• ashirk@gmail.com
  • Kijabe, Kenya
On being a NICU mom

On being a NICU mom

Gabriel at 36 weeks

Arianna told me back in May, there’s a mom you need to meet, this is your next story for Friends of Kijabe.

She was exactly right.

Gabriel was born at 26 weeks gestation, as small as our NICU can care for. Though he wasn’t the tiniest size-wise – 1000 grams – he was very young, began his fight from there.

I sat down to interview mom Dorine in early July, an absolutely lovely person with profound faith. This was a long road for she and her husband, 77 days in the hospital at Kijabe. In Kenya the mom stays at the hospital with the baby. When they are tiny in the NICU, that means most of the time, mom sleeps across the hall in maternity and comes in all times of night for feeding and checks. Then they transition to the Kangaroo care unit which is a bit easier in proximity. Now they are home and Gabriel is finally off oxygen and doing great!

I think this will give you a picture of why Arianna loves work in Kijabe so much, she really does help absolutely wonderful people walk through dark days. And no matter the outcome, she loves them well!

If you want to listen to our conversation, you can do so here: https://friends-of-kijabe.simplecast.com/episodes/mama-gabriel or on iTunes on the Friends of Kijabe podcast.

Transcript is below.

Gabriel in Kangaroo care (skin-to-skin), the unit for moms and babies to be close together once they no longer need incubators and acute care but still have an oxygen/medical requirement.

David – How long have you been in Kijabe? You delivered on what date? 

Dorine – I delivered on the 2nd of May 2019. I came in a week before, the 27th of April. 

David – And today is July 9th? 

Dorine – No, it’s the 8th, it’s our monthiversary, we got married on the 8th of February. Happy monthiversary! 

I think the baby’s charts say 65 days of life or something like that. 72 days, I’ve been here. 

David – So this is your home? (laughter)

Dorine – But I look forward to going to my real home. 

David – Why did you come to Kijabe? Were you in labor, were you concerned? 

Dorine – I went into labor two days before the 27th when I was at home, it was a Friday evening. Prior to that I was on two months bedrest. I was already working from home, my office was kind enough to let me do that work from home. On that Friday evening I went into labor. 

I called my doctor, I was seeing a gyna. She gave me some prescriptions to take to stop the labor, but in about two hours if it didn’t stop I would meet her at the hospital. called her and she gave me some prescriptions to take to stop the labor to delay the labor, if it doesn’t ease off in two hours we could proceed to the hospital. In two hours, I would meet her at the hospital. 

We had planned to deliver at Coptic hospital, so that’s where we headed. We got there, but the labor kept progressing so we started off on steroids and all the other things. That was around midnight, along with the meds to stop contractions. By 3:30 am, we were sure we were going to deliver.
The issue was at the hospital, there was no neonatal doctor or nurse. Advanced as we were in labor. 

The doctor told me, “here, we can see the head, do your thing.”

But as God would have it, she told me on the next contraction, “You push,” but the next contraction never came, it just subsided. It subsided enough for me to get off the table and walk back to the waiting area. I proceeded with the meds, I even slept. 

By that time, we needed a transfer because the hospital didn’t have a neonatal ICU, which we really needed. We check the hospitals in Nairobi or it was crazy the amounts they wanted, 300,000ksh deposit. Kenyatta told us they had, but as soon we were discharged, they called back and said it’s gone. In the height of that pressure my husband remembers, “I don’t know why we didn’t think about Kijabe Hospital.” 

We’ve interacted with Kijabe Hospital before, there as a time my mother needed a surgery. We called through some people we know, confirmed they did have a NICU bed available, and that’s how we made our trip here. 

David – That’s really important, even though they didn’t have the full resources, that they gave you steroids, they did the right things so that when Gabriel came, he was healthy. 

How big was he, how much did he weigh at that time? 

Dorine – Gabriel was born at 1040 grams, but he dropped weight to 840 in the following days. So we began our climb from 840. 

He was tiny then, I didn’t know where to touch or hold. His current weight is 2350 grams as of this morning. 

David – When he was like that, when he was little and you were scared to touch and scared to hold, what did the doctors and nurses advise you at that time? 

Did they coach you on how to interact with him? 

