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Raising Hollie; How pre-term delivery changed my life

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

The author Bree (Brenda) with baby Hollie

It has been a sweet, bitter sweet if I can say that; it started in 2014 with my boy, my son that came first, and he came as an easy child. I was in labor for about 10-15 minutes and there he was! All the experiences that people had told me; my friends had shared with me how scary and how hard labor was, I didn't really to experience that, thank God.

Yes, the pain was there, but my baby came as an easy child. Raising him was a little bit challenging; I didn’t have my mother by my side; and usually in African communities, we usually go back home after having a baby so that your mother nurses you. I never got all those privileges because I lost my mom in 2012, so it was "do it yourself all the way". I had to learn through experimenting a lot with my first baby. I remember not even knowing how to shower him the first time, it's a neighbor that came and told me, "Eh, you have to shower the baby! You came back yesterday, you didn’t shower the baby, maybe that's why it's crying." So it was mostly joint effort from myself and well-wishers around me that helped me to raise up my first baby. It was a bit challenging but because I was not working during that time, I had time to attend to my baby until he was about one year and a half; that's when I started working. I went through the whole process with him and I learnt a lot from him; there are a lot of ups and downs.

The second pregnancy was a little bit more challenging than the first. I developed severe pre-eclampsia. It was not easy! I was very swollen. I was not well and it led an emergency C-section (Caesarian section). It was two different kind of births. I do not know how people go and ask for C-section without trying. I believe natural birth is the easiest: I think it’s the best way to give birth too. The wound from the surgery was so painful and because of the severe pre-eclampsia, I gave birth preterm; my baby had to come early. My second pregnancy was really challenging. When my baby came, I had to be in the NICU for over a month because I was not well. They were two different experiences but I thank God that I have sailed through till now and I thank God that I am able to see all my children okay. The new born is almost 7 months but she is growing well, so that’s just motherhood. The second pregnancy was the most challenging one because I was already working. I had a job that I had to go back to after 3-months maternity leave. Leaving a preterm baby that fast was not easy but I was getting a lot of support from my family; from my sisters and my brother who came in and supported me and looked after the baby. Also, COVID-19 came as a blessing in disguise! My sister works from home; she gets to watch over my baby when am away. It’s not been easy not being easy a full time employee while caring for a preterm baby, but I am sailing through taking one day at a time.

About the children

Baby Hollie with her big brother Haggai

My Daughter is called Hollie Bethel Nkinzi Akiiki. Akiiki is a pet name; Nkinzi is a name for bambejja (royals). She is a muganda by tribe because the father is a muganda too. I am a mutoroo by tribe so I gave her a mutooro pet-name Akiiki after my sister Barbra who has supported me a lot. From the time we found out that I had severe pre-eclampsia, she has been with me. Luckily she is working from home because of the current COVID-19 situation and she is the one home looking after this baby when I have to go to work. So I named her Akiiki after Barbra. My son is called Haggai, she is called Hollie. I expected to have four children. I don’t know if I will get there; the experience I went through having Hollie was not very encouraging. It made me step back and re-think so I cannot really determine how many children I want to have. To be honest with you, Hollie is such a fighter,; she loves to laugh, she loves to scream, she loves playing around, she likes to giggle when you lift her up, she also loves her food. She is 7 months old but she loves food. At six months, I was not even sure I should introduce solid foods since she should be about four months now but the doctor said I could start giving her solid foods and I did. She showed interest in eating early and she couldn’t wait. She loves Irish potatoes; she can already eat one whole Irish potato at this time. She can eat small bananas, pawpaw, and yogurt. We are fighting and it amuses me to see her at this stage while reflecting back on the one meal that we started with.

Being pregnant with Hollie

Baby Hollie playing

Holly was a planned baby. Nicholas and I had our introduction (Traditional Marriage ceremony) on 28th September 2019, and after our introduction we sat and talked about getting Haggai a sibling. Haggai was almost 6 years old and we thought why not get another baby? So we were excited and we planned this and we wanted it. I remember going to the pharmacy and buying pregnancy test strips, just to check often to see when I would get a positive result. I went to the pharmacy and I wanted about three to five strips and it became cheaper to get a dozen so I ended up buying a dozen test strips and bringing them home. I would check daily! I would check so often to see and the results kept showing negative; the anxiety was too much. Some of the people that I would share with, like my close friends told me if you want it too much, it may not even come. I was using family planning and there are stories about how sometimes when you are using family planning, you delay to conceive so I was just so worried about that but finally I got two red bold lines and I was so excited, I shared with my husband and we were all excited to have Hollie.

