My pregnancy was difficult right from the start. I'd been having irregular bleeding, something which worried me because when I was 23 I'd had repeated treatments for CIN 3 (abnormal cells in the cervix, which left untreated could cause cervical cancer). A year on, I worried the abnormal cells had come back again.
When I discovered I was pregnant, I was over the moon. My joy was short lived however, as the fact that I was bleeding worried me. I went to the GP and was referred to the early pregnancy unit for a scan, expecting the worst, but instead saw a tiny little heartbeat fluttering on the screen. The bleeding settled down and I thought maybe I could begin to relax and enjoy being pregnant. But then at 13 weeks I bled so heavily that I thought that I was miscarrying.
My GP referred me back to the hospital, and I was told I had a lump and would need a colposcopy urgently. So 16 weeks into my pregnancy I had this intrusive procedure, but luckily my results came back normal. There was still no explanation as to why I was bleeding, although it meant there was an increased chance of miscarriage or premature labour, but no definite diagnosis.
I continued to have light bleeding over the next few weeks and all I could do was wait. At 18 and 26 weeks I had massive bleeds requiring me to be admitted into hospital for observation. Each time I felt like this was the end and I was losing my baby, but somehow each time he seemed to be quite happy, so I'd be discharged once the bleeding had settled down.
At my routine 28 week appointment, I told the midwife about the bleeding and she referred me immediately back to hospital for a scan. I'll always be grateful for her swift action. The scan showed that delivery was imminent. I had a steroid injection to develop my baby’s lungs and was told to go home and rest. We held on to the hope that I wouldn't go into labour, but later that night I awoke to my waters popping.
I spent the weekend in hospital but nothing happened, so I was discharged on the Sunday with thermometers to check my own temperature for signs of infection. I was worried but knew that the longer the baby stayed in, the better. He stayed put for four more days and then the contractions started.
They went on through the night and then it all began to sink in. The baby really was coming this time, at just 29 weeks and one day.
It got to Wednesday afternoon and I told the midwife I was in a lot of pain and that I was bleeding heavily with every contraction. She couldn't offer me the support I needed and my husband could see the worry in my face, so went to find a different midwife. She took one look at me and knew I was about to deliver, so I was transferred immediately to a delivery room.
The rest of the ward fell silent as the midwives began to rush about. I barely even had a bump now that I had lost all the amniotic fluid. The other expectant mums to be on the ward tried not to look or stare at me, but I felt their pity. Once upstairs in the delivery suite I actually felt relieved. I was examined and now 9cm dilated but there was no excitement, just worry.
Up until this point my baby had seemed quite happy but things began to change quickly. With every contraction his heart rate dropped dramatically and took longer to get back up. I'll never forget the sound of that heartbeat slowing, as every beat got further and further apart.
The consultant told me if the baby didn’t arrive soon we’d have to go to theatre. I pushed with everything I had. It still makes me angry when people make comments about me having a 2lb baby, that I must have just sneezed and he popped out , that I was 'lucky' not to go full term, or that I avoided a real birth.
Amazingly, our baby was born in the caul (amniotic membrane) and the consultant briefly placed him on my stomach. In all the chaos and worry it was such a special moment. He cut it open and our perfect, beautiful little boy was here.
Lochlan had arrived at 29 weeks on 24 March 2010 at 9.58pm, weighing 2lb 10oz. He was quickly taken by the paediatric team and there was silence whilst they worked on keeping him alive. I asked if he was ok, as I hadn't heard a sound. They told me they had stabilised him and were now taking him to the NICU. They briefly showed him to me as they passed. I lay for a moment feeling numb and in shock.
When I delivered my placenta, it was small and pale. It was sent away and examined because of the condition it was in. I later learned that I’d had a retro placental haemorrhage and the blood clot behind my placenta had grown so big it eventually caused it to abrupt. Both my baby and I had been very lucky.
I still occasionally get angry, as I felt nobody really listened to me during my labour. I sometimes reflect back on my own actions and inactions and know now that I should have spoken up and not worried about making a fuss. I wish I'd been a better advocate for my baby and myself.
I was lucky to have had those last four days to get my head round the fact that we were going to have a premature baby. Maybe I should have been more prepared throughout my whole pregnancy but nothing prepares you for seeing your precious baby in that situation. It's heartbreaking - you feel helpless and everything feels precarious, like there's a very fine line between your baby surviving or not.
Our baby couldn't be held or touched at this point. We just watched him and spoke softly to him to let him know we were there, willing him to survive. I studied his beautiful little body and it looked perfect to me, but the fragility of it scared me. I began to take everything in, the wires and tubes that covered him and connected him to machines, monitors, and fluids that were keeping him alive. These machines would beep and alarm constantly, and I would worry and wait for it to stop or a nurse to come and reassure me that everything was ok. The sounds will haunt me forever.
I wished I could take his place and fight this fight for him.
At first we were so scared to help with his cares. All we could do was stand by and watch as the nurses changed his first tiny nappies and wiped his beautiful face. I felt like I would never be able to do it, as I might hurt him.
A lovely nurse spent time with me and my husband and really encouraged us to have a go at his care, and it was so important to have that time and encouragement. We did it together the first couple of times. The more we did it the more confident we became, and we began to feel like his parents and not just observers.
After a few days they decided to see how he'd do without the CPAP and to their amazement he did so well breathing on his own, they removed it.
We watched in awe as he got stronger. We felt so lucky and were on such a high that he was doing so well for a 29 weeker. So to arrive one morning and be taken to a side room with a consultant and be told that our baby had had a bleed on his brain, and they couldn't be sure how serious or what effect it would have right now, was like a punch in the stomach. They were also concerned that he had suspected sepsis.
I felt like the floor was giving way beneath me.
Thankfully a head scan showed no lasting or further damage and he continued to get stronger. After a while we could hold him and begin to have precious skin to skin time. He began to tolerate more of my milk, required less medication and began to gain weight.
Finally, eight weeks later, after some first aid training and armed with lots of helpful information from Bliss, we were able to go home. I’ve kept the Bliss booklets to this day and they came in handy when our second son was born at 36 weeks.
The worry didn't end on the day we left. We remained under the care of the paediatricians, physiotherapists, dieticians, optometrists, dermatologists and ENT (ears, nose and throat) specialists for the next three years.
Luckily I now have a happy, healthy, intelligent five year old, who is doing really well in his first year at school. For the most part, the whole experience feels like a lifetime ago, but some days it feels like yesterday. He recently had to take his first baby picture to school for a project, and so I explained to him a bit more about his early arrival. His first picture is quite different to most newborn baby photos. "Yeah I know, I'm the smallest in my class because I was early" he said quite proudly, shoving the picture in his book bag. He wasn’t fazed at all and I wouldn't want it any other way.
If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this post, please call the Bliss helpline for support. If you would like to share your story with Bliss, please firstname.lastname@example.org.