Updated: Jun 17
For years ELWA paediatric ward has saved children’s lives. Tiny newborns rushed into the ER mingling with hungry toddlers carried on rumours of hope and plumpynut by desperate mothers. Comatose children’s eyes slowly blinking back to see a ward balancing oxygen between caring nurses and worried doctors. Beds created from love and local expertise trying to keep up with the tidal wave of toddlers.
One day was different. The ward round as always had been long. The team somehow are continuing to keep up the pace of feeding and treating sick children, at times combining clinical decision-making with personal care. Most of the children are gaining weight, filling out with healthy layers, spring leaves covering winter’s emptiness. Some still struggle. One 17 month baby is still in a coma. Mum hasn’t slept in days and continues to stare at hope fading on a horizon’s sunset.
Until a watsapp message from another universe, every expectant Dad’s worst news. 29 weeks of pregnancy, we were still owed 11 weeks preparation, homemaking, anticipation. Now pushed out into a whirlwind of uncertainty. Now a cocophany of bleeps and rushing nurses, tube feeding and wires.
Endless wires. Wires connecting baby’s heart to machines. Cables joining tiny toes to adult machines. Oxygen tubes connecting fragile nostrils to oxygen concentrators pumping relentlessly. Lines keeping temperatures constant. Baby kept floating on hopes and intensive care.
My Finley Harry.
Suddenly the distance between the knowledge in my head, skills in my hands and tears in my heart has gone. I look at Finley cradled into my chest, share my warmth with his tiny heart and pray it keeps beating. My breaths rhyme with his gasps as his eyes gaze into my frightened face. Does he sense how scared I am, this faltering uncertain and premature baby-Pa, with a mind trapped by my own knowledge. Knowledge of what could go wrong in every alarm, with every slowing of breath and cough.
The first night is the hardest, leaving my baby curled up alone in a plastic box, wrapped in the warm faint dark of NICU. The attention to detail is intense. Commuting away from him, my mind still straining to jump from our tiny 6-bed newborn care space at ELWA to Swansea. There are babies still in ELWA too, half of them tinier than Finley. One especially took many hours of feed and fluid calculations to get right and just crossed 3 pounds as I was rushing home. I carry them still, brown eyes gazing at overstretched baby-mas and tired but caring nurses.
Hope is still growing in Liberia, while Finley breaths in a system already fully developed. As a baby-Pa I get the worry now, the helplessness. The desire to breath for him, feed him from my life, let his fingers wrap around my chunky pinky. Soon our family will return to Liberia, this time carrying experience of life as a baby-Pa, ready to serve the most vulnerable children with the energy we carry from care received. Each baby matters, and we will fight alongside our Liberian baby-Mas and Pas to save them.