Why mothers shouldn’t fear premature birth:
Advice from a doctor and mom, who had two preemies of her own
“It was like déjà vu. I was in disbelief and wondered how this could be happening again – my second baby, born premature, just like his brother was.”
The second time around, however, Jana Groenewald says she was better prepared and knew what to expect. She wasn’t as frightened as she was when her first son was born and she knew – based on her previous experience – that everything would be ok.
“Both my pregnancies were normal. There were no complications and I felt glamorous. Like all excited expectant mothers, I took baby bump photos every week, I had my ideal labour planned out, and I looked forward to seeing my babies on the sonar. I wanted to have a natural birth and reserve C-sections for emergencies. But life had other plans for me.”
Not a false alarm
Jana was home alone, in a remote area of Caledon, when she started cramping. She was 31 weeks pregnant with her first son, Petrus. The cellphone reception was bad and the nearest private hospital was two hours away.
“The cramps started in the morning, but came and went. I ignored them, thinking they were Braxton Hicks contractions and that they would go away. But they didn’t, and at around 4pm, I was in tears from the pain. I had to drive to find signal to call my husband and my gynaecologist, who works from a hospital in Stellenbosch – two hours away. He told me to get there asap.”
By the time Jana and her husband, Henk, got to the hospital at 7pm, she was 1cm dilated and fully effaced. She was admitted for suppression of labour, but it made little difference. Petrus was born a few hours later, at 1am.There was also not enough time for the steroids to kick in to support Petrus’s lungs.
“When I gave birth to Petrus, he didn’t cry. I was frightened but I knew he was in good hands. The gynae, paediatrician, and paediatric ICU nurse were all in the room with us. I told my husband not to leave Petrus’s side while I recovered in the labour ward. He was sedated when I finally met him in the NICU and so tiny, weighing just 1.8kg. He was skin and bones and could fit in Henk’s hand, from head to bum.”
Petrus spent his first five weeks in hospital and was finally discharged at 35 weeks, after 33 days in the NICU.
As a medical officer, Jana says, in hindsight, she knows that things could have been much worse – especially if Petrus did not receive private medical care.
“We didn’t have to pay a cent. Profmed covered everything and I never once had to worry about medical bills. They didn’t ask for motivations from doctors, they didn’t bother me with trivial things or paperwork. They covered everything, no questions asked. It was already a daunting experience; not having to worry about money was a huge relief.”
When Jana fell pregnant with her second son, Andries, she didn’t want to leave anything to chance. “Although there was no reason why Petrus was born prematurely, I wanted to be as proactive as possible with my second pregnancy.”
She went for bi-weekly check-ups and tests at the gynae. They started steroid injections at 25 weeks, pre-empting a repeat of her first labour – they even pre-booked a hospital bed. Even though this pregnancy was also uneventful, with no complications or warning signs.
“When the pain started at 29 weeks, I knew that we had to get to the hospital immediately. I was 2cm dilated by the time we got there. They managed to suppress labour for one day, but no longer. I’m thankful that we did the steroid injections because he cried when he was born. When I heard him, I knew he would be okay.”
Jana said she should have been even more frightened than she was when Petrus was born, since Andries was born at 29 weeks – considered “very preterm” – weighing just 1.5kg. But she was more relaxed this time. She knew what to expect and was comforted by the fact that the same medical team that cared for Petrus would also care for Andries. He even slept in the same ICU bed as his brother did.
Andries spent seven weeks in hospital and was discharged at 36 weeks, after 48 days in the NICU. Again, Jana describes her experience with Profmed as “pristine” and “worry-less”.
“They covered all the in-patient bills for me and my boys, including the steroid injections and detail scan. I was more prepared this time around but things still didn’t go as I had planned or hoped they would.”
Advice from a doctor-mom
Despite life having other plans for her sons’ births, Jana is thankful for the expert early care they received.
“Premature babies can be a pitfall of problems. We’re supposed to give them a grace period of the amount of weeks born premature, to meet their developmental milestones. But both Petrus and Andries developed normally. Petrus (now 2) hit all his developmental goals, as if he was born at term. Both boys are happy and healthy. It took some patience in the beginning but that time in hospital, getting specialised private care, set them up for success. Now, it’s life as usual with two small children.”
Jana says she had to separate her roles as doctor and expectant mother during her pregnancies and labours. “Being a doctor only came in handy to understand the medical jargon and processes in NICU, to stay calm, and to trust the medical team. Once I became pregnant, I wasn’t the doctor anymore – I had to think like a mom because I couldn’t treat myself and I needed a team who could care for my babies when I couldn’t.”
Still, at the intersection of her two roles, she’s perfectly positioned to give expectant mothers this advice:
“Premature births are common – they happen without reason or warning. Yet prem babies are resilient and, with the right medical care in their first weeks of life, there’s a good chance they’ll grow and develop like children who were born at term. But it’s crucial that complications are addressed immediately although this is unfortunately not guaranteed at public hospitals. My medical plan from Profmed was worth every cent. I didn’t have to deal with the nitty gritty of paperwork and wasn’t left with enormous debt.”
She adds that medical aid also helps to ensure the best prenatal care, to monitor the baby’s development and identify complications early on. Ensure your medical stuff is sorted before you even fall pregnant. Go for your check-ups, book your bed early, and have this experience with the peace of mind that you’ve prepared as much as possible for any outcome.”
As a mom, her advice is this: “We all have an idea of how we imagine labour would go. But we can’t control everything and sometimes our babies need extra help to come into the world safely. Yes, having a premature baby is frightening and stressful. And watching them grow in hospital rather than at home is not ideal. But try to stay in the moment and to stay calm. With private medical care, they can pull through so well. It just takes time and patience and, unfortunately, these things are expensive.
Give your children the best start in life with Profmed. Find out more about its quality, affordable medical cover.