It was early evening on the day I gave birth to our daughter. I was clean and dressed, hadn’t needed a single stitch, and despite being swollen up like the Michelin man, I felt really very good.
Eventually we were moved from the labour suite into the maternity ward, where David and I settled in for the night with our daughter firmly ensconced in her bassinet beside our beds. She hadn’t stirred in hours, which the nurses told me was normal. She slept all afternoon and again all night. I had to wake her to nurse, but she wasn’t particularly interested in that either. I had begun to suspect that something was still very wrong with my little girl.
I spoke to the nurses several times over the course of the evening and throughout the night, expressing my concern for her well-being. Time and time again I was told she was just sleepy from the birth and not to worry. Although I had only known her sweet face for 12 hours, she came to life within me and I knew her. I knew something wasn’t right.
As she slept, she whimpered but never cried. I woke every hour or so to check on her, but she was near impossible to wake. When the nurses shifts changed that next morning, a new nurse finally believed me – something was off.
The next morning, H brought JJ in to the hospital and he held his baby sister for the first time. Although at this point, we were worried, it was still so beautiful seeing my little ones together.
The paediatricians stopped by on their rounds, and through a haze of worry and sleep deprivation, I explained my concerns. Not only was she so still and sleepy, in the morning light I had noticed her twitching. Little jitters that did not seem right.
The doctors dismissed much of my concern about her sounds and sleepiness, but they were concerned about the twitch. They were worried that she could be having seizures or other neurological issues and moved her to the special care nursery for observation and monitoring.
When they moved her out of our room, I was absolutely crushed. It was as though they had taken part of me and ripped it away. It wasn’t meant to be this way. I sat beside her and watched my little one hooked up to every monitor I could have imagined. She was covered in a mass of cords and cables. I religiously watched her heart rate and respiration and every time it dipped or spiked or changed, my heart would be in my mouth. It was a nightmare that seemed to go on forever.
I don’t remember the exact pattern of events that followed, but I do remember when they took blood and put an IV in her tiny little hand.
They ran tests.
The doctors came to us shortly after and told us that they had found something not quite right in her blood-work. She had inflammatory markers that they believed meant she had a serious infection in her tiny body. They wanted to do a lumbar puncture… a spinal tap. We were shocked and absolutely devastated. JJ had gone through the same test a few years ago, but they had given him a general anaesthetic for it. This time, our little one was too small and it had to be done without.
It was at this point that I lost it for the first time. We were so wanting her to have a gentle entry into the world, and instead she was choked by her own umbilical cord, needed significant help to even breathe, had welts all over her perfect little hand from attempts to place the IV, and now they were going to stick a tube into her spine and suck out the fluid… while she was awake. She was only 12 hours old.
I couldn’t bring myself to watch when they did the lumbar puncture. David went with her and stayed while they performed the procedure. I sat outside the special care nursery and sobbed. My sweet, beautiful little Sproutling was sick, and there was nothing I could do.
The results came in quickly and they weren’t good. They had found white blood cells in her spinal fluid that indicated that the infection had spread. The doctors diagnosed bacterial meningitis and sent her spinal fluid off with her blood to be cultured in hopes that they could identify the bacteria. Unfortunately the cultures take around 48 hours to grow, so she was put on three different IV antibiotics to cover a full spectrum of bacterial possibilities. The doctors comforted us with the knowledge that the amount of white blood cells in her spinal fluid was low, which meant we had caught the meningitis early.
We stayed beside her bassinet for days, leaving only to go back to my room to sleep an hour at a time. They discharged me on day 5 but I refused to leave the hospital. Eventually they agreed to allow me to stay on the maternity ward as a boarder. This was particularly important as she was still losing weight and while I was within arms reach at all times I could continue her three hourly breast feeds and pump bottles as well. Her IV had to be changed several times, with a fourth attempt that had me place a complaint with the hospital staff and left her with bruises and welts all over her tiny hands, wrists and feet.
I was terrified she wouldn’t get better. I wanted to call a priest.
We were so scared, but every day she improved a little bit more. They still had not identified the particular bacteria, but her response to the antibiotics was excellent. On day 3 or so of the antibiotics, she opened her eyes for the first time since her birthday.
On day 4 of the antibiotics she cried. I mean, she really cried – with gusto! It was one of the most incredible, wonderful sounds I had ever heard. She was getting stronger! Day 5, they removed most of her cords and monitors, though of course the IV antibiotic drip had to stay.
We started to see the end, and so much of our fear lifted.
By day 7 of her IV antibiotics, she was responding so well that her paediatricians agreed to finish the course before the 10 day period was over. On day 8, they disconnected the IV bung, and allowed us to move her back into our room.
On day 9, they removed the canula from her hand and 10 horrific days after we were admitted, we were allowed to bring her home.
We were so lucky. We have been so very blessed.
Besides some feeding issues and some nasty colic, Freya has been doing beautifully since coming home. We are so in love with our baby daughter and little sister.