Rachel shared her story with us in January 2016, highlighting the challenges parents face when they have older children at home and a baby on the neonatal unit. The guilt and worry she felt at that time really struck a chord with our readers. Read Rachel’s story:
My youngest little boy was born at 30 weeks.
The pregnancy was a struggle. At around seven weeks I experienced some bleeding but my blood tests came back normal, and the early scan found that my little bean had a strong heartbeat. Throughout the pregnancy I struggled with painful headaches and sickness and at around 15 weeks I started to experience frequent Braxton Hicks (tightening of the uterus muscles). At first I was having them once a week, but eventually I was having them every day.
One day, when I was 29 weeks pregnant I started to experience it every five minutes. I called the day assessment unit in the morning and was told to call back in the afternoon if nothing had changed. I called back later that day and was advised to come straight up to the unit. I called my mum and sister as I needed help with my two other children.
Once at the unit, I was examined and hooked up to monitors. It showed I was definitely experiencing contractions. I was admitted, to try and stop them and for three days I was given medicine and steroid injections as a precaution. Eventually I was due to be discharged and go home but the contractions suddenly picked up. My sister was with me so I begged her to get the midwife, as something wasn't right.
After a quick examination I was told I was 2cm dilated and in labour. I was taken round to the labour room. I started to get scared - there was no going back. I was told the baby was coming and given the choice of a natural birth or caesarean, but strongly recommended a caesarean as the baby was footling breech.
Everything happened very quickly after that. Forms were signed and my body was prepped.
Soon I was laid out on the table in a room full of people. At this point the focus was very much on my baby's safety and life. My mum sat by me, holding my hand the whole time.
My baby was born, a 3lb 10oz baby boy. Quiet at first, then a cry. I wanted to see him, but he was being stabilised by the team. I was shown my tiny new son very briefly before he was taken away. A little squishy face swaddled in a blanket.
I remember asking loads of questions and looking back I must have been in shock. I felt suddenly very tired at one point. It wasn't until later I was told that I had bled a lot, but they managed to get it under control and avoided a transfusion.
The recovery ward was a painful experience. I was in a room with two other women who had their babies with them. All night I endured the cries and other newborn noises of the babies. I cried and hurt, physically and mentally. I wished I could have got up and left, but I had no control of my body from the waist down.
The midwife was amazing. She got me two pictures of my new son. I studied his face and was desperate to see him.
Eventually, I got to see my baby boy. I tried to get up and into a wheelchair, but the pain was excruciating and I felt so weak. It was decided that they would roll me down in my bed. That journey was scary. I didn't know what to expect.
When we got there, I could see that the staff had gone to a lot of effort moving things to fit my bed in. I was rolled into the intensive care unit, and there he was. A tiny little body, belly down, a hat on his head, big tube to his face, a purple blanket neatly laid over his body. He was in an enclosed incubator with a load of tubes and machines beeping around him.
I'd never seen such a tiny baby. When I held his tiny hand I felt a rush of love and duty to my new son, Jacob.
I stayed in hospital for four days after the birth. Leaving Jacob in hospital was painful. He had to stay for a further nine weeks. Jacob went through a lot in that time. At one point he had to be transferred to another hospital for a procedure. His veins were so tiny that they struggled getting a long line in to feed him.
Jacob improved and did really well after that. He started bottle feeding and showed promise of possibly coming home, but then he suddenly changed - he became poorly and nobody was sure what was going on. He was exhausted. I didn't know the true meaning of the word until I witnessed my son using every ounce of his energy just to breathe.
Jacob had a blood transfusion and an ECG (a scan to assess heart functioning), and then had to be taken to another hospital for a heart scan. It was found he was suffering a form of reflux and was battling chronic lung disease.
The whole time Jacob was in hospital, I battled hard for his life, for my other children, for my family, but also against myself. I have never experienced anything like prematurity. Every day I had to fight myself to share my time between all three of my children, and battled overwhelming guilt every day.
Being away from Jacob hurt, so much, but I had to be sensitive to what my other children were experiencing too, and worked hard to help them through this difficult time with the amazing support of my family.
On the days I wasn't able to get in to see Jacob, or get in until late, my Mum would be at his bedside. My sister also helped enormously with my other two children, minding them to give me one on one time with Jacob. She would drop them into the ward and quickly visit her little nephew.
The restriction on visitors was hard and I can't imagine how difficult the experience was for my family. Regardless of the challenges, Jacob has a truly special bond with his grandmother and Auntie. I am so grateful for everything they did for us, the physical and emotional support. It was above and beyond.
The day I was told Jacob would be going home felt amazing. I was put on the paediatric first aid course and talked through his medication and feeds. Before he could come home he had to pass his car seat test and be machine free, both of which he did with flying colours.
The next day I came in, everything in hand, ready to take my bundle of joy home.
The experience was so surreal. I got him all dressed and settled in his seat and that was it. Ready to go. A couple of days short of his original due date, Jacob came home.
He slept well and fed well, a perfect little bundle. I didn't sleep much as I was fretting about him. There was no machine to confirm if his oxygen levels were ok, nothing to alert me if he wasn't getting enough oxygen, or if his heart rate was ok.
I learnt to simply read him and pick up on any changes he signalled. Jacob was admitted back to hospital a short while after his original discharge as he had bronchiolitis, but apart from that, his health has been good.
He’s gone from strength to strength and you'd never know he was premature. He is such a happy energetic little boy, he's always smiling and always on an adventure. Our bond and relationship is amazing. He is such an amazing little boy and is my little superhero. His bond with his siblings is beautiful.
I still feel the guilt and responsibility for his early arrival, but I have learnt that it was beyond my control and that he is healthy and alive.
A year and a half on, I have started a voluntary project, providing free packs of essentials for parents of premature babies at the hospital Jacob was in. I want to give something back and try to offer some sort of support for parents.
Rachel had to wait nine weeks before she could bring Jacob home to join her family. All over the UK, families will be facing the same challenge over the Christmas period this year. For a family with a baby in hospital, the best gift for them is being with their baby.
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