“The most heartbreaking part for me was being separated from them and not holding them after giving birth. I was only allowed to hold them on day three.”
This is how Chantelle Whittles reflects on the birth of her triplets almost a year ago.
The mother of four was speaking during World Prematurity Day commemorated on Tuesday 17 November at Groote Schuur Hospital.
Whittles gave birth at CapeGate Mediclinic last year. The three were born at 34 weeks. They collectively weighed 6.2kg. “Cole weighed 2.1kg, Niah 2.2kg and Chayse 1.9kg.
“They were so small and fragile,” she says.
Whittles says the children were immediately taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (Nicu).
“They spent 19 days in the Nicu and my husband and I would visit them every day, taking turns to feed, hold and hug them. I still remember how sad I felt every night having to leave them behind,” explains Whittles.
Although it was not an easy road, she is grateful that her triplets are growing well.
World Prematurity Day is recognised around the world to highlight the plight of premature and critically ill babies as well as their families in the Nicu. For an entire week, the iconic Old Main Building at the hospital was lit up in purple to mark the occasion. On the day, the staff at Groote Schuur Hospital entertained mothers and their premature babies.
According to statistics from the national department of health, one in every seven babies is born prematurely in South Africa. Doctors and nurses at Groote Schuur’s Nicu see around 600 “preemies” annually.
Dr Liesl le Roux, a doctor in the Neonatal Unit at Groote Schuur, says: “We spend a lot of time and energy growing these babies and getting them to a discharge weight. They take a lot of effort and they get a lot of special care and they are so special to all of us. We watch these tiny babies grow and they stay here for two or three months and they just climb into your heart and take over.”
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Le Roux says visitors are not allowed into the unit like in the past.
However, the staff is not allowing that to dampen their spirits. They went out of their way to bring some cheer to mothers and their babies.
“We had care packages and breastfeeding support for the moms in the unit, we decorated the whole place – and even the babies – in purple, and we spoilt our nurses with cakes and treats and the doctors had a bake-off.”
Amy Mac Iver, manager at Newborn Groote Schuur Trust, says: “Despite the tough economic circumstances this year, we continue to be so blessed by our community with gifts and donations pouring in for our babies.”
Mac Iver adds that a mother, Desire Dasopatis, who miscarried her twins during her 19th week of pregnancy, gifted mothers in Nicu with gift hampers. Dasopatis performed the selfless act in memory of her twins.
Mac Iver says the Nicu is always in need of baby items and toiletries and encouraged people to visit the Newborn Trust’s Facebook page to make donations.