But this pregnancy was unlike the first; it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t a smooth one. I remember having pains, I remember having a lot of nausea, having pains that the doctor called "SPD" (Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction) if I remember correctly. I felt a lot of pain in my pelvic area and it wasn’t the same with Haggai. I remember sharing with my doctor and telling him that this pregnancy is different, I feel a lot of pain in my bones like the baby is so heavy yet she was about two months and I didn't understand the pain. I read about it and some people have it but usually it comes towards the third trimester yet here I was in the first trimester having pain.

I remember at work, we were three people that were pregnant and I kept asking my colleagues that were pregnant, "Are you having this pain? Are you feeling like this?" and they were not feeling the same pain. The doctor kept on counselling me, saying "Come on, pregnancies are different, pregnancies are different..." so I kept taking it on like that. Just a few months into my pregnancy, COVID-19 came and I got even more scared. I saw that a lot of people were dying in countries around the world and we were scared of our lives. I remember at work, they chose to have pregnant women, anyone that was pregnant and asthma patients to stay home first. It was a huge scare! We were scared and the whole pregnancy was not easy. These "COVID babies" as they call them brought us a lot of worry. You’re worried; your immunity is a bit sensitive and here comes COVID-19. If you got COVID-19, you don’t know if your baby would survive. The situations here in Uganda where by even the equipment you see other countries having is not available; people in US and Italy are suffering and they have this equipment to help them fight the disease and you start to wonder, "Here I am pregnant; what if I need this kind of support? Will I be able to survive?" So the whole pregnancy was very stressing because of COVID-19 even though I was not at work. My nature of job is very busy; it has a lot of pressure and you're always on your toes. I am always busy moving up and about so this time round, I was home with my pregnancy watching the presidential addresses. I remember seeing myself bulge; my feet started to swell. I would press my feet and you could see a depression like a hole getting into them. I was worried so I would walk around. I walked a lot, I said to myself, "okay let me exercise. I am not at work, I am just being lazy, I sleep a lot so let me walk a lot ". I would take a lot of morning and evening walks but the swelling kept on increasing.

My face was swollen, my feet were swollen and I was about only about five months pregnant. I shared with my doctor of-course and he said, "oh that happens; we just have to rule out high blood-pressure". I kept in touch; my doctor was so good. I had his phone number and I would call whenever I had questions. The other thing was that I was still vomiting a lot at five months. My nausea had not left; it felt as if I was in my first trimester. It was terrible and I was feeling so weak. I tried to move, I tried to exercise; even though I was home because I couldn’t be at work given that I was at a higher risk, but there was something about this baby that was different from my first pregnancy. People would look at me and say "your tummy is so small, Haggai’s was bigger" but I felt like I was carrying twenty kilograms in my abdomen. I never understood the feeling. I kept on having a bad feeling that something was not right with this pregnancy, and that this pregnancy would not end up the way I wanted it to end up. I remember one elderly women that lived nearby stopped me and said "eh, your legs are swollen; it’s not a good sign. Why don’t you go and see this herbalist?" I kept thinking "these people are just too much, I didn’t want to hop from this herbalist to another hospital" so I just kept in touch with my doctor.

Pre-eclampsia (High-blood pressure)

One fateful night, I had a sharp pain cross through my upper chest to my back. I was throwing up badly, so I called my doctor in the middle of the night and I asked him if I could take a Panadol (pain-killer) and he said okay. He said I should come do a check-up in the morning. So that night, that pain lasted through the night till morning. When I took the pain-killer, I felt okay. My husband was worried but I was assured him that that's how pregnancy is; "yes I was not well, but now I have relief, that’s how pregnancy is, not all days are merry, it’s a few people that don’t have these issues but all pregnancies, one day is good another one is bad." It felt like normal pregnancy symptoms. Remember this is a time where moving from one place to another was very hard because of the pandemic. You needed a government-issued sticker or a letter from your Local Council chairperson to be allowed to move. When the president said that pregnant women could start moving, I was lucky that my husband had a sticker and could take me.

