At 27 weeks into my second pregnancy, during a routine check up, I was told I was at high risk of preterm labour. If the baby was to be born during that week, his chances of survival would have been "good". With lungs not yet ready at that stage, we might have needed to consider shots of steroids to boost their development, this had risks attached too. He might have reported greater health problems and development challenges than babies born full term.
The world stood still while my husband and I processed those words. Good chances of survival? No parent wants to hear that.
While I know that many premature babies go on to have a perfectly normal life, and I even have a friend who 48 years ago was born at 31 weeks and has never had any health issues , I knew I was not ready for any of this.
My previous pregnancy was overdue of 2 full weeks and even then I had to be induced for 3 consecutive days, so how was this possible this second time around?
I decided I would have trusted the doctors and their advice but also my gut feeling, we were going to make it full term, my baby was going to be OK. My strongest mental tool has always been steel will when needed and positive thinking, and that is what I did. Along with being off my feet when realistically possible, light medication to lower blood pressure further and luck.
While I truly believed that we were going to make it to the 37 week mark, past which babies are considered full term (40 weeks being the average duration of full term pregnancies) I tried to prepare myself for what might have been "if".
I did what everyone else would have done and googled pictures, videos, health conditions, stories of premature babies. What I learnt was not pretty and my heart sank every time I looked at these tiny babies lying alone in their incubators, after all those months spent in the womb. Were there no other solutions for babies that could replicate the mother's womb? What about the soothing heartbeat and bloodstream, the familiar voices, the everyday sounds?
Week after week, one weekly check up after the other, time went by and we hit week 37.
Then week 39.
During my last appointment at week 39 and 4 days we discussed induction again. I guess my baby (and my body!) did not like the idea as 10 minutes later while walking back to the parking lot I found my legs were not really responding well anymore. And then I could not walk. I was in labour.
My baby was born full term that night at 4am (why both my kids decided to arrive in the middle of the night I will never figure out!), perfectly healthy.
During those stressful months I had done all the possible digging around for information and research about latest technologies replicating life in utero for premature babies. But nothing really showed on my radar.
So I was only delighted when last week, at the annual Brainforum conference in Lausanne, I saw companies working on these technologies.
The Sonic Womb, even for grown-ups who need 10 powerful minutes to recharge batteries, is an amazing, louder than expected, experience. Professor Julian Henriques and his team have developed the womb to enable medical staff to study auditory stress for premature babies.
What is it like inside? The Orrb, this the name of the round pod, comprises of a sound system that replicates the womb`s soundscape, allowing listeners to experience a mother`s heartbeat and other sounds, voices and vibrations from the outside world.
“What the listener hears inside the Orrb are the sounds as they are filtered by the mother’s body,” explained Julian Henriques, a sound artist and topology researcher at Goldsmiths department of media and communications. "The researchers recorded the heartbeat sounds, including a lullaby sung by a mother and transmitted to the sonic pod as if it were travelling along her spinal column".
According to Eric Jauniaux, a foetal medicine specialist at the Institute of Women’s Health at UCL, premature babies within incubators at hospitals are exposed to high frequency sounds that they would normally be protected from within the womb.
“These noises are known to make a premature baby more resistant to treatment. For example, if the baby gets stressed in an incubator he will require more oxygen, and his heart rate will increase. You don’t want to add any stress to a premature baby,” said Jauniaux.
Read the full interview by Vice here.
Rumour has it that some tech companies are starting to look into these pods to re-energise their employees. Certainly a nice-to-have for the future workforce, that might enable further research and funding into sonic wombs for hospitals and neonatal intensive care units.
Once again, a big thumbs up for medical research.