A boy playing on a slide
13 Aug

Not so close to home

Today, I’ll be making my final climb up Kilimanjaro and as you know, the reason that myself and the rest of the team are making this trek is to raise support for a cause very close to my heart, Borne. One of the focuses of Borne’s research is saving premature babies, and one of my dearest friends has shared her story about her very scary experience.

We recently had the pleasure of sharing a family holiday with them and their two wonderful sons, so I can say that this story does have a happy ending.

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When you have a baby you are full of emotions from week 1 to week 39  good and bad; it is joyous, exhilarating, amazing, overwhelming, life changing, painful, incredible, awe inspiring, exhausting, but all that is forgotten when you hold the little one in your arms. We experienced all this the first time round with E, his was an easy pregnancy and a perfect birth. So when we were pregnant with number 2 we assumed it would be the same. It wasn’t and only by going through the trauma of a very premature birth and being in neonatal units and talking to other parents do you realise the astonishing number of babies that are born early or with complications.

Our story is like so many; while away on our annual friends get together in the Lake District, Muncaster Castle, I went into “spontaneous labour” as they call it. No one has ever been able to tell us why this happened.

My first thought when my waters broke at 5.35am was I’m losing my baby. I was 28 weeks pregnant, my brain kept saying it’s too early, it’s too early. Somehow my husband and my closet friend, Saffron, managed to hold it together, pack our belongings and our 14 month old into the car, so we could drive to the nearest hospital.

Whitehaven Maternity unit was empty that morning, we were the only family in residence. The midwife and doctor were calm and supportive but they were honest as well as reassuring and after a pep talk and steroid injection they needed to get us to the nearest neonatal unit that could cope with a baby born at 28 weeks. My waters breaking did not mean I was in labour or that the baby would be born, I could be on bed rest for weeks or baby could arrive at any moment, it was safer to be in a hospital that could cope.

After a bumpy and anxious drive across the Pennines in an ambulance we arrived at Stockton-on-Tees. A city famous for one of the highest teenage birth rates and low birth weight babies, as well as the first passenger railway in the world. It was here that O arrived at 12.35am.

When labour begins it’s very difficult to keep a baby inside.  While taking drugs to stop labour, breathing gas and air, counting contractions and entertaining a lively 14 month old I tried to focus on the doctor explaining what it means to have a baby at 28 weeks and 2 days. He was kind but honest in explaining the realities of babies born at 28 weeks; survival rates are 80% with only a 60% chance of no long term issues. You realise then that every day they can keep a baby inside his mummy improves their percentage point survival rate.

I should mention that as we were away for the weekend we had no support with E, we were 400 miles from home, with no family or friends to assist. Having our little one with us at this time probably made things easier for us as we had something else to focus on rather than our own situation. So we made do, we had a travel cot, a monitor and they had an empty delivery room.

O arrived to a room full of doctors, nurses and midwives, with daddy holding a baby monitor in one hand. Daddy got to cut the cord but I didn’t get to see or hold my baby, he was rushed away I didn’t even hear his cry. Our initial reaction to the whole event though was the same as the first time those overwhelming emotions of love and happiness, however soon it was tainted for me by the sadness of not being with my child, not holding him, not feeding him just not being with him.

It was over four hours before I got to see O. He was so tiny and frail, the colour of raw meat, covered in tubes and I still couldn’t hold or feed him. We were lucky O was a survivor and born very strong. He was 1.38 KG at birth, although he was severely jaundiced and lost a lot of weight which he struggled to regain; he had no other major complications.

Eventually I could hold O for 2 hours a day – Kangaroo care. After 24 hours he was breathing unassisted, after 2 days he was out of intensive care, after 8 days they removed his long line (an intravenous line from his arm straight to his heart).  After 9 days we were able to transport him to St Georges in Tooting.  After 10 days he was out of High Dependency Care and was in Special Care; just doing the developing and growing he should have been doing in the womb. After 23 days he was out of an incubator, gaining weight and learning to control his body temperature. After 36 days he was ready to try breast feeding, and then day 38 we were rooming in ready to go home. 41 days later we were home, but the care didn’t stop there, we were visited every day for 2 weeks by neonatal nurses, then weekly with additional visits to the consultants regularly.

Now O is a happy, healthy 3 year old (still a little petite but catching up all the time). All of this was made possible by the incredible NHS staff, the midwives, doctors, neonatal nurses, consultants – we made friends with some many different people who tirelessly dedicate their lives to supporting families and babies born prematurely or with complications across all spectrums. They went above and beyond on so many occasions. It costs an astonishing amount of money to support babies in neonatal units and even more to continue the research and studies required to provide even more support.  Without these efforts over the years I doubt we would have had the care that we did. We believe in paying it forward and agreed to participate in 3 studies including a long term study into the effects of very premature births on long term development. We believe that this work is essential for future babies and other families that may one day experience what we did.

Thank you to all the amazing staff at Whitehaven Maternity Unit, University Hospital North Tees Neonatal unit and St Georges Neonatal unit.

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Please consider making a donation to Borne through my Just Giving Page, so that they can continue with their amazing research to help save babies like O. And remember to enter my competition to win a £2500 by donating £20 and answering the question: With which famous rugby player am I climbing Kilimanjaro?

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