A Mother’s Struggle with Prematurity

“Prematurity is an isolating experience”, says Ruby Kimondo of Preemie Love Foundation. At 26, newly married and with no prior experience in the care of a preterm baby, she was at pains to manage the emotional, physical and psychological toll it took on her. She shares her journey to help motivate and encourage other mothers.

Having grown up in a community setting where everyone in the neighbourhood knew each other, and children raised by villages as the saying goes, motherhood was an experience I looked forward to. The ups and downs such as nausea during pregnancy or colic once the baby came were to be expected. But never was I exposed to a preterm baby, neither was anyone within my circles.

So when I had extreme swelling in my first pregnancy, which I learnt later was a warning sign of preeclampsia (or pregnancy hypertension) it was a shock. I was immediately admitted during one of my worried-first-time-mother hospital visits. It was a disheartening experience, listening to advice such as “doctors are only keeping you in hospital to make more money”, or “pregnancy is not an illness, soldier on in the journey”, but follow the doctor’s advice, I did. The first time, it was a two-week stay, and the second, just about a month, before the doctor declared that he had no choice but to deliver the baby at 28 weeks.

After the caesarean section, I went to see my little one for the first time, and the inexplicable feelings of immense love and fear overwhelmed me. I cried, seeing him like that: tubes, beeps, in an intensive care - the neonatal ICU (NICU). The nurse, oblivious to my plight, immediately escorted me out, telling me that they forbid women to cry there. I couldn’t understand her. Subsequently another nurse explained to me the power of positivity, and taught me the ropes on the care of a preterm baby.

I soon left for home, where I remained in solitude for quite some time, given the doctor’s advice to reduce my son’s exposure to germs, as he was very prone to infections. It was truly an isolating experience for a new mother who didn’t know what’s normal or not in a preterm baby.

I carried on, and the baby grew up healthy and strong.  I have since had three more children - all boys – with only one going to full term. In each of the preterm births, the solitude was difficult.

At the birth of my last child, I met a few women at the NICU whose circumstances were similar to mine, and we empathized with each other. We shared our experiences – challenges and wins – at the hospital and thereafter, via WhatsApp. That birthed the foundation: Preemie Love.

It’s grown in leaps and bounds with majority of the members hailing from Nairobi, and via WhatsApp, Facebook, bulk text-messaging and hospital outreach, we reach hundreds of mothers with psychosocial support using the exact same technique we used at the NICU: sharing experiences. Through this, mothers don’t feel alone, they’re able to discuss their challenges and find options for what to do in various situations, and to have hope that their babies will grow. I’m happy because we are recreating villages.

More voice and attentions needs to be given to the tragedy of this blessing to improve the mental, psychosocial and physical support of mothers, so that their babies can have the best possible health outcomes.