In Their Hands - Emma's story

Emma 1 2023 03 17 123105 gqzn 1

When Emma gave birth to her baby girl at full term, she did not expect that Sophie would be whisked off to critical care. Emma shares her neonatal story and recommends that parents on the unit take it all one day at a time.

At the end of a completely straightforward first pregnancy, I went into labour naturally a week after my due date. I was young, slim, fit and healthy and low risk. I was expected to have an uneventful delivery in the hospital’s birth centre – I was hoping for a water birth.

However, when my waters broke the midwife noticed that they were straw coloured. This was diagnosed as light meconium staining but, because the baby was late and everything else was textbook, it wasn’t viewed as a cause for concern. It did, however, mean I had to give birth on the labour ward.

The labour and delivery were unassisted and the baby – my daughter, Sophie - was believed to be fine and coping well. But, when she was born, it immediately became clear that she was very unwell.

She was floppy, blue and not making any respiratory effort. Her APGAR score was three. The midwife pressed the emergency buzzer and the room filled with doctors who had rushed to the labour ward from A&E.

Sophie was quickly resuscitated and was intubated when she was just ten minutes old. Still in the delivery room, a doctor spent half an hour suctioning fluid out of her lungs to try and enable them to oxygenate her.

Without me having had a chance even to see her, she was then whisked off to a critical care cot in the hospital’s paediatric unit. There she was diagnosed with extremely severe meconium aspiration syndrome, “overwhelming” sepsis, HIE and persistent pulmonary hypertension of the neonate.

Within hours of her delivery a team from the London Neonatal Transfer Service arrived, transferred Sophie on to their ventilator and took her to neonatal intensive care at University College London Hospital (UCLH).

I was unable to join her there until I had been discharged from the maternity unit so my husband went with her in the ambulance and I was left in the maternity unit by myself.

Emma 2

At UCLH she was in Room 1 which is for the very sickest babies on the unit. She was on an oscillating ventilator and her whole body was cooled to 33 degrees to protect her brain from further damage.

She remained on the ventilator in intensive care for ten days during which time she developed further infections and, also, aspiration pneumonia. When she was a week old she came within a hair’s breadth of dying of an infection and of water retention – we were told she was unlikely to survive the night.

Miraculously, after ten days of being too unwell to be held, or even, some of the time, to have her nappy changed, she suddenly turned a corner and began to recover very quickly. A new course of antibiotics and a reduction in her level of sedation worked spectacularly well and the speed of improvement was mind-blowing.

She had an MRI scan of her brain to check the degree of damage which came back with reassuring results and she was woken up, taken off the ventilator and moved down to high dependency.

Sophie then spent another 10 days in high dependency and special care being weaned off oxygen and her feeding tube and finishing her courses of antibiotics.

Finally Sophie was discharged home when she was three weeks old.

Sophie had very detailed developmental and paediatric follow up until she turned two but no problems were ever discovered and we are incredibly lucky that she is now a completely happy and healthy child.

We could not be more grateful for the world-class care she received and are painfully aware that without the miracle workers who looked after her she wouldn’t be here today.

It is so hard to give advice to other parents who find themselves in the NICU because everyone’s situation is so different. All I can recommend is taking one day at a time and remembering to look after yourself – make sure you eat, sleep, take the support of loved ones and recognise that to offer the best possible care for your baby, you also have to care for yourself without feeling guilty for doing so.

Below image credit: Georgina Edwards Photography

2022 Innesadditionalshots002

Emma Innes has released a book about Sophie’s birth and her time in hospital. All proceeds from the sale of the book are going to Early Lives which is the charity of the University College London Hospital’s neonatal unit. It is available to buy here