Dorine – Okay, my husband saw him first, then I saw him shortly after. He was delivered about 2 pm. I saw him about 7 pm, I think they were working on him somehow on the resuscitation table. 

I stretched out my hand and thought, where? Where would that be. 

But they were encouraging, encouraging you to come to terms, this is your baby, he is absolutely tiny, but he’s in the best of hands. 

Actually that reassurance came before I got to Kijabe. They said, we have an ICU bed for you, and once we know you are coming, we will keep it for you. 

Because when I was coming it wasn’t obvious that I was going to deliver on the same day. 

But they were very reassuring all along. In terms of the many questions I had, statistics for what’s the survival rate and all those things. The stats were really good. As much as they were careful to alert me to risks the baby will face, we also have a lot of success. Compared to Mr. Google which told me a lot of scary information. They answered many of my questions. It has been a reassuring journey that the doctors are available to walk with you. 

David – What would you say to a mom who is in the situation you were in several months ago, what would you say to her as far as encouragement or hope, how to face what’s ahead. 

Dorine – The journey is very scary, it is tough. 

There is a room where we go to express milk for the baby. That’s where you meet everyone who is going to pursue the nursery. 

The first few days they walk in, and I think I was the same, they are very scared. 

I remember a woman, who walked in, not even a 26 weeker, maybe a 30 weeker, but still tiny. One of the things I told her, is you need to change your mindset, your expectation. You will not be here for two days, you will be here for a longer time, much longer but it will be doable. Every day will be better than yesterday. 

It’s been an interesting position. I didn’t know that’s what I was coming to do here. 

In fact, they call me the welcome-er. 

Everyone who comes new, they come to fetch me. D, come, there’s someone new, she has a tiny baby, come talk to her. 

David – That’s amazing, though. We see that so often around here. You’re here having care for your baby, but it’s a ministry you’re engaged in. 

Dorine – It absolutely is. 

David – It’s not just the Kijabe staff doing ministry, it’s also you guys as moms caring for each other. 

Dorine – It’s one of those things I didn’t think was going to be part of my ministry. I’m a singer, worship ministry I’m familiar with. This one is a new ministry. 

But God has been gracious. 

And it’s been tough, some days it’s tough, when the baby is not doing well, the first couple of weeks, those are really low. Those were very tough. The baby had all sorts of things, one after the other. If it’s not respiratory, an infection. It was tough. 

In that toughness, God somehow managed to make me tougher, in the toughest way possible. 

Lack of sleep, every two hours, it’s not even two hours, it’s more like 30 minutes the most sleep I ever got was 30 minutes. 

But the next week there is someone in your shoes, they need you to say that one thing that will encourage them to come back the next day, to toughen up beyond what you yourself can do. 

It’s been a serious growth opportunity. 

David – Are there any bible verses or quotes or sayings, or songs even that come to mind as you are trying to toughen or persevere? 

Dorine – I will not remember where it come from, but there is a verse it says, “the Lord will perfect everything that concerns me.” (Psalm 138:8)

That’s what I keep repeating to Gabriel, I will stand by his incubator and pray over him and remind him that, “Dude, the Lord is perfecting everything that concerns you.” 

So, if it’s respiratory issues that week, The Lord is sorting this respiratory issue, not just sorting, perfecting. 

That’s what I’ve been believing, even now as I wait for him to get off of oxygen. He is going to perfect that. We’ve come a long way I’ve seen perfection in all those ways. 

Then the wall of the nursery, has that beautiful verse, “I knew you were formed in your mother’s womb.” 

Me, I was surprised by Gabriel’s arrival at 26 weeks, but God wasn’t. One of us needed not to be surprised. 

What you cannot control. What I, as D. cannot control, God can control. 

I sort what I can. I can express milk for the baby, fine. I can stand by his incubator and pray for him, I will do that. I will stand with a fellow mum, or just sit there and let them cry, if that’s what they need.
But what I cannot control, just let it be. The doctors are sorting it. God has put them there, he’s using them to sort out whatever it is. It will be fine. 

It’s easier said now that I have walked the path. (laughter)

David – It’s not so easy in the moment. 

Dorine – In the moment, you will yourself to remember those things. I’m glad I have been spending time in the bible before now, cause you need to remind yourself those things. 

Ultimately, God is the one who knows how this is going to play out, and it’s played out well. 