So in the morning I said, "let me call the doctor and tell him I am well and I forego the appointment." I called him and the doctor insisted that I should go and have some check-ups and see what caused me to feel that unwell. I almost didn’t go to be honest because I wanted to wait for the next check-up that was in about 2 weeks, but luckily my husband insisted that he takes me to hospital. As I was waiting to see my doctor, you know how you first see the nurse and they look at your weight, they look at you BP (Blood pressure) etc; when I went into the nurse’s room, my BP was high, it was shooting to 200. However I was feeling okay apart from the previous night when I was not well. When I got to see the doctor, he looked at my BP level and exclaimed! He decided to re-do the BP test himself and it had shot to 200. He told me this was not good. He told me to do some more tests to check for proteins in my blood or urine. I remember my results coming out and I did have proteins so he said, "this is severe pre-eclampsia" and he gave me medication. He told me to find a quiet room and turn the lights off. He told me this was a very serious issue but we should wait one week to buy sometime so that I could at-least get to 34 weeks of pregnancy. He said that the condition I was in, the baby had to get out because my kidney could fail adnd even my liver could fail. You can imagine the panic I was in; my husband had just dropped me at the hospital to go and do some work. I had to call him to support me; listening to this bad news when I was so weak was terrible. I left hospital with this high blood pressure and some medication and the doctor telling me to rest. I got a shot of "dexa" (Dexamethaxone); it helps boast the baby’s lungs, just in case an emergency comes up and the baby has to come out very fast. They do give you "dexa" to boost the lungs and improve on the breathing for when the baby comes out; so I got "dexa" and I got medication and left. I shared with my medical friends, people that I know that are in the medical field and everyone exclaimed at how I was discharged with high blood pressure. They told me that condition is very deadly and the doctor had made a mistake letting me go home. I was confused on what to do; by the way, I was not feeling bad, I was okay. I felt like a normal pregnant woman. I didn’t know what to do; we had to make calls, we had to make numerous calls. My husband was calling people and everyone was perplexed as to why the doctor discharged me; they all said that I should be under monitoring in this kind of situation. I stay in Lweza which is a bit far. In the night I was worried; I felt like I was going to sleep and just wake up dead; that’s the feeling I now had after sharing with very many people who told me that I should be in hospital under watch.

The pre-mature birth of Hollie

My doctor had just discharged me; he thought it wise that if he gave me medicine to help with the high BP, and I rested, and I switched off the lights and avoided any kind of noise, no TV, for about the next four weeks, it would buy me some time. I don’t know if the time was there to buy, but that was what he thought. I made my inquiries and everyone I asked thought it not wise; so because we were so scared, I ended up listening to the advice; one medic said "You should rush to the nearest hospital and spend the night there, they have to look at the pressure, especially if it’s still high." I went to the clinic near home and the BP was still high; it was over 180, so I went to Mild-may. We stay in Lweza and Mild-may is the nearest big hospital around. So I went to Mild-may, (Bethany clinic) and shared with the doctor and the doctor was also shocked that they discharged me.

They checked my blood pressure and it was indeed high, so I continued with "dexa" at Mild-may. I remember the doctor was so kind and he asked me for my doctor’s number. They shared on phone. He informed my doctor that I was going to spend the night at Mild-may to be under watch and he was updated on what medication they had given me in the hospital that I have not mentioned. Mild-may helped me monitor my pressure throughout the night. While I was at Mild-may, they doctors said, "yes, its severe preeclampsia and the baby has to come out as soon as possible but we cannot handle this kind of baby. The baby is just 31 weeks and we do not have that kind of equipment, you have to look for another hospital." They mentioned the names of Nsambya Hospital, International Hospital Kampala, Kampala Hospital, St. Catherine's Hospital, Nakasero Hospital, all those big names of hospitals that I could go to get help. We were in a fix; I and my husband didn’t know what to do and we had to make as many calls as possible for guidance on what to do. My former doctor where I had been doing my antenatal check ups had also scared us and he had made it clear that he can try to help me survive but doesn’t know if the baby will survive at 31 weeks because even that hospital couldn’t handle a baby of 31 weeks. It became so hard. It felt like I'm in a country where there is no chance of survival for a baby of 31 weeks, that’s about 7 months and a half?!. This is the baby that I really wanted, that I really planned for and I carried in my womb for a while and I had gotten fond of and attached to. so I really wanted my baby to survive. For a doctor to tell me that the chances of my baby's survival were minimal...I didn’t want to hear that.

