A Christmas to remember - Rachael's story

Rachael's baby wasn’t due until mid February, but having had her first child a month early two years previously, she knew that he might be born premature - she just didn’t expect a Christmas baby!

On Christmas Eve, having just taken a wonderful Christmas ham out of the oven, which I had queued for at the butchers that morning, I admitted ‘defeat’ and told my husband that we had to go to the hospital to check out why I hadn’t been feeling right the past week.

The maternity unit nearest to us was shut, so we bundled ourselves and the youngest (in his PJs!) into the car and twenty five minutes later we arrived. My husband and big brother stayed in the car whilst I went in: "I won’t be long I’ll just get checked out" - famous last words!

Fast forward nearly an hour and the midwife frightened my husband half to death by knocking on his car window and informing him that I was in early labour!

So, our youngest was picked up by my in-laws an hour away, and my mum and dad (the latter we sadly lost the following October) came and stayed with me, whilst I had the first of the two steroid injections. Hubby drove back home to get my things and check on our dog.

I was admitted and observed; my husband, the next day, Christmas Day, nearly had a packet sandwich for his lunch until a kind nurse offered him a spare meal. Watching the Downtown Christmas special on the communal TV was the low point for me!

I was allowed to go home on Boxing Day tea time. Thankfully my in-laws weren’t due to bring our youngest back until the next day. Missing Christmas with him was so sad for us both, but by 9pm we were back at the hospital and yes, I was in established labour!

At 5.22am on the 27th Tobias was born weighing an impressive 4lb 9oz at 31 weeks exactly.

I didn’t get to hold him; I was shown a photo and taken up to SCBU a couple of hours later.

Just to make things even harder I was admitted with a kidney infection on New Year’s Day. I’d been wetting myself, but reassured it was normal postnatal. However, my temperature was so high I was shaking. My husband wanted to call an ambulance, but I begged him not too, as I knew I wouldn’t be at the same hospital as Tobias. So, again, he drove me, with little brother in tow, and I was admitted for 3 days; mercifully only across the hall from Tobias.

I made two friends on the ward, Niki and David, parents to a little boy who had been born at 29 weeks. We are still in touch now and having someone, even one person, that I could say hello to, have a quick cuppa in the parents room with, who was in exactly the same boat as me, was invaluable.

In the new year, Tobias moved to a hospital a little nearer to home. I was a rabbit in the headlights, it all happened so quickly. He was coming from South Manchester, I from North, but I remember arriving literally just as he arrived with the specialist team and they asked about Mum and I said "I’m mum" (whilst my husband parked up) I remember thinking: "I made it, I made it!", as tears stung my eyes.

Around 10 days after he moved, we received at phone call, actually a voicemail, around 5.30am to call the ward, Tobias had had a little vomit and they started him on antibiotics as a precaution; the doctors really did save his life.

He had Group B Strep, Sepsis and went on to develop Meningitis. He had a long line of IV antibiotics for 20 days, and whilst we desperately wanted him home, having him a little closer was a great comfort.

He finally came home on the 30th January, 5 weeks later. His big brother came with me, often on public transport, nearly every day to visit too.

This year Tobias will be 8. If he ever complains about being a Christmas baby, we joke that he shouldn’t have been 9 weeks early then!

For us, it is important to acknowledge the most important part of all the heart ache: that we have a happy healthy child. Both our children have additional needs and ADHD, but we are learning everyday and he truly completed our family.

It was all very surreal at the time and we spent a fortune on extras for a pre-term baby, parking (before anyone told us we could have a pass) taxi and transport fares, but now we can look back and be thankful.

Hopefully, if you are reading this, in the same boat, you know you are not alone.