“Having accommodation helped us keep some form of normality in our lives.” – Carla’s story #FamiliesKeptApart

Jacques beach

As part of our accommodation campaign, #FamiliesKeptApart, Carla shares how vital having a place to stay was when her baby was born at 25 weeks weighing 1lb and 10oz.

I’ll never forget that night.

I was 24 weeks and 5 days pregnant with my first child.

Being my first pregnancy, this was all new to me and I didn’t know how I should be feeling.

It felt like I had wet the bed, I didn’t know what was going on, nothing like this had ever happened to me, but I had read that pregnancy can cause incontinence, so I put it down to that.

I waited until the morning and noticed I had some green discharge so phoned the hospital straight away and they told me to go up to the maternity ward.

Mike drove me up to what I thought would be a quick check. I told my boss I’d be in the office within an hour. Little did we know this was the start of our very traumatic birth.

The midwives and obstetrician ran some tests and gave me a scan and concluded my waters had broken and that I had a nasty infection, which turned out to be Strep B.

They started me on antibiotics straight away and gave me the first of two steroid injections to help strengthen the baby’s lungs.

He could be born imminently so I needed to get over to Southampton straight away where their NICU ward could take a baby this premature.

Jacques 1

The medevac plane came within a few hours, and I was stretchered out of the hospital into an ambulance and then onto the plane.

Mike was by my side for the whole journey. A midwife travelled with us in case baby was born mid-flight. Luckily, he wasn’t.

Once we got to Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton I remember waiting around for hours.

We were so lucky to be able to pop back to the flat for lunch and dinner, to express milk in peace or to just have a break from all the machines beeping.

I had more tests, and the obstetrician and paediatrician came to see us to talk through various different scenarios and outcomes. It was traumatic and petrifying.

I needed to decide if I should try and deliver the baby naturally or via C-Section. We decided via C-Section would be hopefully less damaging to such a fragile baby.

I was given another steroid injection and needed to wait as long as possible so that it had a chance to strengthen the baby’s lungs.

However, my infection was getting worse so in the early hours of the next day, when I was just 25 weeks pregnant, Jacques was born via C-Section and weighed 1lb 10oz.

Carla Jacques and Mike

We heard him crying which was such a relief and he was whisked off in an incubator.

I was taken up to the maternity ward and was given IV antibiotics to try and fight my infection.

Later that morning Mike took me down in a wheelchair to the NICU ward to meet Jacques properly. It was all so overwhelming, and I was still in shock about what was happening, it didn’t seem real.

Poor Jacques had wires and tubes everywhere. He was also on IV antibiotics to clear his Strep B infection.

We weren’t allowed to open his incubator at this point. I found it really hard to bond with him when I couldn’t even touch him, especially being my first child so this was all new to me anyway and coupled with the fear he may not survive.

The beeping from all the machines was intense and petrifying.

We saw some friends from Guernsey with their daughter who was on the same ward as Jacques. That was a real comfort to see some familiar faces.

The PPBF only had one flat at that time and they were occupying it. They said how wonderful it was to have a home from home so close to the hospital and encouraged us to contact the PPBF to see if there was anyone lined up to go into it once they were leaving hopefully in a few weeks.

Mike phoned and spoke to Ali who was so kind and reassuring and said whilst the flat was occupied, the PPBF would do whatever they could to help us.

Ali put Mike in touch with a father who had been through the same recently, which was so helpful, and he provided invaluable advice to Mike.

The PPBF also paid for some flights for our parents to come over and give us support. Just knowing there was someone on the end of the phone to help us was so reassuring.

In the meantime, my mother flew out the next day with a suitcase of clothes and toiletries for me from home, as I had left the Island with absolutely nothing.

I was discharged after two days of having my C-Section. The hospital organised a room for us in Ronald McDonald House, which was the other side of the General Hospital, about a ten-minute walk to NICU.

This was a totally excruciating walk having just had a C-Section.

We were still grateful to have a roof over our heads. It was similar to a Premier Inn room and we had a shared kitchen.

I laid on the bed and cried for hours at the prospect that this could be our home for months to come, missing our house and cats in Guernsey which we had absolutely no time to say goodbye to.

Thankfully in a few weeks’ time our friends’ daughter was discharged from NICU and they were able to move back to Guernsey, leaving the beautiful Isaac’s Pad available to us.

By this time Mike had gone home to bring our car over so we were able to move all our belongings from Ronald McDonald House to the flat.

We had both arranged to work from the flat for the foreseeable future.

We were told Jacques would be in NICU until at least his due date which was Christmas Eve.

Without the flat it would have been impossible for us to both work from a small bedroom in Ronald McDonald House. Instead, we both had tables in the lounge of the flat to work from and it was set up with Wi-Fi already.

Just a stone’s throw from NICU we were constantly back and forth to do Jacques feeds and have meetings with the doctors.

Mike and Jacques

As time went on and as Jacques grew stronger, we were able to have kangaroo cuddles with him.

I was so grateful for the amazing friends I made with other parents of babies in NICU. I have fond memories of sitting in the expressing room sharing our stories.

Some of them had to commute for miles to see their babies in NICU, whereas we were so lucky to be able to pop back to the flat for lunch and dinner, to express milk in peace or to just have a break from all the machines beeping.

The flat also meant we could have our family come and visit us to meet Jacques, as there was a spare bedroom. Having this support helped us through our journey.

Unfortunately, after about a month it was clear that the hole in Jacques’ heart was not closing by the medication so he would need an operation.

However, following the operation he suffered with an E-coli infection and had to be sedated and put on a life support machine.

We were devastated and didn’t think he would pull through, but somehow, after a whole week of being in a coma, he made an amazing recovery.

From then on, he continued to grow stronger and move up the rooms where babies needed less intensive care. Some days it felt like one step forwards, two steps back.

His oxygen requirements were holding us back. Some days CPAP wasn’t enough, and he’d need intubating again and we’d have to work up the ladder again to CPAP, high-flow then low-flow.

Jacques celebrated his 100 days in NICU on the 19th December. It was apparent he would need to come home on oxygen, so we started training for this and were able to practise taking him back to the flat.

It was amazing being able to take him out of NICU and to our home from home for a few hours each day.

We had a wonderful Christmas in the flat. We went and bought a Christmas tree and made a roast dinner and had family come to visit us.

Now that we were past Jacques’ due date, the thing holding us back from being discharged back to Guernsey was that Jacques needed a NIPPY ventilator at night-time but nobody in Guernsey was trained on this.

Luckily having the flat right next to NICU, and after training us, the doctors let us trial taking Jacques at night-time and handling the NIPPY ourselves. It was scary but we did it.

Carla and jacques now

Jacques is now a happy and healthy 7-year-old and has a younger brother Harry. His Mum and Dad are very proud that he recently received ‘Star of the Week’ from his school.

Thank you so much to Carla and Mike for sharing their story.

You can read about our #FamiliesKeptApart campaign here.

Find out more about the PPBF and its campaign to help support its three flats here.

If you have a neonatal experience you'd like to share, email Bliss on media@bliss.org.uk.