Advice to my 24-year-old self with a baby born at 23 weeks

When Sophie was 24, she gave birth to a baby, Tabitha, weighing 15 ounces. This is the advice she would give to her younger self at the beginning of her neonatal journey.

1. Trust your instincts.
My partner Lee thought I was being over-dramatic when I said my waters had broken, but I knew my body. He’s been paying for teasing me about that ever since.

2. ‘Might’ means might, not ‘will’.
Our doctors made all sorts of terrible predictions about the condition Tabitha would be born in, but she proved them all wrong.

3. It’s okay to be irrational.
I sobbed to the point I thought I was having a heart attack when Tabitha’s long line cut the blood circulation off to her toes and she lost four of her toenails. The thought of her not being able to paint her toe nails tipped me over the edge. But over the last nine years, I have come to realise that being a parent often involves these ‘irrational’ moments: panicking over the littlest things doesn’t come to an end.

4. Do not google.
I desperately tried to find stories of babies as small as Tabitha that were okay and I couldn’t find any, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t make it. It only made me feel worse, and for no good reason. Every baby is different.

5. Don’t try to be strong for everyone else.
I stopped having baths every night and had showers instead so that I could howl and cry and the noise of the shower would drown out the sound. I remember feeling so ridiculous – I imagine it looked like the sort of scenes you see in films just a lot less attractive – but I used to absolutely long for those showers because my face hurt from trying so hard not to cry for the sake of everyone else. I was in no position to be anyone else’s rock.

6. Trust that the doctors and nurses are as invested in your baby as you are.
I met the most wonderful doctors and nurses in my seventeen long weeks in the NICU. They cared so much and yet they must also witness so much heartbreak that it’s too much for me to comprehend. They want your baby to come home with you and to be one of their ‘success stories’ as much as you do!

7. Look at your baby and not at the machines.
I will never forget a lovely nurse called Sue grabbing my face and making me look at Tabitha and saying “if the worst happens to her do you really want to remember looking at a screen rather than your beautiful little girl?” It sounds harsh, but it was the best advice I could have been given because every second that I spent looking at Tabitha felt exactly the same as when she had kicked in my tummy.

8. Don’t be bitter.
I felt like the biggest failure in the world for not keeping Tabitha safe inside me. When I had my second baby, Nancy, I developed postnatal depression – not because of Nancy’s birth but because I felt the most horrendous guilt for ‘failing’ Tabitha. But, by Tabitha coming so early, we got a little insight into her tiny little world that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise if she’d have been inside of me. Looking back, I would change everything that she had to go through, but nothing about who she is. So it helps to remember how lucky we are to have her.

9. Don’t try to do it all on your own.
I was so overprotective and bitter that I hated the thought of even family members coming to see Tabitha. I thought she would be treated like another “piece of gossip” so I gave strict instructions that only family were to know she had been born and even stricter instructions about who could see her. I remember being really angry when people came to visit as they were taking away “my” time with her and would probably just go back and have a “good old chat about the tiny baby Sophie had failed to keep safe”. But that wasn’t the case at all. That thought even crossing my mind said a lot more about me than them. Everyone fell in love with Tabitha and just wanted to support me, Lee and Tabitha.

10. Your baby won’t remember.
I still cry when I think about what a rough ride Tabitha had. I examine the hundreds of pin prick scars she’s covered in, remember the blood transfusions, intubations and all the other procedures and it devastates me. But, for her it’s just a story we tell her: she’s a happy, lovely, kind and beautiful little girl. She won’t grow up with any bad memories, and I have the most wonderful daughter to make the ones I still have worth the pain.

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this post, or if you’re experiencing some of the same feelings as Sophie, visit our online support pages to see how we can help.

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