Profiling Prematurity - meet Amy and Harrison

November is a month where we raise awareness of premature births and admissions to neonatal intensive care units internationally. Each year approximately 15 million babies are born preterm (37 weeks gestation) worldwide, with a global preterm birth rate of about 11%. In Australia 1 in 10 babies is born premature and approximately 15% of all babies require some form of extra care at birth with admission to a Special Care Nursery (SCN) or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Each year on 17th November we celebrate World Prematurity Day, this year to coincide with WPD and #neonatalnovember we are launching a series called 'Profiling Prematurity'. We have approached a number of our staff who have been personally affected by the NICU and asked them to tell us their stories. We are exceptionally grateful to the Grace NICU staff and their families who have kindly agreed to participate in the series and share their personal journeys. 

In our final profiling prematurity interview meet Amy, Sean and Harrison. Amy is the sister of Nadine one of the Clinical Nurse Consultants in our NICU. 

Tells us why you have been asked to be part of the profiling prematurity series: 

Our son was born 5 weeks premature on June 30th 2020 and my sister who is an NICU nurse in Australia has asked me to share my experience of being pregnant and delivering our baby during the pandemic. 

You were pregnant during the pandemic and delivered Harrison during the COVID lockdown peak. What was this like for you? 

Experiencing my first pregnancy and birth of our son during the pandemic was something you could never prepare for and it took away a lot of experiences and support that I had hoped would be available pre-pandemic. Beyond 18 weeks of my pregnancy all my medical appointments and scans were attended alone, as my husband was not permitted to attend these appointments. My OBYN appointments were impersonal, rushed and socially distanced with me on one side of the room and the Doctor on the other in head to toe PPE.

Due to the lock down in Toronto we were not permitted to visit or socialize with people outside of our household and no opportunity to attend prenatal classes or the chance to meet other pregnant women.

My labor experience was greatly impacted by the lock down restrictions and going into preterm labor resulted in being admitted to the hospital in the very early stages of labor, my husband and I were separated within 30 minutes of arriving at the hospital. I was admitted into the antenatal ward and my husband was told to go home and await a phone call, while I labored alone for the next 48 hours. My husband was only permitted to join for the final 6 hours prior to Harrison’s birth. Not having a support person by your side during labor to advocate for your health and birth preferences caused undue stress and anxiety, leading to many medical interventions and ultimately resulted in a traumatic birth experience that has taken time to recover from both mentally and physically.

Tell us about Harrison’s birth and admission to the NICU?

A few days prior to Harrison’s birth we had been informed that he was tracking in the 10th per centile for weight at 34 weeks and we were transferred into the care of a high risk doctor who intended on delivering Harrison by 38 weeks gestation. Apparently he had other plans as I went into labor three days later.

When it was finally time to deliver Harrison he developed an undesirable heart beat and my placenta ruptured resulting in a rushed vacuum delivery that was necessary for both our safety.

Harrison was Born 4lbs (1.8kg) at 35 weeks and was admitted to the NICU unit due to his low birth weight. The NICU COVID-19 policies of only allowing one parent to visit at a time had thankfully been lifted the day before our admission and my husband and I were both able to visit Harrison soon after his birth. Due to complications I stayed in the hospital for 6 days and my husband was permitted to visit us each day, no other family/friends were allowed to visit us at the hospital. 

What have been the best and worst parts of having a premature baby during a pandemic? 

The best part was not having to work through the majority of the pregnancy this allowed for a lot of R&R and I believe it aided in being able to carry Harrison to late preterm. The worst part was not being able to have the in-person support of family both here in Canada and from Australia and feeling like a lot of your medical care and choices were taken out of your control, with more concern about adhering to COVID-19 polices and safety rather than what was best for your mental health and well being.

What would you like parents of babies in the NICU to know?

Having had some exposure to the NICU environment due to my sister's work, it felt familiar and safe to me, knowing Harrison was receiving the best possible care in the NICU was very comforting. 

Although there were countless checks and protocols to enter the hospital and NICU each day due to COVID-19, once we were inside the unit the pandemic did not affect or take away from Harrison’s care or precious moments we experienced during his first few weeks of life. 

The support, education and care that is provided by the nurses, Doctors and staff within the NICU unit made what could have been a very overwhelming environment feel less daunting. 

In Harrison’s case we were encouraged early on to be hands-on with his care by changing diapers, feeding him through his NG tube, taking his temperature and offering skin to skin. As well as an abundance of breastfeeding support and education.

Although no parent ever wants to leave the hospital without their babies in their arms, Harrison’s 17 day stay in the NICU was filled with positive experiences providing him with the best start to life we could have ever hoped for.

Harrison (Harry) is thriving at home under the loving care of his parents and adored from afar by his Australian family! Thank you to Amy, Sean and Harrison for participating in the #profilingprematurity series. 

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