It’s funny knowing the baby in my belly already has a big personality, just like his big brother did at the same age. We called Heckle, the Little Chief, while he was in the humidicrib. He was a pretty easy going chap, happy to have his nappy changed and loved having his head massaged, but would put his hand up when he was annoyed. I loved all this about him, but most of all I loved the smell of his skin. The scent of chocolate.
A neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is life on the edge and the realities of love, birth and death bring a raw beauty in their tow. The gorgeous baby girl in the humidicrib next to ours had already experienced the death of her twin sister. The two girls were born at 24 weeks, one alive and one not. The little girl’s eyes were still closed when she arrived in the NICU. It was a couple of days later, when her mother came in and greeted her the same way she always did and the little girl’s eyelids fluttered and opened. The first thing she saw in this world was the smiling face of her mother. They drank each other in. I will never forget.
The two rows of humidicribs, eight a side, were filled with precious little people, who had already survived so much. Pink or blue quilts swaddled the cribs to keep out the light and mute the sounds. The carpet, dim lights and hushed voices of the nurses all gave the babies the best chance of rest and recuperation.
I found it hard inviting people to see Heckle. I knew it would be difficult for them to see past his small size and all the wires. Underneath was the brave person I admired and loved more than anyone in the world.
Heckle thrived for the first week, but then he came face to face with a staph infection. One of those things that is pretty easy to meet in hospital. It arrived when he had lost his birth weight and totalled 715 grams. The wires and machines around him increased. He no longer had the strength to breathe by himself. The high frequency ventilator keeping him alive had his little body vibrating for days. Survival was a big ask.
Despite all the equipment and drugs, he took a turn for the worse. I am not sure if he could hear me through the noise and morphine haze, but I opened the port hole of his humidicrib and said, ‘I can’t believe how brave you are. You’ve fought so hard. I won’t think any less of you if you need to give up the fight. Meeting you has been one of the great privileges of my life. I will always love you no matter what.’
I walked out of the hospital, stood in the carpark and stared up at his window and said, ‘Goodbye.’
Walking away from your baby is always hard, but that was the hardest day. That night I woke in a panic wondering where he was, as I did every night. In my dreams he was beside me and my sub-conscious never accepted his absence.
The next day, I walked into the unit and his crib wasn’t there. The world froze. His nurse tapped me on the shoulder to show me to his crib on the other side of the room. They moved him because the babies who had been on either side of him were now on the same ventilators and the noise of the three machines was too much for the little people.
He was doing much better, she said, and if he continued, they would be able to turn off the ventilator in a day or two, so he could go back to breathing by himself. I marvelled at how strong the will to live is in we humans.
I never doubted him after that, despite all the mountains he had to climb.
I’m doing these fortnightly Belly Reports to remind everyone who can donate blood to do so. Wherever you are, your country needs your blood!
Heckle and I would not be here today without the generosity of the people who donate blood and we are not alone. One in three people will need a blood product some time in their life.
This is the Australian blood bank link, but every country has one.