For Vicki, spending three months in Wellington Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was the last thing she expected. We talked to her about the birth of her son Jack, the very real ups and downs of her time in the NICU and how our partner charity The Neonatal Trust helped get her to the other side.
Apart from the constant beeping of machines, the hospital is quiet. Through a plate of glass, babies sleep in incubators. There are tears in my eyes as I scan the hospital corridor. I’m searching for the magic number: 23. The corridor of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is lined with stories. Babies born at 28 weeks, at 29 weeks, at 32 weeks; all of them now happy, healthy toddlers. I’m looking for a story of a 23 weeker. There aren’t any. Does that mean babies born this early don’t survive? I know 24 weeks is a gestation when babies have an actual chance of surviving. This had been drummed into me over the past ten days in my hospital bed after my waters broke at just 21 weeks.
Years later, I often think about these stories about those miracle babies. So much of those early days is a blur now, but reading these posters is something I will never forget. As the weeks in the NICU turned into months, I read every word of every story over and over again. They gave me strength, inspiration and most importantly, distraction. I made a vow to myself that my baby would survive and would one day join the smiling toddlers on the wall.
I'd been told I wouldn’t ever be able to get pregnant naturally, so it was a huge surprise when I found out I was expecting. Weekly scans didn’t hold much hope of a positive outcome, so we didn’t tell many people. This proved awkward later on when we found ourselves having to tell friends we’d had a baby!
Our son, Jack was born on the 26th August 2014. He was 17 weeks early and weighed a mere 712 grams. I’d never seen a baby so small. We had suddenly landed in a world we didn’t know existed. I didn’t know how I should feel or if I should even get my hopes up. Should I even allow myself to think about taking my baby home?
It took Jack a long time to tolerate milk. He was only having one millilitre each feed and sometimes not even that. He failed every eye test and eventually had to have laser eye surgery. Then he had hernia surgery. He got infections. He had blood transfusions, eleven in total. The list went on and on.
Life at the NICU eventually fell into a rhythm. Other mothers who had also been dumped into the middle of this surreal world became my friends. We became each other’s support system; sharing the walk home and discussing the highs and lows of the day. Mothers and babies came and went but I stayed on. My time at the NICU felt like forever, our lives on the outside kept on hold. Nothing else mattered. I couldn't imagine the future, not knowing what the outcome would be.
105 days after Jack was born, we left the NICU. We were overjoyed to be taking our baby back to Nelson. Despite his rough start, Jack met every milestone among his peers. He was chattering away happily around 20 months and soon after took his first steps. At around two, it became clear that Jack’s vision wasn’t great. He loved books and would bring them very close to his face when he was reading. He was fitted with glasses which he wears with no concerns.
Today, Jack is a happy, bright little boy who is so full of life. He loves being outdoors, riding his bike and jumping on the trampoline. People often comment about how clearly he speaks and how easily he can be understood. He has a great vocabulary and often comes out with things that blow us away. He is an absolute delight to be around and nothing about him that would indicate his tough start to life.
Two days ago, Jack’s smiling face joined the other toddlers on the NICU wall.
Story and images by Vicki Frost.
The Neonatal Trust are often an unseen hand working tirelessly to make the neonatal experience that little bit easier for families. That might be through access to support material for worried mums and dads, a community to connect with, or helping provide neonatal units with the important equipment to help ease their journey. We’d love you to consider supporting them with a regular donation by clicking that oversized blue button below!