There is a lady called Beatrice that my husband remembered that he had worked with under a certain project upcountry. I don’t recall which part of Uganda, but the project they had worked on was to do with preeclampsia. Beatrice is a friend of ours, a mutual friend of ours that we went to school with so we ended up calling up Beatrice and indeed the stories that my husband was covering then were the same things that his wife was going through now. Beatrice has been in the medical field for a while and had contacts; she gave us the contact of Dr. Nabunya who heads Mulago Neonatal Women’s hospital. For some reason in the morning, we didn’t know where to go, go to Nsambya or to go to Mugalo Neonatal or to go to IHK or to go to Kampala Hospital? I told God "please just guide me". I left Mild-may in the morning going to another hospital for help but not knowing which hospital exactly. I kept praying "God just guide me, just guide me". I remember setting off from Mild-may and we didn’t know where we would go until we reached Kibuye and I decided let me go where Beatrice had recommended. I had talked to Doctor Nabunya and she was so sweet; her being a director of such a big hospital, and being able to answer a stranger’s call seeking for help and saying "please come we shall assist you" just made me confident that I can really get help from this hospital. That’s how I ended up at Mulago Specialised Women and Neonatal Hospital. I was received and they checked my pressure; it was still high and I was admitted to continue with the "Dexa".

I was admitted to the neonatal ward and they continued giving me my "Dexa" to boost the baby’s lungs, hoping that my blood pressure would go down. I was on high blood pressure treatment but it’s so unfortunate that it never went down and the proteins in my systems were increasing; it was not a good sign and the doctors had to make a decision if they were to save my life and that of the baby. I was rushed in for an emergency Caesarian section and I heard my baby. She was so little and she came out crying; you could not even hear the cry the same way I had heard my first baby cry. Her cry was so soft, you could tell that she was still so young but they welcomed her and took her into Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where I had to stay and look after her until we were discharged, about a month later.

The Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

Baby Hollie in her incubator at the Mulago Specialised Women and Neonatal Hospital NICU

I saw my daughter briefly as I was being worked on in that theatre. They had to rush her into the NICU and put her under monitoring, and support her with oxygen; my sister was there waiting for her. So after the theatre procedure, I was taken to my room; I was in a lot of pain! It was just after about two hours or one hour and a half, the anesthetic was wearing off and I was starting to feel a lot of pain. I have never felt so much pain in my life like I felt with that C-section and I kept wondering, "how do women even go and just ask for a C-section without trying to give birth naturally?" Oh my goodness, it was so terrifying and I kept remembering the first experience when I gave birth to my first baby and he was just beside me, and now I didn’t have Hollie this time. I was still in a lot of pain trying to get better but still I wanted to go and see my baby, it was terrifying. I was very depressed, I cried a lot, I felt like it’s not fair, I asked myself a lot of questions on what I did, on what I didn’t do, what I did wrong, what I should have done right; it was a mixture of things. I was in the NICU for about 3 weeks, close to a month. My baby was born at 1.37kgs and she was taken to the NICU. I remember the next day the nurses kept telling me, "you have to your medication, you have to try and exercise, you have to try and move your body in the bed so that you're well enough to go and see your baby." I was on the fourth floor and my baby was on the third floor, so I was trying to get better so that I can go and look at my baby and see how my baby is doing. I was able to see my baby later the following day in the evening, when I felt a little relief; I tried to put myself together amidst a lot of pain, I moved down to see my baby. I remember entering the NICU and a lot of machines beeping "tututu". It was just horrific, it was just a different experience; I never imagined I would go through this. I started this, I really wanted this, it was supposed to end at 9 months, why didn’t it end in 9 months? I was not supposed to be in such a room seeing very many tiny babies, it was so terrifying. This is an experience you can never get to fully understand until you go through it. I didn’t even want to look through the incubators of other babies; I was terrified, I was very scared. I remember my sister leading me to my own daughter and I could not believe she was the one, very helpless in her incubator. I broke down and cried, I couldn’t take it. I could not look at her, I could not carry her, I could not touch her, they had already told my sister that she had to be there, she had to feed her, she had to talk to her, she had to give her company like any other baby and I could not even do this for my own daughter. Time in the NICU was not easy, I broke down I think for the first week; for the whole of the first week I kept looking at my baby and crying but there were other mummies around that had even spent more time in the NICU, that had babies that had come as early as five months, and they had grown stronger and they kept talking to me… and telling me how my baby was actually very big. My baby was 1.37 kilograms and some of theirs were in grams and they were telling me I should count myself lucky. It wasn’t easy I am telling you, it wasn’t easy. It’s one of the hardest things I have had to go through in life.

