“I’m extremely proud to be her Dad and always will be” – Tom’s story

Tom looking at his baby in her incubator

Tom shares his experience of having a premature baby born at 29 weeks and five days, on the very first day the UK went into lockdown on 23 March 2020. This Father’s Day, he reflects on his neonatal journey and how strong his daughter Gracie is.

Being a dad was something I had always hoped for. Back in October 2019, when my partner Amy handed me a pregnancy test with the word ‘pregnant’ clearly displayed, my mind was filled with all these wonderful expectations of how the next nine months would be.

However this all changed on Christmas Eve 2019 when I had to call an ambulance, as we thought Amy was miscarrying at 16 weeks. Thankfully this wasn’t the case however this was just the start of our constant trips to the hospital over the next few months.

Amy was in and out of hospital from 16 weeks into the pregnancy and kept in to monitor herself and the baby.

I was able to visit when I could around work - not having control over the situation made me feel helpless and knowing this isn’t how we wanted to spend the pregnancy was heart-breaking. But every time we were told the baby was okay was such a reassurance and relief.

During these hospital trips the doctors made us aware it was highly likely the baby may be born early, so we did what we could to try to prepare for this and stocked up on premature nappies and clothes. Then one morning in March, we were finishing decorating the nursery when Amy went into labour for four days.

I sat at the hospital waiting for the inevitable worried about the birth, that the baby may not make it or that I may lose them both.

Tom holding his baby girl on the unit

The hospital did all they could to keep the pregnancy going as long as possible - Amy was given steroids to help the babies lungs when she was born, magnesium sulphate to help mature the babies brain and various antibiotics to prevent infection. Then on 23 March 2020, a day that we didn’t realise at the time would be the day the UK entered its first Covid lockdown, at 9.37pm our tiny 3lb baby Gracie was born at 29 weeks and five days.

We were prepared for the worse during the labour and got told she most likely wouldn’t be breathing when she was born, and that we couldn’t hold her she would be taken straight to the neonatal intensive care ward. It was at this point that I realised this tiny baby was so much stronger than any of us.

Gracie shocked everyone that night, she was breathing brilliantly on her own with no help, Amy even got to hold her straight after the birth. For the next five days Gracie was doing amazing.

However, due to Covid restrictions we could only visit the unit for an hour a day, alone and only myself and Amy could visit. This was extremely difficult and I was worried it may affect the way we bonded with Gracie, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When we started our neonatal journey we were told the experience would be a rollercoaster and five days in when Gracie suddenly stopped breathing we realised this was the case. Amy phoned me crying hysterically to say what had happened to Gracie and that the staff were working on her.

After various tests it appeared Gracie had sepsis and it would be touch and go if she would make it. We was able to stay the night in the parents area in case the worst happened - I don’t think I have ever driven so fast as I did that night to get to the hospital.

Tom 3

My heart sank the moment I saw her attached to all the machines fighting for her life, I wanted to burst into tears but knew I needed to be strong for them both.

Although we were isolated from everyone due to Covid, the support I had from friends was vital. One friend even donated an iPad so that parents could Skype their babies on the ward.

Over the next eight weeks Gracie began to improve while having to have two blood transfusions and started to hit all the milestones which meant we could finally come home. My advice to every other parent would be that every milestone reached within the ward should be celebrated for all involved.

I also believe that talking to the other parents on the ward is vital, as they are truly the only people who know what you are going through. Parents should really try to get involved in their babies care such as feeding and changing, although it is very scary it does help with the bonding process I know this first hand.

Tom having skin-to-skin with Gracie on the unit

Something I feel I should definitely had done more is taking time to recharge and recover physically and mentally even if this means taking an hour out alone. Remember parents are important too and need to take care of their own health as well.

Although the whole experience will stay with me forever, at the time it feels you will never get through it especially on the tougher days.

But now Gracie is a healthy 2-year-old, who will have no memories of the whole experience, everything has been worthwhile.

We will definitely bring her up knowing the story of her difficult start in life and how special and strong she truly is. Being a parent of a premature baby is hard and we will always worry about Gracie probably more than if she was born on time. We love her unconditionally and I am extremely proud to be her Dad - I always will be.

Tom ready to go home with Gracie