"It felt like a never ending battle" - Charlotte's story

When Charlotte gave birth unexpectedly at 31 weeks, her daughter, Leela, was admitted to neonatal care. Read her story here.

My pregnancy was right on track, my blood pressure was fantastic, bloods perfect, Leela was measuring fantastic and for the most part I felt great! But things started to take a turn when I hit 28 weeks.

It was the night of our pregnancy party and my shoes felt really tight. My husband assured me because I’d been on my feet all day it was nothing to worry about. I had a midwife appointment the next week and my blood pressure was fine, but the swelling got worse, to the point where I needed to get shoes two sizes too big for my feet. I was breathless, my face was swollen and I felt sick most days.

One night I woke up to use the toilet, which is downstairs in our house, and as I climbed the stairs I couldn’t breathe properly. I was dizzy and felt so sick. My husband took me to A&E and I was told my blood pressure was incredibly high; it was 180/120.

I was admitted to the labour ward to be assessed by the midwives. Within an hour, I was told my baby would be delivered in the next 2 days, as I had severe preeclampsia.

I was only 31+3 weeks pregnant. I was hooked to magnesium and beta blockers. The next 12 hours were a blur, I was drifting in and out of consciousness and I felt myself slowly slipping away.

An oxygen mask was applied and within the next half hour, my amazing surgeon came in and told me they would be delivering Leela within the next couple of hours.

I was taken down for surgery and on October 29th at 6:06pm our beautiful baby daughter Leela Stefani Margaret Swann was born. She let out a cry which was such a relief. She weighed 3lbs 1oz and she was perfect.

They showed me her and with that she was whisked away in an incubator. I didn’t hold her or have skin to skin like I had dreamed. I just saw two big beautiful eyes look up at me as she was taken away.

I remember sobbing to my husband saying “please don’t let them take my baby away, she needs her mummy”, but obviously I understood that she needed care and attention.

The next 24 hours were awful, I wasn’t allowed to see Leela as I was still on my drips. As soon as they were taken off I was allowed to see her.

The day after she was born I finally got to see my daughter. She was in an incubator, covered in wires and tubes and her perfect little face was covered with a CPAP machine.

I was so confused, scared, overwhelmed and totally overcome with love for her. I knew she was mine and that maternal instinct hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t hold her but I was allowed to put my hands in and touch her.

After three days of Leela being in Intensive Care, I was told I was allowed to hold her. The nurses took her out covered in wires and handed me this tiny baby. I broke down and sobbed. She was so small and helpless. I felt so guilty knowing I was the reason she was in NICU.

The nurse came across to me and told me Leela had done so well that she was coming off her oxygen and being transferred from Intensive Care to High Dependency, which was the most amazing news.

The next week was so hard as I was still recovering from high blood pressure and a C-Section, so it was a struggle walking up to the NICU to see Leela. Every time I saw her my blood pressure spiked, due to my emotions. It felt like a never ending battle.

A week later I was discharged and we popped in to see Leela. The nurse came across and told us she had been moved to SCBU, which is the final step before home.

Leela spent the next three weeks in SCBU. She spent two of those weeks under a jaundice light, as she had quite bad jaundice. She was also born with one kidney, but so far she has not had any problems with that.

It broke my heart having to leave her every night, me and my husband would go home and cry. I would be expressing my milk every three hours and looking at pictures of her and smelling her bonding square. It’s amazing how the little things keep you so strong throughout the NICU process.

After week four, we were told it was time to go into transitional care. I roomed in with Leela to establish feeds with her. This was quite a lonely time, as there was no bed for my husband, so he was going home and I was left with Leela from about 9pm, waking up and doing her tube and breastfeeds.

Tube feeding was so hard for us because she showed so much strength to breastfeed, but she needed the tube to top her up and keep her gaining weight.

Finally after a week in transitional care we heard the magic words: “you can take Leela home”. She came home on the tube and whilst she got more established with breast feeding.

The day before Christmas Eve, Leela got the all clear from the hospital with her brain scans, eye tests and final bloods and her feeding tube was taken out!

Leela is now a happy, cheeky and healthy one year old and I am so proud of how far she has come. She is my hero and I am so proud to be her Mummy.