“Bliss is my first memory of going into the NICU” - Suni’s story

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Suni’s baby boy, Max, was due to be born on 7 February 2019 but arrived three months early on 7 November 2018. He needed neonatal care for 90 days.

After losing our first baby at 20 weeks, my husband and I started to take my health very seriously to get pregnant with Max. We had also had other baby losses in the past, at six and nine weeks, so I had to be mentally prepared and was extra cautious when we hit the 20-week mark as that’s the furthest we had got to having a family.

To begin, I would say other parents - listen to your body, research supplements, take the extra folic acid if needed, and question doctors at antenatal or pre antenatal appointments to get you to that stage, because getting pregnant with Max took three years after our 20-week loss.

I was very lucky in Nottingham as I had a very great team. The midwives were so understanding, but I was also very confident and forward with my approach because of the losses we'd had.

A couple of days before Max's birth, I had lower back pain. Because I'd never been pregnant to 26 weeks or 25 weeks plus, I thought that was a good sign - that I was getting my Braxton Hicks, but it was actually a warning sign.

I rested at home but in the early hours of 6 November, my plug went into the loo. They did a very thorough check and unfortunately, I had to ring the labour suite. They got me down straight away and when we got there, the medical team said, “You will be having this baby today.” Our world broke and crashed around us because we didn’t know the survival rate of a 26-weeker and I wanted to keep my baby to as full term as possible. My husband was in pieces - his heart shattered.

Then the contractions followed. When I got to a certain amount of centimetres dilated, I was given steroids and magnesium to protect Max's lungs because he was coming. There was no doubt about it. At 9.29am on 7 November 2018, Max was born in his amniotic sac, which is quite rare.

My mum and my sister were by my side and my husband was in the corner, beside himself. My dad was waiting outside and my in-laws were on their way.

The three other professionals on hand, a registrar, a surgeon, and a senior nurse in the room all smiled at me, and I was really reassured, because it's a whirlwind. Five years on, I can remember snippets of the moment when they broke the sac and my sister said, “He's peeing on you!” This was a sign of life and instantly made everyone happy.

They popped Max in a little bag and onto a trolley. He was breathing on his own and they couldn't believe it. Then they tried to put him on my chest, which I never got to do with my first son, but I told them to not worry about me and just care for him. They took him away, and for a while, it was silent before I got the strength to have a shower. My family and the nurses helped me.

When I was wheeled to NICU, the first thing I saw was a massive Bliss poster. It had some NICU facts on it which was so reassuring. Bliss is my first memory of going into the NICU. Bliss is so personal to us - we always celebrate World Prematurity Day, all of our baby clothes go to the hospital and we donate money too.

In NICU, Max was breathing on his own, but he needed intubating. He was so tiny in the incubator, weighing only two pounds. He was attached to the monitor – his little arm had a line in it already, with potassium and morphine drips too. My heart ached with pain for my new born baby.

For the whole 90 days we were in NICU, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the hospital. I had this fear that if I left something could change or happen to him. The staff said, “You are his primary carer and we will support you,” so I decided I wasn’t going anywhere.

They only had six to eight lodging rooms at the hospital, and when they saw how passionate I was, they gave me a room straight away and told me to rest.

That night, they tried to transport Max to Nottingham City Hospital, but my intuition told me that it wasn’t the right thing to do. I had just given birth that day and I didn’t want Max to leave the hospital. He was a tiny, fragile little human being and I was scared, so I didn’t consent for him to be moved.

I got to know everybody really well on the unit. I would say to the nurses, “Why haven't you had a drink? You need to be hydrated!” and the nurses would laugh. The doctors would say, “Suni you've been here so long, you might as well train to be a nurse.”

We were really lucky because there's a Costa Coffee in Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham. My mother-in-law would make it a ritual to take me there and treat me while somebody else would be with Max - the nurses and my husband or my father-in-law. She was my rock throughout the entire ordeal, she never left me. The smell of gingerbread and hot chocolate has stayed with us through the years. It invokes a whole multitude of feelings in our hearts.

It was Christmas time at this point so we'd buy loads of snacks for me, the nurses, and the doctors, and we'd share them and try to feel festive. I found a lot of comfort in what Bliss used to provide. I'd go to my room door and there would be a selection box of Cadbury's chocolates or Body Shop products or whatever had been donated – it would really perk me up.

I was basically taught to be Max's nurse and my husband learned everything along the way with me. Being with Max became my priority. If I had left the hospital, I would have just been anxious the whole time so I didn’t leave until I took Max home. I wasn't bored when I sat with him - I read to him, talked to him, and learned how to take care of him.

There were times when we almost lost Max and he was within an inch of being gone. When he was born, he had a blood clot on his brain which caused a haemorrhage. Fortunately, that cleared up by itself over time because he was getting plenty of feeds in. At birth Max also got sepsis and we nearly lost him four or five days after that.

Thankfully, after around 60 days in NICU, all Max needed to do was to feed and grow. I think because of my gestational diabetes and perhaps my ethnicity, he was quite heavy for a 26-weeker at two pounds. This was a blessing in disguise.

He did however always need to be turned over on his front because of his lungs – he was constantly cycling on and off CPAP, needing to be intubated. Every time he came off CPAP, he would get ill again.

Before Max was ready to come home, he had to have regular eye tests on his which were horrific. The specialist helped me to understand the vital role I could play in helping to reduce the chance of him having damage to his eyes or needing laser eye treatment, through my breastmilk. Liquid gold they called it.

There's no judgment of any mum, whether in the NICU or not, who isn't able to breastfeed but it did really help me to know there was something positive I could do for my boy. I ate and drank well; my mum and dad would make delicious food and bring it at visiting time to promote my milk supply.

Max was under the care of two consultants, the main consultant and the lung specialist because he had chronic lung disease of prematurity and therefore needed the oxygen tank. All the staff were amazing and I was very happy to bring Max home on oxygen because I wanted to start nurturing him properly.

Bringing Max home was the best day, although the clothes that we'd bought him didn't fit of course!

We popped Max in the car seat and put the tank in, and I just remember being so grateful. I cried a lot because I thought about our first son, what might have been if he had passed the 23/24 week threshold, even if he'd been really poorly. But I also knew that Max was my focus now.

Max has grown into a beautiful, intelligent boy who loves dinosaurs. His little brother loves them as well to the point where I think he wants to be a dinosaur because his name's Hunter.

My sons are an absolute joy.