with a baby of full of firsts. There is so much to look forward to, some things you want to fast forward, like the projectile poo, and other things you want to pause on, like the snugly early morning cuddles. The first few years with a premature baby is survival mode. Once our 26 weeker graduated NICU, the medical hurdles did not ease, they just slowly spaced out, her readmissions a constant every few months, tapering off as she grew and her immune system became stronger. We very much kept to ourselves, cocooning our little family away from the germs of the big wide world. Sanitiser was in every purse, nappy bag, pram and car well before Covid hit. The stares from strangers as I would sanitise and wipe down tables, a behaviour now commonplace amongst the general population, and the unintentionally insulted friends and family as we declined invitations when there would be a crowd isolated us further. No-one truly understood what we were battling, why we were so protective. It was incomprehensible for those who haven’t swam in the waters that drowned us, to understand why we held such fear, even after our miracle and I survived a horrific and truly traumatic in all sense of the word childbirth.
No two experience of motherhood are the same, even within the same household. I parent my four children differently, both consciously and subconsciously, for a variety of reasons. My eldest needs single instructions at a time, or she freaks out, my middle girl needs more cuddles as she has a sensitive soul, our only boy, squished in the middle, needs more time to himself, to escape his sisters, but loves his one on one with me as we read books at night and sing our special song, and our youngest, she has needed me the most, and perhaps I have needed her more too. Our youngest is a child who we nearly lost, several times. A child who spent her first three months in hospital, away from her family, our one hour of kangaroo care time a day all I had with her for so long. She is a baby who was born breathless, no air in her lungs, blue and on the verge of this world and that world up there in the sky. Our youngest bares battle wounds as do I from our time in hospital, mine ending a few weeks after hers began on the night of her birth, 14 weeks too soon. Her tiny hands and feet are dotted with scars from needles, her nose ever so slightly squished from wearing a breathing mask for so long, her beautiful big blue eyes covered by glasses after her eyesight was nearly robbed by retinopathy of prematurity.
Prematurity can be a curse that follows you, it can rear up and remind you that your early exit from the womb will cost you, again and again and again. But prematurity can also prove you a warrior, a tiny fighter, one who doesn’t give up. Our miracle baby is strong, she is brave, she is determined and she takes on hurdles with the grit of a warrior, unafraid to fight, ready to battle, ready to reign as the queen she is. Since bringing our baby home from NICU we have worked hard to protect her, and also to prepare her for the big wide world. Having her start kindergarten on par with her peers has been a focus, but spending time with her has been our priority. In some ways I got more firsts with her than I did with my other children. I got to see her blink in the sunlight through her Perspex box as she was transferred between hospitals in a humidicrib at 10 weeks old. I again got to see her absorb the outside world when we finally brought her home at 3 months old. Then at just over a year old when she got her first prescription glasses we were able to witness her watch in awe at the tiny details she had previously missed. Seeing her seeing me in high definition for the first time was an amazing first I will never forget. The prescription goggles we got a year later allowed her to see the ocean in all its glory, to notice the tiny grains of sand that make up a huge mass of yellow beneath her feet. Now she is ready to start school in glasses with fancy frames she chose, aptly named Rock Star.
During her pregnancy I had different firsts from my previous pregnancies. My first bleed during her pregnancy, at just 7 weeks gestation, the moment at 25 weeks when I lay in a hospital bed bleeding so heavily theatres were being prepared for her delivery, she did a trace for the first time, her heart thumping loudly through the machine telling us she was strong, that she wanted to live, a midwife announced for the first time she was for resuscitation. The first time it was declared doctors would try to save her, and yet we both were able to hold on for five more days. In NICU she had many firsts, her first time ventilated, her first trial off CPAP, her first tube feed, her first doses of so many medicines designed to keep her alive, her first blood and plasma transfusion, her first hot cot, her first bath, her first outfit. The most memorable firsts were the first time I met her, a week after her birth, and as I reached my hand in through a porthole in her humidicrib she grabbed onto my finger, a silent promise that she would fight. That was also the first day I heard her cry, then witnessed her soothe as I sang to her, she knew the sound of her mummy’s voice. The first hold the following day was euphoric, something we had only dreamed of, a moment we knew might never happen. Her first breast feed several weeks later, her first time meeting her siblings and the first time they held her when she was 11 weeks old, each one instinctively kissing her on her feather soft hair on her head. Then her first trip in our car on her way home, finally truly with us.
