Soon after becoming pregnant, I came across a video of Ward Miles, a boy born three months before his due date, on social media. His mom took him out of an incubator and placed him on her breast. Hi was so tiny, connected to countless tubes and surrounded by beeping equipment... I remember crying and saying to myself that it is a miracle for such a small baby to survive and that I tremendously admire his mom, who is holding him. Despite crying, she looks happy. I also thought that I would not have such strength and could not cradle my baby the way she did. I considered that case to be exceptional. Although I had heard of premature birth, I did not have the faintest idea what it means. Not in my worst nightmares did I imagine this happening to me five months later.

My pregnancy was a miracle from day one. Both my partner and I were told that we were unable to conceive naturally. To make things worse, I was also diagnosed with a genetic mutation on the twelfth chromosome, which may cause serious disorders. For that reason, I was recommended to have an abortion despite the miraculous conception. But somehow, I felt that everything would be all right and decided to keep the baby despite the risks. My pregnancy progressed trouble-free and I was very happy that the dream of having a baby has come true despite the odds. Everything was fine until 25+4 weeks of pregnancy even though I felt I was having Braxton Hicks contractions. However, nobody believed me and they all compared it to digestion. Moreover, they said that pain and swelling were completely normal in the seventh month. So, when I went into labour at 26+3 weeks, I thought the pain was related to a cold and left home for work. Despite the increasing pain, I still did not believe, or perhaps did not want to believe, that I was in labour. It really did not occur to me that I could go into labour at the beginning of the seventh month. I still felt the baby moving and behaving as if nothing was going on. However, I became really sick by the afternoon and felt that something was wrong. So, I asked a friend to drive me to hospital for a check-up. While still in the car, I started having contractions every two minutes. At that point, I knew things were bad.

They checked my condition in the outpatient department and told me I was 5 centimetres open and going to give a birth soon and that the baby was in the breech position. I remember crying that I am not going to give a birth and begging them to send me home because it was too early for a birth. They immediately transferred me to the delivery room and put me on a drip. Suddenly, they were all attending and saying something to me. All I remember is that the head of the unit said he would attempt to stop the birth which was progressing so fast that he was unable to promise success and that we would pray for every single minute. Fortunately, after an hour and the first drip, my contractions began to subside and the intervals between them grew longer. I was happy and said to myself that I would keep the pregnancy going until the ninth month even if I should be stuck to that surgery chair. However, blood test results showed that the childbirth was triggered by an infection, which was a serious threat to both me and the baby. The infection spread all over my body the next morning and triggered the childbirth again. A paediatrician and an obstetrician told me that the baby had yet not received the required dose of corticosteroids and that at least another two days should pass before the birth. They believed my body could not last that long and recommended to perform a Caesarian that very morning. I persuaded them to postpone the birth as much as possible even though they claimed I would not last until lunch. The paediatrician cheered me up by saying I was lucky to be expecting a girl because they tend to do much better than boys. In the end, I lasted until 7 p.m. when I went into labour again and was taken to the delivery room.

Jasmínka was born at 7:58 p.m., weighing 810 grams. The doctor who operated on me said she was a great hero right from the beginning. She simply refused to be taken out of my belly, waving her arms and kicking. I asked the doctor who was looking after Jasmínka to see me in the intensive care unit and tell me if my little daughter is actually alive. Nobody wanted to tell me anything until then. The wait was endless and felt like hours to me. She told me Jasmínka had not been breathing and that her heart was beating. They inserted a tube into her lungs and put her on a ventilator to help her breathe. She also said the baby was very brave and fighting. Having contracted the infection, she will also receive antibiotics. However, she could not tell me more as the next 48 hours will be critical. The doctor just added that if Jasmínka makes it through those 48 hours, she stands a good chance of survival. Fortunately, she was doing really well and was taken off the ventilator after just 11 hours and connected to a CPAP machine. I did not see her until the next afternoon. Being in shock, I do not remember much of it. My memories of the first days are blurred. I just remember praying for her survival all the time. I brought her breast milk whenever possible. I kept telling myself that the little boy in the video survived and so will my Jasmínka. That video kept my spirits up. I did not want to read anything and stayed away from the Internet. I needed a happy ending and nothing but positive news. Yet, it was hard as I was surrounded by mothers who gave birth at 32 to 36 weeks to babies who were twice as big as Jasmínka. What a relief it was when the head of the neonatology ward told me they would like to take pictures of Jasmínka for The Foundation for Premature Children. Hanka Píšová visited me later, full of vigour and optimism, telling me that she has four-year-old twins, who were born at 24 weeks and are perfectly healthy and doing fine. She was a godsend because I finally knew that this was happening and that it was possible for Jasmínka to be perfectly healthy. All of a sudden, I was no longer so alone. Jasmínka was doing very well, gaining weight from the millilitres of milk administered into her stomach by a tube. Some days were fine while others were not so good. She had to get a transfusion after 14 days into her life. First I got scared because I had heard of the complications triggered by transfusions such as infections and the like. But I calmed down when I saw her breathing better and not being pale any more. Jasmínka was growing stronger and I brought her breast milk every day, spending up to 8 hours a day with her. I sang her songs and read fairy tales. Every day, we devoted three hours to kangaroo mother care (baby lying on the mother’s breast). My presence clearly made her happy and gave her strength on that difficult and painful way. As her weight increased to 1,300 grams after her seventh week, she was finally transferred from the resuscitation to the intensive care unit and I made the first attempts at breastfeeding. Two weeks later, Jasmínka was transferred to the intermediary ward where we just waited for her weight to increase to 2 kg before we could go home. How amazing it was to see her for the first time in bed without all the beeping equipment. After 78 days, we could finally take her home. I wish everyone experienced that feeling of happiness.

Jasmínka was born after 48 hours of labour and spent 78 days in maternity hospital, 11 hours on a ventilator and 35 days on a CPAP machine. She had to be resuscitated twice, got a blood transfusion and her dose of milk gradually increased from 2 ml to 42 ml on discharge from hospital. She is exactly four months today, weighs 3,290 grams, eats as much as 90 ml, is completely breastfed and breathes on her own. She laughs, starts raising her head, loves bathing in a bucket and being carried in a scarf. Initial check-ups indicate she is ahead in development, so we do not even have to do the Vojta exercises.

I wish all mothers beautiful and healthy children and an opportunity to choose ideal conditions for their childbirth. I wish premature births were absolutely exceptional but unfortunately the opposite is the case. The number of premature children is on the increase. If any of you meet a similar fate, do not despair because our children can cope with more than we can ever imagine. Just trust and love them and they will reward you with their heroism.

My thanks go to the doctors and nurses from the resuscitation ward of The Mother & Child Care Institute in Prague Podolí for saving our little daughter and to Hanka Píšová and others who established and run The Foundation for Premature Children and Their Families. You are doing the right thing!

Erika Jeřábková

Jasmínka a maminka Erika
Jasmínka a maminka Erika