David – How has this been for you and your husband to do together? I still want to meet him, I haven’t met him yet, but I’ve heard stories that he’s really tall. 

Dorine – He’s 6’3, not only tall, really huge, big boned. I think Gabriel is following suit. 

He’s been absolutely supportive, absolutely awesome. We don’t live near Kijabe, maybe an hour or so from Nairobi, but he’s made every effort to come by. In the beginning he would come, maybe 3 or 4 times a week. On the weekends he’ll always be here. Even with the traffic, he would come after 7 and leave again to get home by after 9. 

Every weekend when he comes by, he will bring a cooked meal, a hot one. He will take his time and cook. He’ll ask what do will you want to eat this weekend. He’s been awesome, but it’s been a strain for him as well. The commute. The uncertainty. 

You know I’m here, when I’m called to nursery I’m there to see. He has to wait for relayed information, especially in the beginning, he’d worry. 

I never took my phone to the nursery, and already we knew there had been a slight issue. I was waiting for the doctors to do their rounds, and it was a couple hours before I came back. He had looked for me frantically, he had called everyone, he even called Kijabe Hospital. 

It’s been strenuous on him, but he’s also really prayerful. 

I thank God it’s him I’m doing this with. 

He’s more patient. He tends to take his time in a situation. He won’t react spontaneously as much as I would. 

This has taught me a lot of patience as well. 

We talk often, we spend the little time we have well. It’s been tough, but good. 

David – Anything else I should ask or you would like to say? 

Dorine – This experience for me has been multifacted. 

In the beginning there was lots of uncertainty, lots of worry, anxiety. All those things you are told, “don’t be anxious.’ We were anxious. 

We prayed yes, with thanksgiving, but in the moment, it’s absolutely all these emotions. You are worried. 

I didn’t get any sleep after he was born. I couldn’t sleep, and even when I slept I feared to wake up. 

“Dorine, you’re being called for the nursery.” That was the worst, you know. Maybe, it was not even for the baby, maybe it was just to go and express milk. But that in itself was enough to send panic. 

Initially it was a lot of high-stress condition. I think God that He gave me the strength to still hold on.
As much as we want to know is everything okay, the strength (is) to be optimistic, I’m going to walk in there and the baby is going to be fine. And even if he’s not right now, he will be shortly. And it always came to pass. 

It’s made me more prayerful as well. Pray at all times, more prayerful. 

This idea of “have faith”. . .I think sometimes when you say it, when you’re not in the situation, it’s more of “I have faith,” and you know full well there’s food somewhere to eat. 

No, no, no, this brings the meaning of faith. You have no idea how it’s going to play out, but you have faith. 

It’s also been tough. Kijabe Hospital is really great in terms of the facilities, the doctors, the nursing staff. 

But on the other hand, things like the food. (laughter)

David – I’m sure, for three months. 

Dorine – There are many other things that you cannot compare with home or that could really be improved upon. 

But for us the facilities were the main thing that we needed. 

I absolutely miss home every day. . .you know these small things. But the main reason we were here, I’m glad were here. 

Especially in light of the debate that has been going on in Kenya about abortion rights. . .you know we want to legalize it in Kenya. I wish some of those people could be here to see life does not begin at birth when the baby is born at full term. They should see life at 26 weeks. Life begun when these two human beings mate, that’s when we should start protecting a life. 

I felt strongly about it now, I don’t know what word is stronger than strongly. 

Dorine – Yes, Kijabe has been home. I’ve made friends, lots of friends. Patients. . .they come and go, you say goodbye, escort them to the gate. I’ve escorted so many, carrying their luggage, say goodbye. Goodbye, see you. You welcome many others. 

The staff here become familiar, most on name basis. The doctors, the nurses, the support staff, the canteen, the askaris, pretty much everyone. 

I think I’m really an outgoing person, so I like to know people. 

David – Last fall we had a celebration and invited back some of our NICU moms. The oldest baby who came is 19 years old, she’s tall! It’s amazing to watch what happens afterwards, how these children are growing and doing. 

I’ll say to you, you’ve been wonderful to my wife and to Dr. Ima. I don’t know the nurses as well, but I know you’ve been wonderful to them. That’s a really big deal because it is stressful and it is hard, but you have handled it gracefully. We appreciate you for that.

High fives with a medical officer intern

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