"Each time I walked into NICU, I expected the worst" - Stacey's story

Happy and healthy, I was 25 and preparing for the birth of my first baby. I attended all the antenatal support and breastfeeding classes eagerly awaiting the birth of my precious bundle on 7th November 2012.

On the evening of 11th November, I called the Royal Gwent Hospital, Newport as my waters went and they asked me to go in and be checked. They kept me in overnight with the plan to induce me, should labour not begin naturally.

I was induced on November 12th at 7am, which then led to the longest day of labour until 10pm, when things took a turn for the worse.

The room filled with doctors and nurses and I was taken into theatre as my baby had stopped breathing. I was given a spinal block and prepared that my baby was going to be taken straight to NICU for support.

What is NICU? I didn’t even know.

Finally, at 23:58 on 12th November 2012, my little miracle arrived. Olivia Grace, weighing 7lb 5oz. I did not even get a glimpse of her before she was admitted to NICU and I spent the next 12 hours wondering what went wrong and how this happened to me after carrying full term?

The next morning, I could finally meet my daughter. After carrying her for 10 months and being so healthy I just never imagined I would meet my daughter for the first time in these circumstances. There she was covered in tubes, wires and ventilated.

The feeling of sadness and guilt played hell with my emotions as I, her Mum, was unable to keep her safe. Doctors explained that due to a traumatic birth, Olivia developed pneumothorax of the left lung and was having some help with her breathing. They explained that as she was a full term baby, she was very lively, therefore was quite heavily sedated to allow her body to rest and recover.

Spending time in the NICU and meeting other parents meant it quickly became clear there were not many full term babies there. Most babies needing special care were preterm babies, born before their due date.

The next few days passed in a daze and were spent tending to my newborn whilst sat by her incubator, willing her to fight. At 3 days old, I could hold her for the first time, which is a day that will stay with me forever.

As the days went by, Olivia seemed to be getting better and was moved into the high dependency ward on day 7. However, on November 19th, Olivia became very poorly very quickly and the doctors were unsure as to why. She was taken back into intensive care and reventilated as the doctors worked to find out the cause.

At this time, I was still in hospital myself and the maternity unit gave me a single room which allowed me to visit the NICU at any time. The midwives were fantastic and supported me when attempting to express milk for Olivia, however they believed that due to the trauma I did not produce any milk. I then chose to feed Olivia using donor breast milk and still to this day I believe this is such an amazing thing for women to do.

Olivia remained critical in the NICU and on 20th November, I was given the devastating news that Olivia was in heart failure and had 24 hours to live.

The next few days, Olivia remained in intensive care and critical. The days passed in a blur and I often look back and wonder how I even got through each day. Numb with pain, fear, uncertainty and not knowing what the future held for my daughter. During these days Olivia began to have full body seizures and required emergency medication each time to stop them.

Each time I walked into NICU, I expected the worst.

Thankfully, and I do thank my lucky stars daily, Olivia survived heart failure. After 10 days her heart function was ‘normal’. Relief!

However, the fight was not over yet. Much to the confusion of the doctors, Olivia had high blood pressure which was only being controlled by medication. Many scans and tests were done to discover the cause of this, and it remained a mystery until 21st December, when we were transferred to The Heath Hospital, Cardiff, where they had heart and kidney specialists.

It was discovered that Olivia had a damaged kidney artery, which also explained the reason behind her heart failure. The doctors at The Heath started Olivia on new medication to control Olivia’s blood pressure with the focus of us getting home!

Our discharge meeting brought some new challenges when I was told that the doctors did not think Olivia would walk, talk or feed herself due to her very difficult start in life.

I think by this time I was so overloaded with information and emotion that I thought ‘I will cross that bridge when I come to it’. Thankfully, I never did come to it. Olivia developed well, hitting all her milestones much to the amazement of her neonatal consultants. She remained on Amlodipine for 4 years and at that point her kidney was no longer functioning meaning her BP was normal.

After discharge, my full term baby was home and I felt such an enormous amount of pressure to cope. I wanted to talk and process what had happened to Olivia and myself. I found support through a volunteering service and I attended counselling sessions there for 12 months.

Through my NICU journey I have realised that along with our babies we are strong, we are powerful, but we also need support.

As a full term NICU Mum, I could not be prouder of my little miracle!