“It’s incredibly important for both parents to be allowed time to heal and grieve.” - Jemmy’s story #ByYourSide

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Jemmy’s daughter Winry Belle was born at 25 weeks while on a weekend trip to Amsterdam. In her story, Jemmy explains how she and her fiancé Dan’s four-day trip turned into a four-month NICU stay.

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I was 25 weeks pregnant with our first baby when my fiancé Dan and I went on a weekend trip to Amsterdam in February 2018. The pregnancy was progressing nicely and my doctor cleared us for travel.

We arrived on the Friday, enjoyed some sights, and I began to notice my lower back aching. While walking around the Anne Frank House, my backache became worse and we returned to our hotel early. The following morning, the pain was unbearable and we became concerned.

We called a local hospital where they thankfully spoke English. They suspected kidney stones and told us to come in. By the time we arrived, I couldn’t walk and began vomiting. The next few minutes happened extremely fast: we had an ultrasound and were told our baby was fine, but in the next instant, were being told that I was fully dilated.

At 11.16am that morning, our daughter Winry Belle was born. She weighed just 820g. I was in shock, but Dan managed to notify our families, and so our four-day holiday in Amsterdam turned into four months!

Soon after her birth, Winry was transferred to Amsterdam UMC, to the NICU ward, and we were able to stay in the Ronald McDonald House nearby, which was hugely helpful.

Her first few weeks on the ward went well, and she was progressing, despite not gaining much weight. The nurses and doctors spoke perfect English and would make sure that we were able to understand what was happening at every turn. The NICU ward had a parents' room for us to rest during visits, and there were often donations and gifts left for the babies and parents. The kindness we were shown as foreigners was overwhelming.

I was able to hold my tiny girl when she was two days old and the feeling was indescribable. I still couldn’t believe what was happening to us, or that I had a daughter. We could not see ahead in time, and were trapped in the present, constantly worrying, crying, marvelling at her strength, laughing at the ridiculous situation, crying some more…

Then, when Winry was five weeks old, she contracted Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC). The doctors quickly booked her for an operation to remove a portion of her lower intestine. At the same time, however, we were asked if our holiday insurance would cover funeral expenses and transportation of a coffin to the UK. We were inconsolable.

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But, as she always does, Winry surprised us and pulled through successfully. It left her with an enormous scar across her belly, but we like to remind her that it’s her warrior scar. From there, she went from strength to strength! And finally, in June 2018 we were able to fly home to Wales.

The whole experience, although unbearable at times, brought us closer as a family. It allowed us to appreciate each other and the little things, and to be thankful for every day we get to spend with our girl. My fiancé has been the most amazing father, and he was the one who found out about Bliss whilst doing research. Reading about other families who had experiences similar to ours was inspiring and hopeful.

We were so lucky that our girl was taken to such a fantastic hospital, and we hope that our fellow British preemie parents can experience the same level of help that we received as it did aid us in coping with the situation. We struggled a lot with our mental health and were shown care and support by the staff at Amsterdam UMC.

Dan, in particular, was suffering from PTSD, and once we were home, he found it difficult to get help in the UK. This is something we hope will change in the future as it’s incredibly important for both parents to be allowed time to heal and grieve, and not just the mother. We were very fortunate that his job allowed him to work from abroad, otherwise, he would have had to return to the UK, whilst I remained in the Netherlands.

My advice to other parents would be not to underestimate your child’s strength: our girl stunned us again and again with her amazing fighting spirit! I would also tell other parents to remember to take care of themselves and take breaks. Our nurses would constantly remind us to sleep, have days out and spend time together, and I appreciate them for that.

We were offered help from an on-site therapist as well as small but extremely lovely treats such as free massages, meals donated by charities, and many, many gifts from perfect strangers. Little things that meant a huge amount to us.

Finally, I would tell other parents to not be afraid to laugh. As crazy as it may sound, there were many times we were able to find humour in our situation when Winry was doing well, and it allowed us a much-needed break from feeling anxious. I would often think, “Should I be laughing when my baby is in hospital?” and today I think, “Yes. You are allowed to laugh, cry and smile.” It kept me grounded, and even now we can joke about such a difficult time.

Today, our beautiful girl is five years old and thriving, with no lasting issues. She brings a smile to the face of everyone she meets and is so full of energy and sass! Despite still being small, she exudes confidence and doesn’t let her size hold her back. We are so proud of her and tell her every day, and are forever grateful to the doctors and nurses who saved our girl, treated us with so much kindness, and helped to bring us all home. We are looking forward to taking our daughter to see where she was born someday in the near future.

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