As a midwife you’d think I would know better when I experienced reduced movements at just over 28 weeks pregnant with my second child.
Apart from a troublesome back problem, my pregnancy had progressed well and I was planning on beginning my maternity leave in six weeks’ time; little did I know that it would start in around a week.
I worried about my lack of movements for around a week before I finally asked one of my colleagues to perform a CTG (cardiotocograph) to see if all was ok following an early shift at work. The CTG gave my colleagues cause for concern and I was given an urgent scan. It showed that my baby was extremely small, known as severe intra-uterine growth restriction, had minimal amniotic fluid around, and worryingly, the blood flow through the cord was reversed.
I was 29 weeks and four days pregnant.
The sonographer was concerned and recommended that I was scanned again within 12 hours, if I hadn’t delivered already.
I was sure the baby was going to die. I rang my husband and mum and dad in a state of shock, I couldn’t tell them anything and I was so scared.
I was given steroids and transferred to another hospital. After another detailed scan by the consultant, in which there were no movements from my baby, I was taken for an emergency caesarean section and my tiny baby girl was delivered. She weighed 810g and cried after being given some oxygen. She was transferred to the NICU and placed on CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) to help with her breathing.
When I saw her again after a couple of hours I couldn’t believe just how tiny she was, they estimated she was the weight of a 25 week gestation baby. I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t believe how amazingly lucky I was to have a baby who was alive. I spent the night on the postnatal ward thinking that she must be alright and holding her own, otherwise they would have rung from the NICU for me to go to her. That feeling of hopelessness and sadness at what at happened was awful and we were frightened to celebrate her birth just in case we lost her. Those feelings continued throughout most of our SCBU/NICU stay. During that night she came off CPAP and never needed any further airway support, she was a little fighter and very feisty - nothing has changed!
I got my first cuddle on Mother’s Day, it was amazing! The skin-to-skin was so calming for our newly named baby girl, Zara, and also fantastic for my milk supply. I wasn’t able to do much for Zara other than sit by the incubator and hope, but I could produce milk, and lots of it!
The day I was discharged without her was horrendous; I cried all the way home to my mum’s house where my little boy, Adam, was staying. I felt so guilty for leaving her and worried that with being 25 miles away I wouldn’t get back to her if something happened, but I also knew that Adam needed me at home.
While at home, I expressed my milk about five times a day and at least once at about 2.00am. I had my own little routine, sterilise the equipment and while that was in the microwave, make a cup of tea and telephone the NICU to make sure Zara was ok, then pump, store, wash and back to bed ready to visit the hospital the next day. I did this for eight weeks, every day and night until she was ready to come home.
There were obviously some very scary times while Zara was growing in her incubator. Her weight gain was slow, and at eight days old the doctors and nurses thought she had Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) (an illness affecting the intestine). That was particularly frightening as Zara would have had to have been transferred to another hospital, but luckily things resolved with antibiotics.
At two weeks and two days old she was down-graded to high dependency care. She was maintaining her temperature in the incubator and was wearing some extremely tiny clothes and breast fed for the first time. A couple of days later, at the beginning of April, we were transferred to our local SCBU, five minutes from home. Zara still weighed just 810g but was doing okay. It took a few days to adapt to the different level of care in a SCBU and the fact that my work colleagues were looking after her when I wasn’t there. We saw many families come and go a lot faster than us and some days it was frustrating.
The worst time of our stay on SCBU was when I was called to the hospital as Zara had become unwell. The staff thought she had developed an infection. I couldn’t believe that she had been so well earlier that day. She was alert, breastfeeding and happy being cuddled. When I arrived back at the hospital she was undressed once again, had drips and was quiet and sleepy. I discovered that she had needed some oxygen to recover from a bad apnoea attack and she was back on antibiotics. Test results showed her blood iron levels were so low that she needed a blood transfusion and this was given the next day.
When I left the hospital that day she was settled and seemed to have improved following the transfusion, but when I rang later I was told she’d had a further severe apnoea attack and it was now giving the staff cause for concern. It was a desperately worrying time; by far the worst of our time there and no-one could guarantee that she wouldn’t have apnoea attacks at home, when she eventually got there. Luckily Zara greatly improved following this, gained weight slowly but steadily and then made it into a cot. Home was mentioned - we couldn’t believe it, we had finally made it.
We ‘roomed in’ with Zara the night before home, but I didn’t sleep a wink. She fed every two hours and slept in between, but I watched her all night in case she had another apnoea attack. After chatting to another family in SCBU we bought a baby monitor with a sensor pad that detects if the baby stops breathing. It was definitely peace of mind after all our heartache and worry.
We finally left hospital on 10 May when Zara was eight weeks old, weighing 1800g. It was frightening, exciting and exhausting all at the same time. The first milestone was reached that night when Zara had her first cuddle with her big brother. We knew from the moment Zara was born that she was a little fighter and has continued to fight, be feisty and amaze us every day.
I can’t wait to hear what her teachers think about her when she starts school in September at four and a half.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this post, please call the Bliss helpline for support. If you would like to share your story with Bliss, please email email@example.com.