A dad's view of the SCBU - James' story

James' Story Hero

James' partner Kim gave birth to their son Frey at 30+6 weeks. This is a story from a dad's perspective.

When my partner was 30 weeks pregnant, we got the opportunity to see our son for the first time at his 4D scan. We were absolutely amazed to see how peaceful our baby looked and we were so excited knowing that we’d be meeting him in ten weeks’ time.

My partner Kim had had a tricky pregnancy and suffered with Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) meaning she would often come home from work with a sore back and hips. The Wednesday after the scan was a tough day for Kim. She struggled with pain all evening. We agreed that if Thursday wasn’t any better, we would go to the GP to see what else we could do to help with her pain.

The following morning, there was some spotting on the bed. We feared the worst as we made our way to the hospital. Kim and the baby were checked, and everything was fine.

Later that day however, Kim’s mum phoned me at work. Kim was in agony so as a precaution we returned to the hospital although we thought it was probably her SPD.

The midwives at the hospital decided it would be best to keep Kim in the labour ward to try and manage her symptoms. The baby was being constantly monitored and they were very confident that the baby wasn’t coming any time soon.

Unfortunately, the pain didn’t subside and over the next 12 hours, Kim’s pain became progressively worse. The medical staff performed frequent examinations but the story was always the same – the baby’s fine, he’s not coming.

After nearly 15 hours of being in severe pain, the consultant performed an examination and told us that Kim was 3cm dilated and in labour.

At this point, I nearly fainted. My vision closed in, I started sweating and I nearly threw up. I know – typical bloke! Kim had been suffering for hours and I nearly lost it over hearing the news that her labour had started. Kim was doing brilliantly. We hadn’t had the opportunity to attend all the classes we had booked, so we just had to follow what the midwife was telling us.

The midwife soon announced that our son would be here shortly. I nearly fainted again!

Less than two hours after being rushed down to the labour ward, our son was born, weighing 3lb 8oz at 30+6 weeks gestation. We agreed that we would call him Frey, as this was the only name that appealed to us, despite spending hours trawling through various internet sites.

The neonatal registrars were on hand to take over when Frey was born, and we only had a few seconds to say hello before they had to rush him to the special care baby unit (SCBU). I followed him down to the unit whilst Kim continued being looked after by the midwife.

On arrival at SCBU, I was congratulated by all the staff. Haddie and Beth, Frey’s nurses, talked me through everything, but my attention was firmly fixed on my son – this delicate little miracle was supposed to be comfortably inside his mum for another 10 weeks. I spent a few minutes just looking at him – I didn’t know what to do or say. I just stared at him while trying to take in everything that had just happened in the last couple of hours.

I returned to the labour ward. After a short while, we went to visit Frey for the first time as parents. It was then that I realised just what we were dealing with. It was the first time that I saw all the other incubators and noticed the beeping from the monitors. It was also the first time that I saw all the equipment that was supporting Frey and keeping him alive.

Kim immediately started crying. She was petrified at how small and fragile Frey was. She kept on saying: “He’s too small, he shouldn’t be here yet, he should still be inside where it’s safe.”

Despite agreeing with everything Kim was saying, I had to try and convince her that everything was going to be OK. I had to try and convince myself too.

That night, Kim wasn’t able to do the one thing that most mothers do when they’ve given birth – hold the baby.

No matter how much I tried to remain positive and to keep Kim’s spirits up, I had the occasional wobble myself. I remember one evening we were both sat at the incubator in silence, Kim was holding Frey’s feet, and I had my hand placed on his head. I stopped trying to hold the tears in because I just had to let some of the emotion out. I felt scared because he was just so small and frail, yet he was so precious to us. I just wanted him to be healthy and safe. I just needed to cry.

It quickly went from heart breaking fear to overwhelming joy and happiness when Kim and Frey had their first kangaroo care session. Kim was weeping with tears of joy, even Laura - the nurse - was sobbing. It was wonderful for me to see them both having their first real encounter and see Kim being a mummy. I couldn’t wait for my turn.

Frey was two days old when I held him for the first time. As he was being passed to me, he started crying. Because he was so small, his cry was high-pitched and quiet and was barely recognisable as a baby’s cry. As soon as I held him against my chest, he settled and fell asleep. Nothing compares to that first time you are able to comfort your own child.

One evening I was having some kangaroo care time with Frey, and Laura asked me if it was OK if she showed another dad what kangaroo care was. He told me that their baby was born at 24 weeks, and that he was too scared to hold her as she was so small. I told him that he shouldn’t be scared, and that he should just do it.

Holding a premature baby, having a cuddle with them, kissing their head, and feeling them close against your chest is something that most people won’t experience. It’s a bit of a cliché to say, but it’s a memory that will last a lifetime.

Frey was discharged from hospital on 3 November, 34 days after being born, and 30 days before his due date. Now, eight-and-a-half months after those whirlwind 24 hours when we first met our son, I can say it was all worth every sleep-deprived minute.

I often look back at the photos of when Frey was in the incubator - with the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask on - and look at him now with broccoli and carrot all over his face, and I question whether he’s the same baby.

Nobody wants their baby to be born early and to be kept in an incubator. But, in a strange way, I wouldn’t have changed anything about our journey and the time we’ve had as a family. The experience we’ve had has been so special, despite the worry, anxiety and difficulties of having a new born baby in intensive care.

Our story is something that not everyone can relate to, but it’s something we can quietly appreciate and feel so grateful for. We were lucky. I say this to myself every day, because there were babies born who weren’t as strong and healthy as Frey. We were also lucky because we live 10 minutes away from the neonatal unit. We didn’t need the support of Bliss or any other support organisation, but based on my own experiences, I can fully appreciate that there are people in desperate need of support to get through an immensely traumatic time for any family. Preemie babies really are exceptional. Every baby is special, but the strength these little heroes possess is incredible. They’re individual little miracles.

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