A baby in Norway weighs on average around 3.5 kilos when it is born.
Andrea and Erlend’s son, Nils, weighed only 444 grams when he was born. That was almost half of what her big sister, Julia, weighed when she was born – she too far too soon.
Today Nils is 2.5 years old and big sister Julia is 5 years old and mom and dad’s happiness in life.
– They are like other children of the same age, and they are not affected by their tough start. And we do not relate so much to the fact that they are born prematurely either, says the mother and continues:
– When you start with being as small in relation to gestational age as the two were, you have a little to gain. They were born early because I had placental abruption in both pregnancies, she says.
See the full interview at the top of the case!
– First we counted minutes, then hours
When they were about to become parents for the first time, it was discovered quite by chance that she had a placenta failure and that the fetus in her womb was not growing as it should.
Julia was therefore born in week 29 + 5, which is over ten weeks premature. She weighed only 805 grams. For the first-time parents, it was a dramatic experience.
– It’s a disaster in life. Becoming a parent is a big transition, and it’s a life event that is unlike anything else. But it is clear that when they are so small and are born so early, everything becomes very different. Everything you have in mind will be different than planned. And you can not compare yourself to anything other than what is happening at that time.
She also says that they were very scared at first.
– Yes, the probability of coming home with a child, you do not know. So you have to persevere. First we counted minutes, then hours. Then we rained before and after lunch. Eventually it became days and weeks.
She describes the days and months in the hospital as a roller coaster of emotions.
– It was a very strange situation to be in. You should get to know your child, and you feel for quite some time that those who work there know the child better than yourself in the beginning. The connection will be very special and in a different way than it is with term-born babies, she says.
Close to others in crisis
They were also close to other parents in crisis, but also close to confident and knowledgeable nurses and doctors.
– It was a security that we were surrounded by knowledgeable people at the hospital, but the hunger for knowledge and information was there and it can also be found by google. And there you will find miscellaneous. It was very much different, everything from disaster to sunshine stories, but you never find something that is completely relevant to yourself and your situation.
Andrea scoured everything she found in her search for knowledge. She needed to know a lot about the situation they suddenly saw in the middle of nowhere.
– I read master’s theses in neonatal intensive care, went to the patient library at the hospital and tried to find literature that was relevant to us. It was either written by doctors or parents with dead or sick children. And I thought that here is a gap in the information, which I simply miss.
Julia put on weight and grew while she was in the hospital. Everything looked good and they eventually got home with a so-called advanced home hospital. This means that care, follow-up and treatment take place at home, with nurses coming home for checks and measurements of the little one.
The smallest baby in the ward
Julia was fine after they got home. And eventually Julia would become big sister. Andrea and Erlend were expecting another child.
– Now I thought we would have a good time, because now we are prepared. But it really got worse. I went for seven weeks and knew I had placental insufficiency.
Nils is delivered by caesarean section in week 27. He weighed only 444 grams.
– It took six days before I had the opportunity to hold Nils. I was in a way set on that, because he was on a respirator and was so immature, as premature birth means. Then one must pay attention to the child.
But they certainly had the opportunity to hold him a lot, completely close to his body, after the first days had passed.
– If we count the hours we have sat with him in kangaroo, me and my husband Erlend, then it is 954 hours we have sat in a chair with the baby on the chest at Ullevål hospital.
The term “child in kangaroo” means that the child is close to making skin and body contact.
– Yes, it is very important. Being close to the body and in contact with someone’s pulse, feeling the heart rhythm, the heat … This has been seen in many research studies to have a very good effect on the attachment and brain development of the child, she explains.
“What could we do about it?”
Nils thus weighed just over 444 grams, and he was the smallest child in the newborn intensive care unit at the time, according to his mother.
– Everything is relative, it could have been worse. But that is a poor consolation. But before Nils was born, we looked through a series called “Stories of Beginnings” that Connie Barr made and we looked through it and thought; “This does not apply to us”, “if it gets so bad, then we have to do this”. We simply laid out strategies for what could happen. “What is relevant to us and what is not relevant to us?”, She explains.
For a while, she also read the book “Norwegian winners’ skulls” to learn about the focus on top sports and how they worked mentally in demanding situations.
Although the beginning of the children’s lives was different than they could have hoped for, they did not give up from thoughts take over.
– We had to try to focus on what we were standing in right there. What we could actually do something about and set ourselves up for now is the way it is. And we tried to think of “what is important now? What is considered progress in the phase we are in? ”
She goes on to say that their tiny babies also get pacifiers in the incubator.
– The pacifiers are very small, but still cover large parts of the little baby’s face. And he managed to suck on the pacifier. The functions in the body are ready in week 27, but he had to get help with temperature regulation in the incubator and simply matures.
Took pictures already from day one
Andrea has always loved taking pictures. And she also took out the camera immediately after both children were born.
– When Julia was born, we took pictures because it is natural to take pictures when you become a parent and have children. But when the next person came, I wanted a SLR camera for Christmas. We were admitted just before Christmas and had a bit of a crisis Christmas Eve, and I found out that I have to take pictures this time too, so she explains why it was so important to her;
– I thought that either I document a life that began and then ended, or these are pictures of memories and experiences with a child I will have for life. Fortunately, it was the last.
The pictures also have a different meaning, and she has donated many of the pictures she took to Oslo University Hospital.
– When I googled myself, I found many pictures I thought were a little disrespectful to the child who was in the incubator. So I thought I could contribute something back to society again, so I have donated the pictures so that they can be used as motivation, inspiration and to spread knowledge.
Knowledge was crucial for the mother as they were in the middle of two demanding situations, a couple of years apart. Now she is in the final sprint on a book project.
– The book will be called «444 – the weight of a human being when a child is born prematurely» and is about when a child is born prematurely. I have several professionals who work with premature babies, as well as perspectives from other premature parents. The book will soon be finished, she says and hopes that it will be able to help close the knowledge gap she herself felt as a new mother and give hope, comfort and motivation to others who find themselves in a similar situation.