A 25 weeker at 24 – Samantha’s story

Samantha tells the story of her birth and neonatal journey in 1996 and how well she is doing now she is in her early 20s.

Things were going as expected with my mum's pregnancy – she was 25 weeks pregnant and she and my dad were getting excited about their new arrival.

Then, my mum had to get the doctor out to treat her for a water infection. She was told that it was quite normal so she didn't need to worry. Three days later, when Dad came home from work, he found Mum in pain and he knew something wasn't right. When Mum called the hospital to describe her symptoms, they asked her to go in straightaway.

About an hour after they arrived on the maternity unit, a senior consultant came in, sat on the bed and held mum's hand. My parents feared the worst.

"I have some news that will come as a shock", she said. "Maria, you are actually in labour and will probably give birth tonight. Unfortunately, you are only around 25 weeks term, so if your baby survives the birth, it still won't be able to breathe for itself. I’m really sorry but we don’t think your baby will survive."

Mum and Dad were in a daze; they couldn't comprehend what was happening. "How could this be the end?" they thought.

An hour later, Mum was given an injection of steroids which would help my lungs develop so that a machine would then be able to breathe for me. The doctors almost decided against giving her that treatment because, to be effective, the steroids would need to be in my mum's system for at least 48 hours and they didn't think they would be able to delay labour that long. But my dad begged them to at least try, and thankfully they did.

I was born 53 hours later at just before 1am, weighing just 1lb 13oz (while in hospital, I lost weight and for a while was just 1lb 13 oz). I was immediately taken to the NICU and an hour later, my dad was allowed to visit so that he could prepare my mum for seeing such a small baby covered in wires.

Another hour after that, my mum and dad were brought to the unit to see me together. Mum was still shocked to see me despite my dad having given her a sense of what to expect. I was the size of a small hand, with see-through skin and very frail. They held each other and cried. "Will she be alright?" my mum asked the nurse. "Your daughter is very poorly; we need to take each hour and day at a time" was the reply. They were told that I would probably be in hospital for four months.

That time was a roller-coaster for all of us. I stopped breathing several times and had to be 'bagged' (which is where air is pumped into a baby's lungs using oxygen and a rubber bag). I went from the HDU (High Dependency Unit) to the LDU (Low Dependency Unit) and back again. Of the four premature babies in the unit, three sadly passed away and it looked like I might not make it either as I got septicaemia and was very ill. It was touch and go, but the doctors and nurses said I was a fighter so I managed to pull through.

My parents kept having to visit 'the bad news room' as they called it. One time it was because they suspected I had Cystic Fibrosis. Another time, it was because they had run out of veins to put needles in so they were going to have to put one in my head. Mum and Dad found that very distressing to watch. For a long time, it felt like one step forward and two steps back.

I then had an operation to fit a Broviac line to my chest to try to get nutrients into me so I could gain weight and come home. It worked! On the 17th of October 1996, after four months of being in the neonatal unit, my parents took me home, weighing a 'massive' 4lb 6oz. All the hard work of the doctors and nurses, not just in treating me but also in supporting my parents through the darker days and celebrating the good ones with them, had paid off!

Now, I am 24, and part of a large, loving family, with a fantastic boyfriend who calls me his 'miracle girl'!

Growing up, I have had a few issues to deal with and I have a few battle scars which tell the story of all the needles I had inserted into me and of my septicaemia. Those, together with the dark blue veins along my arm, have affected my self-confidence, but everything else has turned out much better than the doctors expected.

For example, I have a lazy eye but it has improved so much over time that it's barely noticeable now. I used to have check-ups for my hearing when I was younger, as the doctors were worried that being born premature may have affected my hearing, but in fact it hasn't at all!

The only other issue I had growing up was with learning certain things, especially subjects involving numbers. I still struggle with maths but I’m so happy that, even though I faced some challenges at school, I still sat my GCSEs, went to college and have worked for some great companies.

No matter what 'imperfections' I may have or issues I had growing up, I accept these as a part of who I am and I am proud of myself for all that I have achieved and been through. Advances in medicine since I was in neonatal care have massively improved survival rates but it still isn't easy for any parent to be on the unit.

I hope my story encourages parents with babies in neonatal units now that as their children grow up, they won’t be held back by their time in hospital. Having fought their way through neonatal care, they'll be able to handle anything.