A Cold Kept Me From My Baby – Kim’s Story

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, a common virus with mild cold-like symptoms for adults but which can be extremely serious for young babies, meant Kim couldn’t visit her baby on the NICU.

When I found out I was pregnant in May 2017, it was unexpected to say the least. My boyfriend Steven and I hadn’t been together long. In fact, I was still living with a friend in the flat that I’d owned with my ex. The pregnancy passed in a whirlwind, with us having to sell the flat, find a new house and eventually move in. When we moved at the end of November, we expected to have a couple of months to get sorted before our baby arrived. Little did we know she would be with us in less than a month.

At 32 weeks pregnant, we were booked to attend parent education classes arranged by the hospital. The first class was on Saturday 9 December. It lasted a whole day and by the end I could feel the beginnings of a cold coming.

By Monday, my cold was in full swing. I started feeling some twitches in my tummy which I assumed were my imagination, having spent the weekend learning about contractions and labour. By Tuesday, I had completely lost my voice and took the day off work. I had backache and mild cramps, which I assumed were Braxton Hicks, but by 5.30am I’d had enough: I called Labour Line and went into hospital.

In triage they found signs of infection in my urine which made sense given I had a cold. I was hooked up to the CTG (which measures the baby’s heartbeat and contractions) for a few minutes when I suddenly had a funny turn. It quickly passed, but when I sat back up the midwife looked concerned. She could no longer find a heartbeat. She pressed the emergency alarm and from that moment everything moved so fast.

Our daughter, Mags, was born by emergency caesarean at 7.30am. Steven arrived from parking the car just as Mags was being taken to NICU. Meanwhile, I woke from having been under general anaesthetic with an empty tummy and no baby.

I spent most of the day longing to go and visit her but, because of the anaesthetic, I struggled to even sit upright without vomiting. At 3.30pm I was able to get into a wheelchair and Steven took me to the NICU, but I struggled to keep my eyes open and we left very quickly. By 11pm, I was able to walk and we went to visit again. I was so relieved to see her, even though it was scary seeing how tiny she was and the constant beeping of alarms was disconcerting.

The following morning I was told I could be discharged. I jumped at the opportunity - knowing there was no chance of being released together, it seemed pointless for me to stay in. That morning we went to NICU to visit Mags and I was offered the chance to hold her. I told the nurse that I didn’t feel well and wasn’t sure it was a good idea. I’m not sure I’d like to admit how much of this was due to my fear rather than a sense of responsibility.

The nurse suggested taking a swab to see what I had. “I’m afraid it’s RSV” she said when the results arrived, her face apologetic. I’d never heard of it and while I don’t really remember how she explained it, I remember learning it was the worst possible result. I now know that for adults it presents just as a bad cold but can be very harmful to sick and premature babies due to their underdeveloped lungs. I was told I could still visit but had to wear a face mask and couldn’t hold my daughter or touch anything. I spent the day just watching her in the incubator, freaking out every time she paused between breaths or the machines beeped.

The following day, after a painful hour-long journey in heavy traffic, I arrived to find my daughter had been moved to a new room. There was a different nurse in charge and the decision to allow me to visit had been revoked. I was asked to leave the unit and not return until I was better. I felt devastated, furious and guilty in equal measure. I cried for five hours.

I spent the weekend at home, trying (and mostly failing) to hand express, longing to see my child, panicking that she would die and I would never have had the chance to hold her. Every time my phone rang I expected it to be the hospital with the worst news. Even though Steven and members of our wider family were visiting and telling me she was making really good progress, I couldn’t shake the image of her on a ventilator needing help to breathe.

Thankfully, by Monday my symptoms had subsided and I was allowed to visit. At five days old, I held my daughter for the first time. It was terrifying - I’d barely held any babies before, let alone one that tiny. But once I did, I didn’t want to ever put her down. We had skin-to-skin contact and it was remarkable how much more comfortable she seemed on me than she was in the incubator.

Later that day, we were transferred to the hospital closer to home and from then on we fell into a familiar routine of visiting the hospital every day for most of the day and spending just the nights apart. She gradually gained weight and after what felt like forever (but was actually only three and a half weeks) she was allowed to come home.

Everyone reacts differently when they have a baby, and you shouldn’t feel any guilt or shame if your attachment takes a while to develop – it will come.

I worried that our time apart and the delay to us having skin-to-skin contact might mean I would struggle to bond with her. I would definitely say that I didn’t have that instant connection of love which some mothers talk about; it was a slow burn that crept up on me. I can’t exactly say when I felt it. Possibly when she first smiled. Or maybe it came when she was snuggled up asleep in my arms at home. I’m not sure, but although it took time, it’s definitely there now.

This year we welcomed our second child, a son, and even with a straightforward birth and immediate skin-to-skin contact, it took time for me to bond with him as well. I think it’s probably just the way I am. Everyone reacts differently when they have a baby, and you shouldn’t feel any guilt or shame if your attachment takes a while to develop – it will come.

In a way, having our son has made me realise how much we went through with Mags, but strangely I wouldn’t want to change it. She is now such a fiercely determined, strong-willed two year old, I find myself in awe of her and how far she has come. She definitely gets away with far more than she should because she will forever be our little miracle baby.

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