"NICU wasn’t something I considered would be a possibility" - Danielle's story

After giving birth at 37 weeks, following a pregnancy with no issues, Danielle and her family did not expect for her son to need care in NICU. Here, Danielle talks about her son's NICU journey and helps raise awareness that not all NICU babies are premature.

Despite having a fairly easy pregnancy, I was sick of it by the time it got to 37 weeks and I was ready to meet my son. We started trying different things to bring on labour. I ate spicy curries, lots of pineapple and went on several long walks, and finally, on August 1st, I started getting contractions. The contractions continued through the night into the next day. The midwives at the hospital told me to have a bath, take some paracetamol and try and relax because, with this being my first baby, it could take a really long time.

We chilled at home all day with my contractions staying around every three minutes. By around three in the afternoon, we decided to go for a little stroll to see if it helped with the pain. We got to the end of our road where we had to stop as the contractions had tripled in intensity.

I had to go to the hospital on my own, due to COVID-19 restrictions, which made me very nervous. I was seen by a midwife who asked me a few questions and did my blood pressure. She then said the words I was dreading: “I don’t think you’re in active labour yet, the best thing is to go home”. She told me that I was barely reacting to the contractions and that when it was real established labour, I would be reacting a lot more.

This was the only time I felt like crying. I was already in so much pain, if this wasn’t really labour, how much worse could the pain get? She offered to check how dilated I was, just to give me an idea of time frame, and I am so glad she did. I was already 5cm and probably more. I was so relieved. I was able to call my fiancé and get him to join me.

The first part of my labour went really well. I got in the birth pool, which was a really nice relief. I breathed through the contractions, practicing the hypnobirthing I had been doing. At half past six, the midwife offered to see how far along I was. As she checked, my waters broke. The need to push was instant and overwhelming. I vaguely remember the midwife saying “10cm” and “you’re having the baby now”.

I think it was on only the second time pushing, the baby’s heart rate dropped and suddenly it was an emergency. Alarms rang, and I had to get out of the pool as quickly as possible. The room filled with more midwives and doctors. They told me they needed to get him out ASAP and we were transferred down to labour ward, where he was born with the ventouse. The whole thing happened so fast. My son was born in around nine minutes.

I remember them placing him on my chest and I was overwhelmed at how small and soft he was. Straight away they took him to the side to clean up and check him over. I had had to have an episiotomy and whilst they were stitching it up, I could hear that my baby was struggling. The doctor came over and asked me if I had had any complications during my pregnancy and how far along I was. I remember thinking that there must have been something wrong with my son. The doctor told me that my baby was very tiny and was struggling to breathe. They gave him antibiotics and took him to NICU. I got to join probably around half an hour later, where I was able to hold him. He was on CPAP and had several little monitors stuck all over his tiny body. He was 5lbs 5oz.

He only needed to stay in the NICU for that night and was released the following evening to transitional care. At the time I took everything in my stride, I don’t remember ever feeling scared for myself or for him. My birth plan had been just do what you need to do to make sure my baby is born healthy. So, I had been completely okay with everything that happened. It wasn’t until a few weeks after that it started to bother me. I never got that initial skin to skin, and when I did, he was all hooked up. I remember him looking up at me, mouth open, rooting. It broke my heart that I couldn't feed him and that was the only time he showed signs of wanting to be breastfed. After that he had no interest, wouldn’t latch and we ended up bottle feeding by the time he was a week old.

No one prepared me that NICU was a possibility. Whenever I thought of NICU, I thought of premature babies. My son was born at 37 weeks. All the things I read were aimed at premature babies, even the leaflet they gave us in the hospital was called ‘taking care of my premature baby’.

I feel that NICU should be talked about before the baby is born, when doing the birth plan with the midwife. NICU wasn’t something I considered would be a possibility, so when it happened, it completely threw me off. I also feel there needs to be more support for families with babies who were full term but needed NICU. I’ve always felt I can't talk about our NICU experience with parents of premature babies, as if I should be grateful that he was full term and hasn’t suffered any long term effects. But for me, NICU completely changed how I feel our birth and forth trimester went and it isn't something I can ever change, I will just have to learn to accept it over time. My son is now coming up to 10 months old and he is just the loveliest happiest little thing. Of course I would do the whole thing again just for him.