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Baby Raffy Was Born at 24 Weeks, His Mama’s Music Helped Them Through

Writing by Alana Wilkinson

‘Okay Alana, you’ve gone into early labour at 24 weeks so we’re emergency transferring you to a hospital in Brisbane where you will stay until your baby’s due date – regardless of when they’re born’ 

It was October and I was 6 months pregnant with a baby due in Feb. We’d just moved to the Northern Rivers and found the perfect cabin to move into for our home birth, when a midwife at Lismore hospital delivered me the most unexpected information I’d ever received.

A few days after that ambulance transfer, my son Rafferty Thomas arrived weighing in at 704 grams – a little bigger than a tub of butter. He was tiny, but all things considered he was doing pretty well, and so began our 92 day NICU journey from behind locked Covid borders.

In the huffle-puff kerfuffling of interstate emergency transfers  we had no clothes or belongings for a 3 month stay, but as a songwriter in the middle of some giant feelings the thing I really needed was a musical instrument. My dear gal pal Brisbane songwriter Asha Jefferies dropped an old ukulele off at the hospital and that day I started writing Dream Big with a very tiny Rafferty on my chest.

I sat in a big arm chair by the window, all day every day, singing to Raffy about all of the things we would do when he finally got big and well enough to come home. And truthfully there were some terrifying moments that felt like we might not have that future together – 24 weeks is a very early and complicated arrival time – but holding onto the visions in this song really helped me stay connected to him and the life we had waiting for us just beyond that hospital window.

‘One day when you’re older, I know you will tower over, measuring me up to your shoulders, but for now I’ll just hold you while you rest your body on my chest. Dream Big my love’


Writing Dream Big helped me understand my tether to Raff when we had to leave him in the hospital every night. I knew that there was mama-baby communication in breastfeeding and in skin-to-skin but didn’t know that there was mama-baby magic when it came to spending time apart. I experienced an intense physical, primal ache in my body that was constantly trying to pull me back to the hospital to find him.

‘We have a magic string that ties us, no matter how far we find ourselves away I’d still feel you in outer space’ 

This magic string was more like an elastic band though, always pulling at me. It was an excruciating and amazing part of the NICU experience as I learned so much about being a human and the way our bodies are designed to love and protect little people. What an honour to be able to love so much.

After a therapy session one day with our amazing medicine woman, I started to write songs about all of the things that Raff needed to do to get big and strong enough to come home. We ended up with songs about sending oxygen around the body, doing great poo’s and raising haemoglobin levels to avoid another blood transfusion. We’ve got a song about almost every bodily function now and singing these fun little songs with Raff on my chest helped me to find a sense of empowerment. Like I was his cheer squad, we were in it together and if he could feel how much we were on his team, maybe it would be enough to help him pull through.

‘Gotta get that haemoglobin risin’ up, my baby! Haemoglobin risin’ up!’

We shared a nursery with many other babies and parents and what I didn’t expect was how much other parents would listen and appreciate the ukulele love songs drifting into their preemie baby snuggles. Parents stopped me in the halls with tears to tell me how hearing the love in the music helped them connect with their baby while trying to cope with the trauma of their birth and/or NICU experience. It made me cry every time I had this conversation because without the healing powers of music I don’t know how I would have survived the heaviness of it all myself. It blew me away that my survival tactic of playing some tunes on an old uke was rippling out enough love for others to feel a little lighter too.

After I wrote Dream Big, I posted a little video of this song online and before I knew it, Mamas in NICU’s across Australia were playing this song during their own tiny baby cuddle time and seeing it resonate so deeply had me in tears too. I felt so emotionally tied to the other parents – we truly understood how the other felt, could speak the same language about our babies’ conditions and it was music that had connected us all.

In such a challenging and terrifying time, we NICU parents formed a real bond; cheering each other on, celebrating each baby’s wins and feeling complete and utter heartbreak when things didn’t go to plan. Some babies grew their angel wings and never made it to the life we were all dreaming big about – another part of the journey no one could prepare any of us for, let alone the parents.

We are all still in touch, celebrating birthdays or anniversaries or siblings on the way and I am so grateful for that. Raffy’s first sense of family was feeling the love and community that overflowed from the other families and his angel nurses/ doctors in the NICU.

Now, Raffy is almost 2 years ‘corrected’. He came off 12 months of home oxygen at the start of 2023 and has been un-freakin’-stoppable ever since losing the tank and tubes. He’s on tour with us, climbing trees, chasing our puppy Rosie, drawing pictures, playing all the instruments and singing his own songs at the top of his lungs.

He’s an absolute firecracker and it is an honour to be guided through life’s bigness by him.

And now I get to sing Dream Big and The Haemoglobin Song to audiences across the country – sharing our story, music and love as far and wide as I possibly can in the future that we always dreamed of.

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