It was five years ago today that Tristan finally came home from the hospital with us. It was still five weeks before his due date; he’d already spent six and a half weeks in the neonatal intensive care and special care baby units of Antrim Area Hospital.
The crocus and daffodils were in full bloom and our sakura (cherry blossom) tree was about to bloom. Each morning they would give me renewed hope that everything would be OK as I made the 35 mile journey to visit my baby son.
There is no known reason why Tristan was born 79 days early. It was such a rough time on Phil and me. My family was all an ocean away. Phil’s family helped with transporting me to the hospital three mornings a week and sometimes we’d stop in on the way home at night for a meal. But still I felt alone and guilty for not being able to protect my baby.
The days and nights dragged on. But strangely the days in SCBU passed by quite quickly with the daily hospital routines of checking Tristan’s sats, changing his diaper, his tube feedings, and me taking an hour to express for him every 2-3 hours around the clock. To help pass some of the time in between, I would read Beatrix Potter books to Tristan. Another Mommy said her son liked to listen as well, so I made sure to read a little louder from then on. I still enjoy reading to my children, and someday soon they will start reading to me.
Tristan spent my first Mother’s Day in the hospital, but when I arrived there was a card, a little hand print, and a chocolate waiting for me on his bed. There were some very kind nurses in the unit, who were encouraging and helpful. They not only have to look after the premature babies, but also us parents.
There were some very scary times during Tristan’s time in NICU, SCBU,, and for several months after he came home. Not everyone is as fortunate as we have been with Tristan. I am thankful everyday that both my children are happy, healthy, beautiful, thriving, and thirsting for knowledge.
The only thing that I felt I could do for my baby boy at the time was to give him my milk. This was made easier by the loan of a hospital-grade pump from the charity of Tiny Life. I had to take that with me everywhere I went, it became a part of me. The only break I had from it was for 4 hours in the night to get some unbroken sleep.
It’s not easy to express when your body isn’t ready and you’re under a great deal of stress. It was only with luck and medication that I was able to make just enough for Tristan, and not a drop more. To help others, I donated to the Milk Bank for 17 months after Kallista was born. This was still part of the healing process for me.
I want to say a special thank you to the kind ladies of the Carrickfergus Garden Society and Loving Hands who donate their time and resources and knit and crochet hats and cardigans for the babies in the SCBU. Tristan had a couple of these beautiful cardigans during his time there to help keep him warm after he was big enough to leave the incubator. The room was 24C and he had on up to 14 layers of clothing and blankets as well as he didn’t yet have the fat reserves of term babies. We still have the sweaters packed away carefully to show Tristan how small he was, and remind him of the kindness and generosity of others.
I didn’t truly feel like I was a proper mother until Tristan came home from the neonatal ward with us. I don’t know if anyone else privately marks three dates: The day Tristan was born, the day he was due to be born, and the day he came home from the hospital and we could look after him ourselves like real parents.
After about three months home with Tristan I was finally feeling confident enough to venture out on my own and we joined a nearby La Leche League group. I met some amazing women there, some of whom have become good friends. It became a reason to get ourselves up and dressed and go for a train trip.
I was off work for over two years between maternity leave and long-term leave for depression. It wasn’t until after Kallista safely arrived into this world that I have really started to feel myself again. Kallista was only 25 days early and 6lbs 9oz, and thankfully came home with us the same day she was born.
Through everything my husband, Phil was nearby. He was fixing up the house (which he was in the process of dismantling when I went into labour), and picking me up when I was down. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I’d be.
These experiences have helped me be who I am today and have shaped the way I parent (I don’t do everything the way I had planned before the children were born; homeschooling is just one example).
This is a quick snippet into Tristan’s birth story. I would be here for days to write the extended version.
The name Crystal’s Tiny Treasures came about as my children were (and still are) Tiny Treasures to me.