My first first day of big school happened before our youngest was born, it happened as I lay in hospital on bedrest bleeding heavily, knowing I might lose the baby inside me, desperately missing my three children at home, and wanting to be there for our eldest on her first day of kindergarten. The best we could do was have her daddy bring her in to see me on the morning of her first day of kindergarten. There he lifted her up into my bed, sat her beside me and handed me a brush and hair ties. I braided her soft golden locks and breathed her in, my first baby off to big school and I was missing it. We did the obligatory first day photo, her standing against the hospital wall of my confines, then she was whisked away as I lay there staring through tear covered eyelashes at a photo of our three children and an ultrasound image of the baby inside my womb, the one who needed me most that day. Weeks later I was able to do school run and the pain of missing my eldest’s first weeks at primary school stung a little harder when I saw the routines she had already established with her daddy. I love that they had this juice box drill where they sat on a silver bench outside her classroom at the end of the day and sipped apple juice as they shared their days. But I was in pain that I wasn’t a part of it. Racing between hospital to see my baby and home to pump her breast milk three hourly and trying to recover myself from lifesaving surgery made the times I could be at school to collect her bitter sweet. The mums would ask me where my baby was, “In NICU” I would stammer. “Is she normal yet?” they would ask. What do you mean? I would stare back, their words ignorant and hurtful. “When will she be normal?” one mum corrected. ‘She will never be normal, she is and always will be extraordinary’, I whispered in my heart as I waved and said I had to leave, clearly an outcast among mums who haven’t know the world of the NICU ward, the bereavement and blessing it brings.
Now like a freight train hurtling at full speed we are fast approaching our youngest baby’s first day of kindergarten and the denial that it is actually happening is dripping away in tears and gasps at how did we land here so soon. Our baby is now 5, she still sleeps next to me because waking to check she is breathing (part of my PTSD) is exhausting, the sound of her breaths soothe my soul. She is my shadow and I am her favourite and we have a bond like no other. I know she is ready. Her preschool says so, her latest growth and development assessment whilst highlighting possible hurdles says so, the tiny uniform in her wardrobe waiting, size 1 by school standards and still too big, says so and her birth certificate says so. I know she will do amazing, she is impossible not to love. Her joy is contagious and her smile and giggles are sunshine and rainbows. She is my miracle baby and whatever lays ahead I know she will conquer.
Her first day of kindy will be my last first day of taking one of my babies to big school for the first time, the first massive step away from the security of my side. But I can’t promise it will be the last day of me ugly crying at the school gate, because this is a different first day, this is a first day we for a while thought we could only ever imagine. This is a first day for a child who has defied all odds to be in this cohort with her peers, and she is not just on par with them now, in many areas she is exceeding, even with my mum bias. This is the first day for a little girl who has taught us so much about strength and determination and love. She is going to be a game changer for her teacher, a beautiful cheerful classmate and friend for her peers and a wonder for everyone she meets. This is our last first day of kindergarten and my heart is brimming with pride and breaking all at once. My tiny fighter is ready to take on the world, one day at a time, but I will be there holding her hand as we enter the school gates and I will be there waiting to scoop her up into my arms after the end of school bell.
To all the parents sending their precious prems off to big school, I salute you. I know this is a bundle of emotions, and I know the journey has been rough but we have made it this far and we will keep on going. Prems are strong, prems are determined and prems are powerful, reminders that miracles can and do happen, reminders that life is meant to be about time and love and spending time with those you love, and hitting milestones in your own time, and owning the individual journey you are on. Prems are their mother’s heart walking around outside of her chest, they are defiers, they are extraordinary.