A 28 weeker in 1982 – Jade’s story

When Jade was born 3 months early 38 years ago, the doctors doubted if she would make it. Not only did she survive, but she has gone on to live a very full and successful life.

My mum only had a month to prepare for my arrival as she mistook the tiredness and nausea of pregnancy for glandular fever. Other than that, it was a fairly uneventful pregnancy. That is until she got diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, at which point, the doctor asked my dad whether he wanted them to save his wife or his child.

Fortunately, despite their initial concerns that it wouldn’t be possible for both my mum and I to make it, we proved them wrong and I was born at 28 weeks, weighing 980 grams.

When my mum came round from an emergency caesarean section, she didn’t have a baby in her arms because I was in an incubator. 38 years ago, 28 weeks was really only just viable. My dad said he could hold me in the palm of his hand and my mum said I weighed less than a bag of sugar. I can’t imagine how it must feel to untangle your baby from wires attached to monitors just to hold them.

My parents took a lot of photos of me because they were worried these would be the only photos they would have a chance to have. My brother, according to legend, used to stand guard by the sinks and refused to let anyone into the NICU if he hadn’t personally watched them thoroughly wash their hands. My aunt knitted me bonnets and oversized socks to keep me warm. Back then, there was no such thing as nappies for premature babies and the ordinary newborn nappies almost came up to my armpits.

My mum says that the doctors, nurses and sisters were hugely kind, and would hug her when it became too much to see her baby in an incubator having gone for another brain scan. Because it was the 1980s, they used to play disco music on the unit and apparently I had a particular affinity with Kool and the Gang – their music caused me to scuttle up the incubator (which I maintain was early dancing).

It took three months for my parents to take me home. Three months of calls at midnight because the doctors weren’t sure if I would survive the night, three months of my Mum having to express milk in the room by my incubator, three months of them having to come into a hospital to see me.

My extended family have told me how busy the unit was, with alarms going off every two minutes, but that all of the medical professionals made sure there was joy too – after all these were little babies who would hopefully go on to have happy and fulfilling lives.

Although I had been told all these stories, it was only after I had given birth to my son that I came close to really understanding how my mum and dad must have felt. Having a baby is like an explosion of love you never expected or even understood could happen. But because my little boy was, thankfully, full-term and healthy, my comprehension still falls short since I got to hold him straightaway and spend our first few days together.

According to my mum it took me a little longer than other children to sit up, walk and talk but I got there in my own time. My parents were told that it was highly likely that I would struggle at school, that my learning would be delayed and that my life would probably be affected negatively by my premature birth. This, thankfully, didn’t happen and, in fact, quite the opposite did.

I come from an incredibly loving but not a particularly academic family but I managed to get into Oxford University and then become a barrister. I have a Master’s degree, fantastic friends, a job that I love and now my own family.

Two of my friends are also premature babies – one of them is a senior policy advisor for the Home Office and the other is a successful computer developer. Having a premature baby must be an incredibly stressful and anxious time, but all the wires, procedures, prodding and poking that come with being born before you were meant to don’t mean that the baby in the incubator won’t grow up into a happy and successful adult.

I have a premature baby chin because if you are born that early your bones are still a bit moveable and lying in an incubator made my chin slightly more triangular. I also have marks on my belly from where I had tubes put in. But I actually love these bits of me. I am proud of being a premature baby; I am proud that I defied the odds and have managed to do all the things that the babies who came out at the right time have done.

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