Nobody plans to have a premature baby, and certainly not two. But new mom Lara Kong was surprised with an early baby on two occasions—20 years apart.
Madelyn Kong is now 20 years old and had the unique experience of seeing where she spent the first weeks of her life while visiting her new brother, Shepard. Both Madelyn and Shepard spent time in the Misericordia Community Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care unit (NICU).
Lara was 25 weeks and two days pregnant when Shepard made his early entrance in July. It was a surprise to his parents and three siblings, who were travelling back from a trip to Utah when Lara stopped feeling Shepard move. As Shepard had been active throughout her pregnancy, Lara was very concerned.
“I tried everything I could think of to get him moving—eating waffles, lying on my stomach,” says Lara. “That worked, but he still wasn’t moving normally. We came home Tuesday and I went straight to the Misericordia Emergency department.”
Shepard’s heartbeat was normal. Lara, however, had high blood pressure. Within a few days, further complications meant that Shepard needed to arrive early.
Early labour can start for many reasons, says Rhea Shank, Unit Manager. Potential factors include pregnancy with more than one baby, health of the mother or a history of preterm labour. In many cases, doctors can’t pinpoint the cause of premature birth—it just happens.
Babies born early can experience a variety of health issues, particularly respiratory and nutrition challenges. This was true for Shepard, who needed help to breathe and to gain weight when he came to the Misericordia.
“We help babies with breathing and learning to feed by gradually introducing breast milk fed through feeding tubes and later to direct breastfeeding,” says Dr. Sharif Shaik, Facility Chief of Neonatology.
Giving birth to a preemie and caring for them afterwards can leave parents feeling unprepared and helpless, says Lara.
“At first I thought, please, do everything you can to save my baby—you’re the experts,” says Lara. “But I realized pretty early on that standing up and being part of the team is the most important way I can help my baby.”
And Lara did just that.
“Lara asked a lot of questions, which is the best way we can support her,” says Rhea. “We need to hear from mom how she’s feeling, what we can do and where she needs more information.”
Family integrated care is when parents are involved in the care of their child every step of the way. It’s a priority for all newborns including preterm babies, says Sharif. “Family knows their baby best. Family takes care of the baby and we want families to help make decisions.”
Neonatal care wasn’t always this way, Lara recalls as she thinks back to her first preterm delivery with Madelyn.
“We visited the old NICU and I stood in the exact spot where my incubator was,” says Madelyn. “It was one room for all the babies and their families.”
NICU space opened in 2016 with single family suites, which allowed
Lara to stay in a private room with Shepard. Lara was also able to experience skin-to-skin
contact with Shepard, which helps promote bonding, boosts breastfeeding and
offers additional health benefits such as lower blood pressure.
Shepard is now four months old and enjoying the comforts of home after being discharged from the Misericordia in late November.
“We weren’t expecting Shepard so soon, but I’m grateful that we’re here,” says Lara.
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