‘Not every day will be the same’ - Monique’s story

Intrauterine growth restriction meant Monique's little one was much smaller than he should have been when he was born at 29 weeks. But both Monique and her son showed incredible strength in navigating a series of challenges on their neonatal journey.

Finding out I was pregnant was a bit of a surprise, but I soon came around to the idea and for my first trimester, everything seemed fine. Nothing had been flagged at any of my scans and I didn't even feel sick.

But as I was having my 20-week scan, the doctor was really quiet and I quickly realised something was wrong. I was told my son was dangerously small and that I could lose him at any moment, so I might want to consider having an abortion. The word 'abortion' came as a huge shock to me. I had just seen my baby moving around so I felt that I couldn't consider that as an option.

I was told my baby, who weighed just 186g, had intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) because my placenta wasn't delivering enough nutrients. I went home disheartened and really upset. But I tried to stay positive and focused on trying to give my baby all the nourishment he needed. I'm not sure if it was the high protein diet I put myself on which made the difference, but by 24 weeks, he was 339g and five weeks after that, he was over 600g.

At 29 weeks, when I was due to have yet another scan, I noticed my baby was moving less than usual. I was too scared to tell the doctor when she asked, but it was clear enough on the scan. So it was decided I needed to have a c-section the next day.

There weren't any free incubators at the hospital, so I had to be transferred to Sunderland hospital, over two and a half hours away. I suddenly became very anxious – I didn’t know anyone there, I had to Google it to even find out where it was! But I was soon very happy to be there because I had never met so many lovely people in one place.

At 7am, I went into the operating theatre with my mum. I had become so used to hearing bad news throughout my pregnancy that I was preparing myself for the worst. But then I heard a little cry, and I can't describe how happy I felt to know my baby was alive.

I didn’t have much chance to see him because he had to go straight to intensive care. I was given a picture of my baby, Kaiden, while I was recovering which made me feel both happy and sad at the same time. I was happy that he was finally here but it broke my heart to see him with an oxygen mask on: I had just given birth to a baby and I didn't even know what he properly looked like.

When I got to see Kaiden, he was the tiniest human I had ever seen, weighing just 1lb 10oz. And then the next day, when I went down to the unit, I could see his whole face – he didn't have an oxygen mask on! The nurse told me that overnight he had been sucking on his oxygen tube like a dummy and his numbers were sky high, so they realised he didn't need it. I couldn’t believe it – Kaiden had only been in the world for a few hours and he was already showing me so much strength, inspiring me to be strong too.

Being able to do his cares made such a difference. Just giving him a quick wash with cotton wool and swabbing his mouth made me feel like I was actually needed. He was so small that when it came to changing his nappy, I only needed to use my little fingers to lift his legs. At first, I was really nervous because I was scared I might hurt him. But I would definitely encourage other parents to embrace every chance to be as involved as possible and not let fear get in the way because it really helped me to feel like a mum.

After eight days, we were transferred back to my local hospital in Leeds. I was nervous about having to get to know a new unit and new staff. But when I arrived and saw him there, he had been dressed in a vest and it made me so happy to see him in proper clothes for the first time and not just in a nappy.

It felt like a step back when he was put back onto oxygen as I had been quite naïve, thinking he would just keep getting better and better. Suddenly, there was a constant beep, beep, beep from his oxygen alarms. I realised I had to take one day at a time, so I repeated a mantra to myself: 'not every day will be the same' to stop myself becoming too disheartened.

Two and a half months in, we had to transfer hospitals again when I moved back in with my parents. So it was yet another unit and another set of nurses to get to know. By this point, I was desperate to go home, yearning for a day when I could just be in my pyjamas.

But then, when it came to discussing Kaiden being discharged on oxygen, I wanted him to stay on the unit. It took a while to learn how to put it on and adjust the levels, but once I did some research and found out that it isn't uncommon for premature babies to come home on oxygen, I felt more confident.

As we prepared to come home, I was so grateful for having been involved with all his cares. While spending a night 'rooming in' at the hospital with him, I quickly realised there was a difference between feeding him all day and then getting a full night's sleep at home to being with him all day and all night. It was only then that I started to get to know who he was during the night.

But as much as waking up three times to feed him was a shock to the system, it also felt just as it should be, like I was having the experience I was meant to have had from day one. I had been a mum for months by this point, but those night-time feeds were the final puzzle piece to fully feeling like one.

If you would like to hear Monique talk about her experience, you can watch her videos on Youtube here.