Pancake Day and the 40 Days of Prematurity

blueberries-1867398_1920It’s Pancake Day!  This is a church tradition to use up all the rich ingredients before Lent.  These luxuries – eggs and oil and dairy – seem to us relatively healthy; nowadays the forty-day Lenten sacrifice is usually coffee, chocolate or alcohol.

It’s a bit like pregnancy; 40 weeks of moderation, maybe giving up something unhealthy, maybe craving something else.  I was so sick I would look at my food and imagine it second time around before I ate, but could eat cranberry sauce and custard out the jar.

Forty is a significant number in the Bible – most of us remember Noah’s 40 days and 40 nights of rain from the Flood.  And forty weeks is the perfect pregnancy; baby’s due date is 40 weeks from the last period.  But what if you don’t manage 40 weeks?  Then you don’t have the parameters of Lent or pregnancy; there are no manuals or midwives; you’ve had your baby, but you don’t have your baby.  Watching your baby grow outside of you is so much more challenging than those sacrifices you made while baby was inside.


If you make, toss, eat, or even think of pancakes today, please think of the 40 days of Lent and the 40 weeks of pregnancy, and all those who don’t make it to the end. They start a whole new journey.

The first forty unpredictable days of prematurity (and it might be more, or less)

  1. Baby is born. Unbelievably tiny. But alive, thank God.
  2. A machine breathes for baby. A mask covers his face and a hat covers his head and all I can see are tiny arms and legs, with needles in.
  3. Less shocked today. Getting used to lights and beeping. Baby has beautiful little feet.
  4. I have managed to express a teeny bit of yellow milk. Apparently this is good. I squirt it slowly down his tube.  I fed my baby.
  5. It feels hopeful. We discuss names.
  6. Baby has turned yellow and is under a blue light.
  7. Still under blue lights.
  8. I have more milk now and he is eating every 2 hours, not every hour.
  9. He is out from the lights and off the ventilator an hour a day. I am allowed to hold him.  I cry so much I almost drown him.
  10. He is cold so I can’t hold him but the nurse says he can wear clothes. I go shopping.
  11. I change his nappy and put on his own white babygrow. He looks so much more like a baby.
  12. He has eyelashes. I stare.
  13. He is gaining weight. On weighing days I feel I am achieving.
  14. He’s gone. My heart hits the floor. It’s ok, he’s moved to High Dependency.
  15. He’s just on oxygen now and if he makes 1.5kg he can be in a cot.
  16. The baby next to us goes to surgery and does not return.
  17. He seems to need more oxygen today. The monitor beeps constantly.
  18. He is back on a ventilator. Just an infection, they say.  He’s on antibiotics.
  19. I can’t hold him. I sit beside him and express like a cow and cry.
  20. He cries too. He couldn’t make a noise before.  I love it.
  21. The ventilator is gone. I am allowed a quick cuddle.
  22. New babies come and I feel like an expert.
  23. New babies go home and I feel like a loser.
  24. He has gained weight. He might need the next size of vest. I go shopping.
  25. A nurse mentions going home. I daren’t believe it.
  26. He is allowed a bath. I am terrified.  He smells gorgeous.
  27. I am desperate to go home.
  28. Apparently we can go home on oxygen. I say yes.
  29. Our house is plumbed with oxygen made in a machine the size of the fridge.
  30. We have to tell the fire brigade.
  31. We do CPR training.
  32. Baby grows bigger and I’m sure he smiles.
  33. I have never been alone with my baby. I practice walking round the hospital with him in a pram.
  34. We test his breathing in a car seat.
  35. I am used to him now. He knows me. Oxygen doesn’t scare me.
  36. We think he is big. Others think he is tiny.
  37. We make appointments with our GP, at outpatients clinic.
  38. We stay the night in a hospital room with him, practicing being parents, not visitors.
  39. I am terrified. I want to stay.  I need the nurses.
  40. We go home. It is wonderful.  We put him to bed in a little crib.

The waiting is over…