“I never expected anything to go wrong.” - Bethany’s #MyNeonatalStory

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Bethany describes the challenges that arose when her son was born premature and the incredible journey they have since taken on together.

Being a first-time parent and only 23 at the time, I never thought about complications or expected anything to go wrong. I would say I had a near perfect pregnancy. No morning sickness, no symptoms at all in fact apart from a positive pregnancy test and eventually a very small, neat bump.

At around five weeks I had a large bleed which meant a few early scans but the baby was growing nicely. I then had my 12 week and 20 week scan just like most and all was well. It wasn't until 26+2 weeks pregnant I was at work and had a constant thought in the back of my head that I hadn't felt the baby move much all day.

I remembered the hospital had always said 'just pop in if you're ever concerned' so I thought I may as well just double check to put my mind at rest. There was a lovely male midwife who was very reassuring. He measured the heartbeat for 15 minutes and then did my fundal measurement. I was measuring smaller than I should be at this point, but I put it down to not having eaten much that day so I had a smaller bump than usual.

Little did I know, this quick hospital visit would start the journey of my little one being born less than three weeks later.

I had a scan at 26+3 weeks where they noticed the flow through the placenta and cord wasn't functioning as it should, depriving the baby of the nutrition it needed and slowing the growth.

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Ultimately it would be down to: is the baby better in a hospital incubator rather than my own 'incubator'. Hearing this filled me with so many emotions. Fear, anxiety, confusion and most of all guilt. Completely blaming myself, why wasn't my body doing what it should do?

I had scans every four to five days and dopplers every two to three days to keep an eye on the flow and growth. At 28+6 weeks and after a scan with the top consultant of the hospital, it was decided my baby would be delivered by caesarean section in the next 24-48 hours. I was also diagnosed with pre-eclampsia the same day.

I wasn't allowed home and sat in my hospital bed googling pictures of what a 29 week old baby looks like and what will happen next. Where will my baby go? Where will they stay and how long for? What could go wrong? Both the baby and I were monitored continuously for heart rate and blood pressure, when I was moved down to the delivery ward at almost 10pm so midwives and doctors could keep a closer eye on us.

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My husband, Michael, isn't a huge fan of hospitals so we planned, from quite early on, my mum would be my support whilst I had the baby, so I called her and she made her way to us. After more monitoring and talks with doctors, the baby's heart rate started dropping so it was time to call the consultant and deliver the baby as soon as possible.

At 4.23am and exactly 29 weeks, my tiny George was born weighing 2lb 4oz. He needed a little help to breathe but was making little whimpering sounds which was reassuring.

My mum was taking pictures just so I could see him, as I wasn’t able to from where I was. He was then taken past me, stopping for a second so I could get a glimpse before he was taken to the neonatal unit.

I was taken to recovery and then back to the ward where I learned there was a very thin line between not having lost your baby, but not having him with me at the same time. I was surrounded by all these women and their new babies while mine was in another part of the hospital.

In the total 60 days George spent on the unit, I was there by his side for generally eight hours a day, missing out on meals before I was discharged because I didn't want to leave him. The beeping of machines and seeing your baby covered in wires going in every direction is a scary sight.

Not knowing if he would make it from day to day and always taking one step forward and two steps back was a constant rollercoaster of emotion.

The nurses were always so helpful, happy to answer any questions or explain what certain things meant. It's so reassuring to watch these complete strangers love and care for your baby and know that when you're not there, your baby is still feeling that love.

George needed two blood transfusions, countless blood tests and scans of his brain. He was on a CPAP machine and eventually, as his lungs got stronger, he was then put onto oxygen. He was having my expressed breast milk through a tube until he gradually gained enough weight to be moved to special care and out of an incubator.

We celebrated every tiny milestone and after 60 days in hospital, George came home weighing 4lb 3oz and on oxygen for an additional three weeks, coming off just before Christmas.

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As George approached his first birthday, I began to have sleepless nights, feelings of PTSD and generally feeling low. It was because I had been through a trauma but hadn't stopped to let it affect me just yet. I couldn’t fall apart at the time because I had to be there to support him. The realisation that what I was feeling was completely normal and it’s what people that go through any trauma suffer made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I sought counselling to talk to someone about it. The whole experience had been overwhelming and now that everything was fine and George was better, I was having a delayed reaction.

Even writing my story for Bliss has in some way helped as I can get the story out there.

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Fast forward to today, George is a hilarious and very cheeky two year old and we are expecting another baby at the end of the year. Due to the complications with George, I'm getting monitored frequently for any similar problems which is reassuring. Although I'm now past 29 weeks, which is when George was born, I am constantly looking out for symptoms of pre-eclampsia and the movements baby makes, just in case. I will always be grateful to my family for the help and love throughout the entire journey, and to the hospital for the care they gave us.