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Our holiday turned into a struggle for survival

10 February 2016

Looking back on Little Bliss

Little Bliss magazine will celebrate its tenth anniversary in April. To mark a decade of our magazine for parents, we’ll be looking back over the next ten weeks at some of the most inspiring family stories and topics from our previous issues.

Issue 1, 2006: Our holiday turned into a struggle for survival

It can be enough of a shock going into premature labour when you’re at home – but what if you’re abroad and among strangers? Mark and Shelia Stewart tell their story.

When Mark and Shelia Stewart set off on a relaxing holiday to Majorca, the last thing they expected to bring home was their new baby. ‘Just before leaving the UK I’d had my 28 week scan and everything looked normal,’ recalls Sheila, 40, from London. ‘But five days after we arrived I went into labour.’

At a local hospital Sheila was given steroids to help mature the baby’s lungs, and medicines to try and stop her labour. But when there were signs of foetal distress the drug doses had to be reduced. ‘The doctors were unsure whether they could stop labour so I was transferred to the hospital in Palma,’ says Sheila.

At first, Sheila and Mark couldn’t believe what was happening. Mark, 38, says: ‘Having a premature baby has never entered our minds. These things happen to other people, not us. It sounds ridiculous, but I remember thinking: “Cross your legs Sheila, hold the baby in until we get home.”’

But nothing coloud hold Alexander back and, seven hours after the couple arrived in Palma, he was born at 29 weeks, weighing just over 3lb. ‘I remember seeing a tiny, skinny blue body being whisked away,’ says Sheila.

‘I heard him cry but we weren’t sure if our son would make it.’ An agonising four hours later, Mark was called to sign papers to allow treatment on their son. ‘It was a huge relief to know he was alive,’ he says. ‘Now all we could do was wait.’

It wasn’t until the next day that Mark and Sheila first saw their baby in the neonatal intensive care unit. Like many new parents in their situation, both Sheila and Mark felt detached from their baby for the first days of his life. ‘I subconsciously distanced myself from him,’ says Mark. ‘Rather than focus on Alexander, I’d focus on the machines keeping him alive. I felt totally helpless.’

Alexander’s condition dipped and climbed each day and, on his fifth day, a priest baptised him. Back in their hotel, Mark surfed the internet trying to get information. ‘I came across the Bliss website and we were comforted to see that many of the terrifying conditions he had were actually common among premature babies.’

Alexander struggled on and, when he was 12 days old, the couple held him for the first time – a magical moment. ‘He changed from an abstract little person into a part of the family,’ says Mark.

After three weeks, Alexander was stable enough to fly home in an air ambulance to St George’s Hospital in London. Finally he came home five days before his due date, weighing just under 2.27kg (5lb).

Read next Wednesday’s article focusing on how siblings cope when their new brother or sister is born needing neonatal care.

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