Breast-feeding Hollie

Then came a doctor that said "okay, you should leave the stress behind, this is your baby and you should fight for the baby to survive, we need milk.. oh!"

Anyone who has been a mother can tell you how hard it is to get milk; that colostrum that comes first, just getting it, you need the baby to attach to your "boob" to feed. It enables the milk to come faster. Now here you are with a pre-term baby that cannot even suckle, but you have to press your own breasts to get this milk out and give help. And they are telling you even if its 5 milli-liters, it’s okay, it’s important for her. Oh my goodness the stress! The C-section wound was bleeding, my legs were hurting. Remember I had told you earlier that I had swollen feet, and I thought that when they removed the baby, the pressure would go down and it would disappear immediately, it wasn’t the case. I was still registering high blood pressure and it was only becoming worse because of the stress; I had to relax. They kept counselling me to relax, breathe in, don't think a lot, its not good for me and as much as I would like my baby to survive, I should also think about myself; I need to survive and if I don’t quit worrying, it will not be good for me. I already had a struggle with milk; even with my first born, the supply was always poor, now here I am, I have no baby to support me produce the milk and the pump had refused to work. I had to manually "express" and get milk for her. It wasn’t easy; NICU is not an easy place by the way, you need a lot of counselling and you need a lot of positive energy. You need a lot of support and I am just lucky that my sisters did that for me and my brother and my husband were there for me but you can run insane in the NICU. Hollie was stable. Many other babies had infections, they would always be "on oxygen". I remember she managed to be "on oxygen" for about 3 days and is it called "CPAP" ( Continuous Positive Airway Pressure)? She could now just breathe on her own and I would not have to watch the machines all the time.

Bree breastfeeding Hollie while Haggai keeps them company

She fought! Hollie was really a fighter; many of the other babies had to do a lot of blood transfusions and do a lot of tests but I am so lucky that my baby was stable. She was never ill until I went and did "kangaroo"*. Actually when they noticed that she could breathe on her own, they had to recommend "kangaroo". After about a week of incubator, we started doing "kangaroo" and I was supported by my sister Barbra. It was tough. The breast milk was not there; you had to take a lot of warm fluids to get milk for the baby, you had to keep a lot of hygiene; alongside listening to very terrifying stories. Sometimes you would be with mothers and they would lose their babies in the process and you're thinking "Oh my God, am I making it? Am I making it out of the NICU, oh Lord?." But the doctors were very supportive, the nurses were very supportive. We stayed there and we did kangaroo and Hollie did progress well and after about three weeks, we were discharged when she was 1.5 kgs.

*Kangaroo care is a method of caring for stabilized low-weight or premature babies outside an incubator. It involves strapping your baby to your chest to allow skin-to-skin contact between the baby and parent helping to maintain a healthy body temperature.

Taking Hollie Home

I was so excited; oh my goodness! I was dying to leave the hospital. I was so tired of the beeps of the machines, however much they were the ones that were supporting very many babies. The day of the discharge, I could not wait. I kept telling the nurse and I actually had to tell the doctor, "please discharge me, please discharge me; I can do 'kangaroo' at home". So finally, we got discharged after being in the NICU for close to a month. I was worried about what the people at home would think; my baby was so tiny, she was 1.5 kgs, very tiny. I remember the house help coming to my bedroom to greet me and seeing a very tiny baby. You could see she was scared; you could see it in her eyes that she had never seen this type of baby before but I just had to tell her "this is my baby, she had to come home and we have to look after her to see that she survives and we need to maintain proper hygiene." That’s all I could share with her and she has kept it up. We have all kept it up at home and Hollie has been a stable baby. God has been so faithful and she has been okay. We’ve never had any issues. We had a reviews at 2 weeks, reviews every week, then we did every two-weeks. Now we are on monthly reviews where we have to take her to hospital and the doctors check on her progress which is so far good.

