Nothing could prepare me for having my baby in May – 12 weeks earlier than my August due date.
Nothing could prepare me for becoming a “NICU mum”.
We hadn’t bought a single thing – not even a baby grow. His room was empty and undecorated. After such a difficult pregnancy so far – blaming myself that our baby was going to be born with a heart defect and failing to understand “why us” – I hadn’t had chance to get excited about his arrival. In fact, I couldn’t let myself get excited because I was so terrified. Due to the our baby’s heart problem, we were labelled a “high risk” pregnancy so we had a lot more appointments and scans than normal. A question I regularly asked various health professionals was “Is there a chance I could have a premature baby? Is there a likelihood that our baby won’t go full term?” And every time, I was greeted with the same answer “No, there’s no reason for you not to go full term. Your baby seems comfortable, is growing well, and we have no intention of inducing you early”. I’d even had a growth scan 3 days before which said exactly the same thing.
I had absolutely no idea that I would give birth that day.
Earlier in the morning, while working through my daily to do list, I noticed a little bit of blood when I popped to the loo. My heart started pounding and I felt desperately sick. What the hell do I do?
After typing in the number and deleting it about 8 times, I finally decided I’d call the midwife. That’s what they’re there for – any worries you have about the baby or yourself, they’re at the end of the phone.
“Are you still bleeding now?” she said.
“Are you in any pain?”
“Have you felt the baby move today?”
I felt so stupid, like a massive time-waster. Here’s me, a first time Mum who is completely clueless and panicking for no reason, wasting the time of this woman who’s supposed to be helping ladies that actually need it. She told me I could call back if I was worried later but to wait at least an hour…and she reassured me all was well.
So I tried to turn my mind back to my work and keep busy. But I couldn’t focus at all. Awful thoughts started going through my head ~ Had the baby actually moved that much today? Maybe he wasn’t as active as normal? Could I now feel a dull ache at the base of my tummy – a sharp twinge every so often?
I text Liam and he rang me straight back. I told him what had happened but at the same time, I tried to be positive (mainly for my own sake, trying to convince myself)…
“I’m sure it’s fine”, I said, “the midwife didn’t seem bothered”.
An hour passed – I was definitely now in a lot of discomfort. I was feeling sharp twinges and I was beyond terrified. So I called her back.
“How often are you feeling these pains?”
“Erm, maybe every 15-20 minutes? Some are more noticeable than others…”
“Have you taken any paracetamol?”
I lied to her. A big fat lie. I hadn’t taken any paracetamol, I hadn’t even considered taking a paracetamol. But I didn’t want to be fobbed off. I knew something was wrong and I wanted her to say that I could go in to be checked. I’m usually the kind of person that worries about what people think and hate being a nuisance. But for the first time in my life I desperately wanted to be a nuisance and couldn’t care less about anything else.
She definitely thought I was being melodramatic but reluctantly, said I come into to the triage unit to be checked. So I got in the car with my phone and purse and drove the 10 minute journey to the hospital. The pains were getting much more noticeable but in the back of my mind, I think I assumed that they were probably attributed to worry more than anything.
I arrived at the hospital at 1pm and yet again, explained what had happened and how I was feeling. A midwife found me a bed in the triage unit.
Each time I went over what had happened, the more petrified I felt. This couldn’t possibly be labour, I was 28 weeks pregnant. I thought back to the Friends episode where Rachel goes in to hospital with Braxton Hicks contractions. “Mild discomfort?! No uterus, no opinion”. That’s bound to be what the doctors say, surely?
Another midwife came and introduced herself to me about 15 minutes later. She took my blood pressure and got me to pee in a specimen bottle. She then popped this strap around my tummy which she told me was going to start monitoring the baby’s heartbeat and detect any contractions.
My blood pressure was fine. Baby’s heart rate was fine. No contractions were detected.
I was still getting these pains but they weren’t contractions. I have no idea what the hell they were, but the midwife reassured me that both me and the baby were fine so offered me a paracetamol. A doctor then appeared out of nowhere and asked if he could examine me. He told me my cervix was “long” (which is a good thing, apparently) and that I was definitely not in labour. Our baby was still very comfortable in my tummy and I was clearly a drama queen.
Alongside feeling relieved to hear this news, I also felt really stupid and completely exhausted. It had been one hell of a day. By now, it was 3pm and Liam had arrived at the hospital from work. The midwife suggested we go for a wander around the hospital and to pop back in an hour or so to see if I was feeling more comfortable.
We tottered down to Costa while we went over what had happened, trying to get it straight in our heads. As I walked, the pain got more intense. I couldn’t stand in the queue at Costa because I was so uncomfortable. And I couldn’t sit because the twinges shot straight through me and made me stand back up. Why the hell did I feel like this?!
We ventured back to the triage unit a little while later and because I was still so uncomfortable, they said they would like to keep me in overnight – just for observation. I didn’t want to stay in. I hate hospitals and I was so tired I just wanted my own bed, but obviously I wanted to know our baby was ok and this seemed like the safest option.
Time was really dragging. I was so uncomfortable. Laying on the bed was not helping, the pains were getting worse and I was getting more and more hysterical by the minute.
