"I had a lot of therapy and support" - Rebecca's story

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Rebecca shares her experience of having a baby girl born at 30+2 weeks, and how it impacted her mental health.

It was my friend's birthday and I was getting ready for our night out, but I just didn’t feel right. I took a test and I was pregnant! I panicked because I already had a small child who was only a year old.

We went to my first scan and there was that little pea. I had never seen something so small - with my son, I got my days wrong so he was big when I first saw him. I thought, wow, this little dot is causing me so much sickness and tiredness, but everything felt great. We booked in for our first and proper 12-week scan and it was time to tell my mum, gran, dad, brother and auntie.

Everything was great at my 12-week scan, but then came the due date: 8 April 2022, my son’s birthday! How could I do this to him? I didn’t want him to feel like he was robbed of his birthday, but I accepted it and thought, at least it saves money on parties.

I remember my 20-week scan so clearly. I had an Irish nurse scanning me - she was blonde, small with glasses and very loud when she spoke but she was so lovely and sweet! I sat on the chair ready to find out if I'd be lucky to have a girl.

Her face dropped when looking at the screen. You could see panic in her eyes she was zooming in and zooming out moving around and trying to make sense of something. Is there no heartbeat? Has it got a defect? It didn’t look like my son’s scans – has my baby stopped growing?

All of a sudden she said, “I need to get a doctor.” I was sweating, my partner didn’t know what was going on and I was trying to keep everyone from panicking. She came back in and the doctor smiled at me - it was a bad-news smile.

They said, “No need to panic, we think there’s no fluid in your sac. We can’t do much today, but we can get you booked for fetal medicine where a doctor can have a proper look. Your baby is alive and breathing we just need to confirm.” I swallowed my lump and said thank you.

In the following scan, they looked at everything and anything - kidneys, lungs, bladder, heart, liver and so much more. She didn’t talk to us; she was too focused on my baby. She printed the scans and took us into a room with these stupid purple flowers and green and purple chairs with a box of tissues on the table. The last time I was in a room like this was to get told my Grandpa wasn’t going to make it so I knew it was something bad. We waited for ten minutes but it felt like three hours, and then three doctors came in.

My heart was with my baby it was not in my chest anymore…

“We can confirm there is not enough fluid in the sac for your baby to grow, however (the word I waited for), there is a chance of survival the baby is already growing very well, but we can’t promise that they will be healthy.” I had to think of my son too as he is only a one-year-old and needs me, but my gut kept telling me I could do this! They offered the end for this baby but I declined and I said I’d like to try (what’s the harm I’d rather try to know than to give up and always wonder). They did warn me this baby would be early but I was ready!

We eventually had weekly scans. At 25 weeks I was told that my baby would need a lot of support to breathe. I prepared for it all - I did my research.

As I reach 30 weeks I think that I might just make it full term! But I didn’t, Avarose was born naturally at 30 weeks and two days. I was supposed to have a c-section and the nurse who delivered her wasn’t even a delivery nurse, but before we knew it my girl was breathing on my chest looking at me. I think I was in more shock that she was a girl!

Reality didn’t kick in until the incubator came and she was grabbed off me with six to eight doctors standing around her and that’s when it hit. My baby wasn’t okay, but I knew this would happen, so why am I so upset?

She was taken to the NICU and I had to say my goodbyes to my partner. I was placed in a room with all these mums with their babies and they looked at me in confusion.

The nurse came and took me to see my girl. Where did all these wires come from? Why does she look lifeless? A doctor came over and explained she was sedated in a coma and all the wires were keeping her alive. I was heartbroken and my head was fuzzy - I felt dizzy and sick. Questions were running through my head but all I could say was, “Oh okay.”

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I couldn’t touch her and my head was screaming - people were trying to talk to me but I couldn’t hear anything. How do I go back to a room with five other people and their babies when I don’t have mine?

I was empty a shell of a person. Everyone had their partners and their car seats and their balloons and flowers - all I had was leaflets and my injections to take.

I’ll admit I was the worst mum. I didn’t visit her a lot because she was sedated. I would stare at her, cry my eyes out and feel guilty whilst even in NICU people holding and interacting with there’s felt like everyone was mocking me.

Covid-19 rules were still in place, so only me and my partner were allowed to see her, so no one could take my place during my absence. I was forced and guilt-tripped into breastfeeding. I didn’t want to due to my last experience with my son, but I had people constantly hounding me which added to my guilt and that’s what also made me stop going up so much!

I finally was allowed to sign forms to give her formula but everything wasn’t settled, I felt like I was still getting judged for my decision.

Avarose was finally moved to a ward after four months and she was awake and thriving. I visited a lot more - she finally felt like my baby but she just looked so unwell. She was chubby but mostly swollen and she was always so tired because of medicine so I felt like she was never getting better. The machines kept beeping because of her oxygen levels. I convinced myself she didn’t need me - I was never going to be enough for her, can I bond with this baby?

My health visitor and social worker were alerted to my absences and I was put onto a mental health team for mums after birth, and just like that I was understood and got answers.

I was diagnosed with depression, PTSD, and anxiety. It all made sense - it’s traumatic, confusing and emotionally hard being a mum with one child but another being in hospital - where one thrives and the other fighting for their life. I had a lot of therapy and support from people, as well as medication so I could be the best mum for her.

In May, Avarose was discharged - she no longer needed a feeding tube but still needed oxygen so we prepared. I was giving tanks and tubes and tapes and a lot of things for her I was trained in her medicines and CPR and medical emergencies a lot to take in but I was ready for once I was ready for my baby.

I had to stay in the hospital with her to make sure that she was ready. It was five very long days but was worth it. When we got home and I couldn’t let her go - I kept watching her and I barely slept but it was okay because we were in my house.

Two weeks after coming home she didn’t look or feel right, so I phoned an ambulance. I thought I must be incapable of looking after her.

It was bronchitis. I couldn’t understand how she got it as I was so safe with her. I stayed in the hospital with her - it was horrible. I had to watch her eat so little food because she was ill, but she recovered. She has caught it one other time since being home.

I feel better and Avarose is doing great - she only takes oxygen at night at 0.01 but is no longer on medication. She’s walking and is almost properly talking. She had her 18-month check-up with her team at the hospital and is developing well. She’s above her age in play and she and her brother love each other.

We recently moved house so she now has her own bedroom and will start nursery in August 2024. I’m just so in love with her.

Revisiting my darkest days makes me cry but I wanted to share her story to tell you there is hope for NICU babies and even us as parents. I never thought I could be so low to being so high again. If you’re going on your neonatal journey now, it feels like forever but it’s only temporary!

I want to thank the NHS, Bliss Scotland, the mental health team, and health visitors for being my life support and giving my daughter a chance at life.