"I felt like I had failed her" - Shannon's story

Shannon's daughter, Senara, was born a week past her due date suffered a shoulder dystocia during birth. Here, Shannon discusses her NICU experience and how she coped with the trauma of the difficult birth.

I went in for my labour assessment after irregular contractions for 12 hours. I was 4cm dilated however, my blood pressure was very high, so the doctors wanted to keep me in. After a few tests, they said I had pre-eclampsia and I needed my waters broken straight away.

Senara was born a week past her due date and had suffered a shoulder dystocia during birth. She had also gotten quite stressed during the delivery and swallowed some meconium. I think we get so fixated on one number when it comes to our due date. I know when I reached mine, I almost thought that meant my baby had grown fully inside of me and she was going to be okay.

My contractions were back-to-back and I dilated from 4cm to 10cm in a couple of hours. All I remember from the delivery was being told to push as hard as I could then being told to stop pushing straight away. The emergency bell was pressed and the room flooded with midwives, obstetricians, neonatologists, and God knows who else.

My legs were pushed up to my chest, I was cut and then Senara was pulled out. The first glimpse we caught of her was whilst she was being resuscitated and ventilated, she was then whisked off to NICU before we could give her a simple smile or hello. I looked at my partner and just said “Why isn’t she crying? She should be crying”.

I remember feeling so scared and overwhelmed, I was so petrified that she was going to die that in my head it felt easier to not try and bond with her or love her as I should. Still to this date, that is probably the worst day of my life.

My partner and I stayed on the delivery suite, but we didn’t get any updates until we were allowed to visit her about 5 hours after her birth. Due to the pandemic, we had to visit separately and Jake had to go home almost straight after. I felt so alone, at a time that was meant to be so cherished and happy, I was alone. Senara was in NICU for a few days and following test after test, they finally ruled her to have sepsis. Every time a nurse or doctor came in to ask for my consent for these tests, I just thought “Oh no, what’s happened to her?”.

Seeing Senara for the first time wasn’t the skin to skin loving that I had imagined. I just wanted to run away, as I thought I had failed her. I didn’t even get to hold her, instead I had to admire her through tubes and wires. The following evening, we got our first cuddle. I was so ecstatic that my little pudding was finally in my arms!

Staying in hospital for that week was so difficult with a baby on NICU and no visitors being allowed in. As soon as the lights turned out, I felt lonely. My partner and I would have sneaky meets in the corridor when one was leaving and one was going to visit Senara, but that was the only familiar face I would see. I was introducing Senara to our family through FaceTime. It just wasn’t even close to what I had expected things to be like.

Throughout all my antenatal appointments, I said I would breastfeed and just assumed it would come naturally to me, like it does every other woman. Boy, was I wrong! The nurses on the neonatal unit would call me every two hours to go up and feed Senara, but every time I walked away feeling so deflated after having to put formula through her feeding tube. I was expressing like clockwork and it just wasn’t working, Senara wouldn’t latch to me and I didn’t produce anything.

I felt like I had failed her, first a rubbish birth and now this. I remember there being a new mum across from me, who had twins a couple of days before me, and she sat there with a baby on each side and I just remember thinking ‘why can she feed two babies and I can’t even feed one?’. I think that was probably my most deflating time on neonatal. It took days of tears, upset, perseverance and maybe a little bit of stubbornness to decide to formula feed. I felt like I had failed, but kept telling myself as long as she’s feeding off of something, that’s what counts.

The nurses and other professionals on neonatal were so amazing. Involving me in Senara’s care when they could, letting me change her nappy, sitting and holding her for as long as I wanted. They answered any questions I had, and sometimes even being a little bit of an emotional punching bag. But they took it and always came back with a smile. It made me realise that it isn’t just a job for them, they all really do care about us. We finally got to take her home to be a family a week after she was born, once she had finished her course of IV antibiotics.

Thankfully, Senara has no lasting issues from the shoulder dystocia and she is smashing every single milestone. My partner and family helped me cope with the trauma of Senara’s birth, as I kept feeling like it was all my fault. My advice to other families with their little ones in neonatal is to just cherish every moment. I really cannot thank all the staff we came across during our time on the ward and NICU, they were all so incredible and we are forever in their debt.