Eventually it was 7:30pm and Coronation Street had started. This would be the game changer. I live and breathe soaps so I was sure this would be the welcome distraction and take all of the pain away. It didn’t (surprisingly).
I managed to get through the half hour episode but by now was in tears with pain. I got up and went to the midwife’s nursing station outside the room we were in and asked if I could get some paracetamol (the magic drug of the day).
She came back with 2 tablets in a little plastic cup and plugged me back into the same monitor I’d been on earlier that day. I think this is when she realised just how uncomfortable I was. The pains were every 5-10 minutes and I was in agony.
A doctor turned up a few minutes later. After looking at some notes on a clipboard and whispering with the midwife, he then turned to me and Liam and said “we want to move you to another hospital. I’m going to make some phone calls to find out which maternity units have a bed”. Due to the complexity of our baby – ie with the known heart condition – they felt that we would be better placed in a Level 3 Hospital rather than our local which was a Level 2.
Where the hell were they going to send me?!
I was beside myself. The paracetamol was definitely not cutting it. Eastenders was now on and it was bloody awful – I couldn’t face the stupid programme (and, incidentally, we’ve not watched an episode since). I tried to take deep breaths and stay calm but I just couldn’t.
Clearly, despite being assured I definitely wasn’t in labour 5 hours ago, I was now being moved to another hospital because this baby had other ideas. These pains were contractions and I didn’t know how to deal with them. We were due to go to our first antenatal classes in 2 weeks time. I was clueless. And all I could say was “this baby cannot be born now. He will die if he comes now.”
The doctor reappeared and asked to examine me.
“We’re going to move you now”, he said.
“Which hospital are we going to?” I asked.
“You’re staying here, we’re moving you to the delivery suite. There isn’t time to go anywhere else. You’re 8cm dilated.”
9pm and we were now in the said delivery suite. Gas and air was on offer (no more paracetamol) which I gratefully accepted. I’m not really sure how effective it was for the pain…it just made me super thirsty so I kept asking for a drink of water, in between crying “I can’t do this” and “he can’t be born yet”.
The next couple of hours were a bit of a blur. There were constantly people around me – midwives, nurses, the doctor from earlier. A 28 weeker with a complex heart condition was not a situation our hospital was ready for.
I was getting distressed. Our baby was getting distressed. But I suddenly had the urge and told the midwife that I needed to push.
At 00:13 on the 27th May 2017, Noah was born, breech. I waited to hear his cry but there was nothing. I was convinced he had died.
He had been whisked across to the other side of the room and laid on a little table with a crowd of people around him before I could even see his tiny face.
“Is he going to be ok? What’s happening?”
After what felt like an eternity, the midwife said “Can you hear that? He’s crying”. Our tiny little boy had been resuscitated and was now breathing and crying the quietest cry. They weighed his fragile body as 1.116kg – 2lb 7oz – and then in a matter of seconds, rushed him down the corridor to NICU.
Everyone pretty much left the room then – it was just me, Liam and a midwife. It felt so surreal – I’d just had a baby but I hadn’t seen him. I hadn’t held him. I didn’t know what he looked like. And now he had disappeared and I wasn’t allowed to meet him.
Eventually, at 4am, we were told that Noah was stable and we could go and visit him in his new home – a clear plastic incubator that was heated to keep him warm. There were tubes and lines tangled around his body – he had a breathing tube in his mouth, a feeding tube in his nose, a cannula in his hand and foot, heart pads stuck to his body and a SATs monitor around his wrist…his tiny body was so frail and the whole environment was just awful. Lights were flashing, monitors were beeping and we didn’t have a clue what any of it meant.
Nothing can prepare you for seeing your premature baby like this for the first time. I felt so helpless and yet again, so guilty that my body had let him down.
We sat with Noah for a couple of hours and then reluctantly left him to get some sleep. Walking away and leaving him on his own was the hardest thing to do. I desperately wanted to stay but the nurses explained that the doctors do their ’rounds’ in the morning so it was important we were awake and alert enough to ask questions and understand what would happen next.
No amount of sleep would prepare us for the conversation with the doctors once the night shift had finished.
Noah was going to be moved to a Level 3 hospital. It was his only chance of survival – he needed to be somewhere that had a cardiac unit on site, which our local hospital did not have, and our doctors didn’t feel they could offer Noah the care he required.
An ambulance was on its way to blue light Noah down to the A1 to London, to the Evelina Children’s Hospital at St Thomas’.
Both the ambulance drivers and the doctors explained to us that there was a strong possibility that Noah would not make the journey. He was in a critical condition, but this was his only hope.
Neither Liam or I were allowed to travel with Noah, so without a second thought, I’d discharged myself from hospital and we were on a Virgin East Coast train to Kings Cross.
It didn’t even cross my mind that this was a ludicrous thing to do just 14 hours after giving birth. My baby was going to London, 100 miles away from home, so that’s where we were going too.
Our train journey was horrific. Despite the ambulance team assuring us that they would call us if anything happened en route, we knew deep down that if the worst happened, they were not going to tell us over the phone.
We were reunited with Noah at 7pm in London. Thankfully, he did make the ambulance ride. Our little boy was a fighter and he was not going to give up. The “rollercoaster NICU journey” had begun.