Adjusting to life at home

Photo moment of Barbara (Bree's sister), Haggai and Hollie

Like I said I was very excited to have my daughter. She was rather very planned and I never saw it coming that she would come so early, and I was not prepared. I remember I went to the hospital and I had to buy clothes along the way because there was a possibility that I had to have the baby as soon as possible. It was confusing, it was a lot of mixed feelings, I didn’t know what to do and I was not well prepared. I just even thank God that this was my second baby and I had tested motherhood a bit. If this was my first I don’t know, I would be more terrified. I was afraid. I remember the first day I saw her, I couldn’t hold her until the fifth day. I could not carry her. We had to do kangaroo and I was so scared of my own baby! I was so scared to change her diaper, I was so scared to be alone with her by her side. The NICU is a bit restricted; its actually very strict. They only let in the mother and the father and in worst case scenarios when the mother is not available, an attendant. She was so little, she was so fragile. I wanted someone all the time by my side and the nurses kept on telling me "you have to be able to do this alone, you have to be able to know your baby, you have to be able to study your baby". My younger sister, that comes after me, is stronger-hearted and it seemed like she was the mother actually. I remember doctors doing rounds and they would ask "So who is the mother? Is it you or her?" There is a time the doctor told me, "I don’t know why I have a feeling that your sister knows your daughter more than your do". That’s when I said I need to step up my game and accept that this is my baby, accept the condition she came through and show these doctors that I can, that I am good mother. I felt like I was failing my daughter, like I was failing at motherhood. It was very depressing, and I was really strange; during that time no one wanted to see me. I was very very depressed but the moment you accept and you learn your baby, you just take it on. When you do "kangaroo", you get even more attached to your baby and the love and bond grow stronger but it wasn’t easy. I used to fear my baby, I changed her diaper like on the fifth day. I remember all the time calling out for a nurse to help me change her diaper and I would want to pay the nurse to do it for me because I was scared; I thought I was going to break her bones and tear her skin.

Involvement of your family and friends

Haggai "doing kangaroo" with his sister Hollie

I just thank God for my siblings; there were really there for me. They received my baby when I was still in the theatre; they took note of whatever the doctors were saying. My sister kept monitoring my baby; she knew when to check for temperature, she knew when to worry about the oxygen levels, she knew when to feed the baby, she knew when to remind the nurses to come and give drugs to the baby and she really supported when "kangaroo" time reached, even my son did Kangaroo you won’t believe! He saw that I was straining one day and I remember him saying, "mummy I can help you do kangaroo?" I said okay just for fun and we took a picture of that but it was so sweet and he is such a loving son. He also would help me feed the baby through that tube that they have. It was threatening to see that my daughter was in such a situation and I needed a lot of positive energy. My husband was there for us; he provided the drugs. They were too expensive and the supplements were too expensive but he supported financially. He visited hospital daily and I don’t know how much I could thank them because many times, I felt like I let them down. I am so emotional; I would cry a lot, I would look at my baby and think is she going to make it?, and they were so full of positive energy, they saw her make it.

Hollie poses with one of her aunties

I thank God for family and its very important that when you’re going through such a situation, you have people around you that love you, that can support you because you can lose your head and it is not good for your health. I remember last week, I was in a salon and a lady just near my home area was trying to rush a hair wash because she had to take a baby to hospital. I remember I wanted to just style my hair; I just wanted hold my hair up in a puff I was requesting her to give me 10 minutes with the hair stylist so that she can just hold my hair up in a puff. I wanted a little time, just a little, a few minutes of her time but she said "no, I really have to go. I am also time bad. I have to take my baby to the hospital". I was inquisitive and I asked how is the baby? She said her baby had come at 7 months as well and I was like oh my goodness! I felt like I understood her more than anyone could understand her. I offered to go and see the baby. I had some "Glovit" (multi-vitamins) and some "dexa" and I took it to her because I really felt what she felt. I really felt so sorry for her and I knew that I was in the best position to assist her and I thank God that she opened up and trusted me. She was looking at my daughter and thinking she looks okay, she looks healthy. She was admiring my daughter but hers was born at least almost about 2 kgs and she thinks mine was in a better place. The main point is that we should all be there for each other; whenever you see a mom in such a situation, at least listen to her, encourage her, give each other hope because it’s not easy being a mother to a pre-term baby. It’s not easy when you're surrounded with very many full term babies, and you see their progress is very fast and here you are, you have a baby that is 5 months and you can't even sit yet... so it’s a lot. There is a lot of pressure and you just need positive energy around you and the best way is to spread it when someone needs it and I am so lucky that I was able to get that positive energy from the people that loved me.

Six months later...

