The tangle of tubes on her newborn’s rising chest was distressing.
He had red skin. It was slightly translucent.
He was covered with downy hair known as lanugo and barely fit in the hospital’s newborn gowns.
He had a pointed chin.
His eyes were fused shut. He was on oxygen to help his little lungs breath.
And his tiny fingers easily got caught up in the tubes.
But when she stretched out to touch his fingers, he gave a firm grip.
These are the first few moments when Ruby Kimondo met her son when he was born too soon, one and a half decades ago. Today, Ruby is vocal about her journey taking care of her three premature children. And she is sharing this information with all mothers, to encourage them not to give up. She describes her journey as an emotionally draining experience. “Seeing them in incubators for weeks on end, with lines taped on them, oxygen masks on their faces and the constant beep of machines took me on an emotional roller coaster ride that only ended when I finally took my babies home,” Ruby says.
Ruby Kimondo, founder of Preemie Love Foundation
The blissful pregnancy
All had been well with her first pregnancy.
But at the 24th week her feet began to swell and she dismissed it as the effects of a long bus trip she had taken to Dar-es-Salam. The swelling didn’t go down three days later. Her face became puffier and her hands followed suit. She left a quick note with her colleague informing her boss that she was going for a medical check-up and would return later in the afternoon.
But this was her last day at the office.
The pronouncement at the hospital changed her plan for that day, weeks and months to come. “The tests showed my blood pressure was elevated, above 140/90, and there was protein in my urine. Together with the oedema (swollen feet, face and hands), these were considered vital signs of Preeclampsia in pregnancy which prompted my admission,” Ruby says. She was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, a medical condition that is usually common from the fifth month of pregnancy.
The little one would meet mummy sooner.She was placed on close medical surveillance and stayed in hospital for an additional four weeks, was placed on medicines to lower her blood pressure and help mature the baby’s lungs before she had an emergency caesarean section.
Preemie Love Foundation is a support group of mums for mums
The delicate journey
This marked the beginning of a delicate journey taking care of a pre-term baby. “He looked quite tiny. He was only 1,300 grams,” Ruby describes the first interaction with her son when he was born and placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The NICU specialist units take care of critically ill premature babies. A premature birth is one that occurs before the start of the 37th week of pregnancy.
The first few days passed in a daze. He was too tiny and fragile.
It was hard for me to bond with my baby. He was always in the incubator.
The flashing lights, beeping monitors and other mystifying pieces of medical equipment intimidated me.
It seemed as though he was struggling to breathe. He wore had an oxygen mask and a network of wires on his face and chest.
Initially, I was terrified. I cried.
Then I left the room for a minute.
A still voice told me I needed to be strong for Leo who was fighting with everything he had. Even when everyone had panicked.
He was little, but a fierce fighter.
He made me proud.
Living and thriving
One and a half decades later, the young man has beaten the odds and today he is in Form Three, growing and thriving like his peers. But Ruby’s story does not end here. Her second and fourth born sons also came a bit too soon. “My second son, Lex, was born at 30 weeks and Lenny was born at 34 weeks,” Ruby speaks of her journey back to the Newborn Intensive Care Unit for a second and third time. According to the World Health organisation, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm every year. The common causes of prematurity include multiple pregnancies, infections and chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure; however, often no cause is identified.
Are there categories to understand premature babies better?
There are sub-categories of preterm birth, based on when they are born.
• Extremely preterm (less than 28 weeks)
• Very preterm (28 to 32 weeks)
• Moderate to late preterm (32 to 37 weeks)
Given these terms, the World Health Organisation appreciates that about two out of every three premature babies can be saved with feasible and cost-effective care.
Ruby uses her spare time to encourage mothers who have premature babies. Pic courtesy.
Preemie Love Foundation
This led to the birth of Preemie love Foundation, a support group that also conducts outreach programmes in hospitals and communities to create awareness on pre term births and how these children can have an equally fulfilling and rewarding life if they receive specialised treatment and care.
Preemie Love foundation is a safe space to share on pre-maturity
Giving birth sooner than the expected time, due to pre-eclampsia, placed Ruby at risk of the condition re-occurring in her subsequent pregnancies. However Ruby says that each experience was different for every child while admitted in the hospital. “But this developed the interest to share my experience and help mothers cope with taking care of their premature babies,” Ruby said.
And as they grew up, Ruby faced several challenges that come with taking care of premature babies.
These challenges include
• Delayed milestones
• Frequent infections
• Feeding difficulties
• Slow weight gain
And did you know that during the process of care in hospital, too much oxygen can damage the newborn’s eyes? Retinopathy of prematurity can cause severe vision loss and blindness due to abnormal proliferation of the blood vessels around the retina of the eye, which is more severe if the baby is given too high levels of oxygen
Some of the risk factors that can pre-dispose you to pre-eclampsia include;
• First pregnancy
• Aged 40 or over
• Your last pregnancy was more than 10 years ago
• Family history of pre-eclampsia
• Multiple pregnancy (carrying twins or triplets)
The journey has also been rewarding. Ruby has also gained lots of friends as she shared her experience. But this has made her stronger and nurtured a special bond with mothers who go through the same. “As we narrate our experiences in the Newborn Intesive Care Unit, going home and watching the milestones, we have developed a special bond,” said Ruby.
For 10 years, she concentrated on bringing up her children, fulltime as a stay-at-home-mum. She has recently returned to the corporate world when her last-born turned four years old. And she admits that it’s worth it all.
“Its an over-flowing well of love,” Ruby says.
Her experience echoes the words of reggae legend Bob Marley; ‘You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice’