The best Valentine's present ever - Laura's story

Laura's Story Hero

Laura recalls her son Jack's first 89 days in hospital before coming home on Valentine's Day.

We had thought that our circumstances meant that having a baby was heartbreakingly far away. I’d hidden pregnant friends and new mums on Facebook, as it was too painful knowing that we couldn’t even try. But then fate stepped in and told us we were ready!

My pregnancy was completely normal until the day before Jack’s birth: nausea, cravings, hormones, etc. My check-ups with the midwife were normal until 17 November 2015 at 28+5 gestation, when the midwife said my blood pressure was a little higher than normal and protein was present in my urine sample. She sent me to the hospital “just for monitoring”. I texted my hubby, but told him not to worry.

It all happened very fast once I was there. They hooked up my bump and confirmed he was moving about normally with a normal heart rate. They took blood from me every two hours, the results of which got worse throughout the day. They took my blood pressure every 15 minutes, which also got worse. Medication was started but didn’t help.

The doctor said I would be staying overnight, so I texted hubby to come and bring some toiletries. I had a scan of the baby – my boy. He was fine. The consultant came. He explained to me that I had pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome, and the only cure, to save my life, was to the deliver the baby.

My world crashed down.

It was too early! I explained to every nurse who came to see me that my baby was so important, but they didn’t seem to care. I thought, don’t bother saving me unless he will be OK! They said they’d get someone from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to come and see me, but no one came – they were caring for babies and prepping for Jack’s arrival. I had no idea what the survival rate was for a 29-weeker.

Mum came to the hospital, in case hubby couldn’t handle the operating theatre due to his squeamishness. Luckily, he came through for me. He has a picture of me before I was wheeled in for surgery, with two drips in each hand, a blood pressure cuff, and the monitor for my bump, amongst other things.

Jack was born by emergency section at 1.41am on 18 November. He was 34cm long and weighed 1089g, which in proper money is about 2lb 6oz. He made a little noise like he was surprised at being evicted from his home, and the doctors confirmed he was definitely a boy! I won’t go into detail about how horrible the spinal injection was or how scared I was in the theatre. I will just say that hubby held my hand throughout and that everyone was amazing, especially the consultant.

I looked at my baby from across the room before he was whisked away. I was empty. I hadn’t really written a birth plan, as I had thought I wasn’t far enough along, and the two things I knew I wanted – kangaroo care (skin-to-skin cuddles), and for my baby not to leave my sight – I couldn’t have.

As I recovered in the high dependency unit (HDU), Jack was taken to the brilliant Royal Derby NICU. He was ventilated, and had a drip put in his hand and lines in his tummy for all sorts of medicines.

My mum and Andrew (my hubby) went to see Jack and brought back pictures for me. Andrew said that Jack was really tiny – he was overwhelmed. The NICU had taken footprints for me and a card with Jack’s picture on it. I kept it on my bedside table for the rest of my hospital stay.

I went to see Jack at about 10pm that night. I had to fight for the chance, because the nurses said I couldn’t go until I had my drips out and I could move to the wheelchair by myself. My tummy muscles and core were a mess! But I managed it, even though I was all bent over and couldn’t stand up straight and still had drips in one hand. I think they must have wanted me to stop demanding to see my boy and have a sleep at last.

Despite those pictures that say, “This is what postpartum looks like”, THIS is what it looks like for one in eight mums. See how tiny he is? See that plastic box he’s in where I can’t cuddle him? It’s about a centimetre thick, but it might as well be 10 feet. I was allowed to stroke his hand and we each had a little knitted square that smelt of each other. Then I was wheeled off back to HDU to sleep a little bit in between waking up every two hours for blood pressure, meds and learning how to express breast milk.

He came home on oxygen, as he has Chronic Lung Disease. It’s not as scary as it sounds – it just means he needs additional oxygen beyond 36 weeks gestation. We had our first cuddle, skin to skin like I wanted, when he was a week old. We learnt how to feed him through a tube before learning how to give him a bottle. He never mastered breastfeeding properly, so I pumped for the entire NICU stay and beyond for a while too before we decided he wasn’t gaining enough weight and switched to high-calorie formula.

Jack stayed in hospital for 89 days. The best part of our NICU stay was rooming in before bringing him home. Just me and my boy for four days and three nights in our own little cuddly bubble. Jack came home on Valentine’s Day: BEST VALENTINE’S PRESENT EVER!

Laura originally shared this post on her blog, Beyond the NICU, which details Jack's journey from the NICU to home and beyond.

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