(L-R) Bree, Hollie, Haggai and Barbara celebrate Hollie at 6 months

Six months later, I have learned to be patient. There is nothing that teaches you patience like having a pre-term baby; you just breathe in, breathe out and be like okay, my baby is alive and I thank God, I am going to take one step at a time. There are so many questions we asked the doctors, I would ask the doctors things like, "my baby is not doing this and that" and they were like "Come on this baby is a pre-term baby. Please give her time." And the doctor would say it with a smiling face. We had a very sweet doctor, Dr Anita, and I remember my daughter’s genitalia were not clear. I thank God that they are able to continue to develop even outside the womb because some of the parts may not fully develop. Some of the babies never had nails! My baby’s genitalia were not so clear, her umbilical cord was a bit weird and you worry as a mother on how your baby is going to be but the doctors would tell you to breathe in; they would tell you to take one step at a time and tell you that this is going to be okay, so there is nothing that has taught me patience like the six months that I have had my daughter.

I have learnt to be a nurse. I used to be so scared, I would not even want to see a baby being pricked, but now I'm inquisitive and I want to know my baby’s health and to know how she’s progressing so I pay a lot of attention to her. I am literally a nurse. When I feel a temperature we want check out, we visit to check out whether she is fine. I remember feeding her using the ND tube (Nasoduodenal feeding tube) and making sure it’s in the right position, making sure it is placed well so that she doesn’t choke. They would put the ND tube and I would help the doctor hold the baby because I wanted her to feed! So I learnt to be a nurse, I learnt to monitor, to know that now my baby is okay, now my baby lacks this, now I have to look at my baby’s color because if she turns blue she is running out of oxygen...; so I paid more attention to detail and I became my own baby’s nurse. When I was going to have my daughter, I knew I needed to budget for a nurse who will come home every day and I didn’t know how much it would cost to just check on the baby. I worried so much but I realised that I am my daughter’s best nurse, all I have to do is to be clean, follow the doctors’ orders and she will grow. I am so happy to see her progress. They say a lot of babies that come prematurely are bright and I already see she is going to be a very bright girl; I can already see. She started giving high-five's like two months ago, close to two months ago. She loves to laugh and she has an appetite. She is going to be a very clever girl. I have a lot of hope in Hollie, and I pray all my worries that I had of her growing up are just turned into a lot of beautiful things for her future.

Advice to mothers

Hollie and her aunt!

My word to mothers, to all the people that are going through this is that you’re not going through this alone; very many people have gone through it and have come out winners. Please take one day at a time, listen to your doctors and just pass the positive energy to the babies. Be happy that you have achieved the gift of motherhood and that now you’re a mother. Bless God for that. It is very easy to look after premature babies; just maintain good hygiene and your baby will grow. I just thank God that pre-term babies can continue to grow outside the womb, their special place. God is so merciful that he actually puts technology in place for them to grow even outside the womb; all we have to do is to take care of them and just give them a lot of love because they can actually make it. To all the caretakers that are there for the mothers that are going through this, may God bless you because you’re doing such a wonderful job; you're sacrificing your time and energy to do this and there is nothing that can be compared to that time! I know how raising such babies needs a lot of patience and for you to go out of your way, you're no longer caretakers but actually mothers.

I know there are very many mothers out there that cannot afford the services and expenses that come with raising a premature baby. Many babies are lost as the are being transported to NICUs that are far away from them yet they would have been saved. Many mothers are dying because they do not have the best facilities to look after them when they are going through similar issues. I had preeclampsia and the symptoms were not evident despite being very deadly. I am so sure very many women have died because of such issues. I am lucky that I was able to be monitored and the chances of losing my life were minimised by having my baby taken out very quickly before my organs could fail. If we can all join efforts, contribute what we each can to ensure that mothers are safe, during and after pregnancy, as well as the new-bornes, then a lot of people would survive. A lot of lives that are lost can be saved.

About the author

The Bamulanzeki family: (L-R) Haggai, Bree, Hollie and Nicholas

Bree (short for Brenda) Matama is a mother of two. She is married to Nicholas Suna Bamulanzeki. She is a banker by profession with Centenary bank and does some voluntary work too. She loves extending help to the needy, mainly focusing on maternal health, adolescents, new-borns; and with CSI, she work as a youth advocate. When not in the bank, she is up and about doing some charity work on a voluntary basis. She has been with CSI since 2014 and with Centenary bank for 3 years. Bree is very delighted to share with the rest of the mothers what she can and she hopes what she shares impacts other mothers positively.

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