30 years since SCBU - Rowena's story

Rowena's Story Hero

Thirty years on, Rowena shares her experience giving birth to her daughter Tara at 32 weeks and the postnatal depression that followed.

My neonatal journey began when I was rushed to hospital suffering with pre-eclampsia. I was admitted straight away and was put on bed rest which lasted for a month.

I made it to 32 weeks of pregnancy but a scan revealed that my unborn daughter had stopped growing at 28 weeks. The doctors made the decision to perform a c-section.

Tara was safely delivered by the doctors weighing a tiny 3lb. She was immediately rushed off to SCBU and into an incubator. Much to everyone’s great relief, not only was she breathing at birth but she actually came out screaming. She didn’t need any help with her lung development at all – she just had to be kept warm and allowed to grow.

I was in a room way down the corridor all on my own. I felt totally detached from Tara and I wasn’t allowed to hold her for a long time. The nurses were amazing throughout and when we were eventually reunited they helped me try to breast feed. Tara never did get the hang of it because she didn’t have the sucking reflex so I ended up expressing milk for her instead.

The hardest thing to cope with for me was coming home without Tara. When I was discharged, it was very hard to leave my baby behind. I cried all the way home. It was very strange to go into my house – which was all set-up and ready for our new arrival – empty-handed. The other strange thing was still having a bump with no baby inside.

My head was all over the place whenever I wasn’t at the hospital. People who had seen me pregnant before assumed I’d lost the baby so I was forever explaining that Tara was still in the special care baby unit and that she had to stay in to gain weight. Some people would ignore me for fear of upsetting me. I found it very stressful and isolating.

When Tara finally reached 5lb we were allowed to bring her home. I felt totally detached from her. I had none of that wonderful bonding feeling that everyone talks about. I had longed for this baby for so many years having suffered a miscarriage in my previous pregnancy and problems conceiving in the years that followed. No matter how much I tried to remind myself just how much I wanted her, I felt totally nothing and just an overwhelming sense of numbness.

I didn’t know what to do. I felt so jealous of my husband’s ability to care for the baby and love her instantly. In comparison, I felt awkward holding her and didn’t feel like she was mine. It was as if some stranger had handed me this tiny baby and run off. At the time, I didn’t tell anybody about how I was feeling because I was worried she’d be taken away from me. I now know I was experiencing postnatal depression (PND).

I tried so hard to be a perfect mother, but I didn’t know how to. Things got better as time went on but it took a really long time for me to feel like I loved Tara. It all made me feel so guilty and I wished that I could be more like the other mothers.

Almost 30 years on, I couldn’t possibly love Tara any more than I do now. I’m so proud of the young woman she has grown into – she has a fantastic job and a wonderful boyfriend.

When Tara turned five-years-old, I thought it was time for another baby. I felt more confident this time. Once again, I developed pre-eclampsia and was on bedrest in hospital. It was harder this time because Tara was at home but my husband and friends were incredibly supportive.

My son was born five weeks early weighing 5lb 9oz but had trouble breathing so was packed up in a mobile incubator to another hospital. I was distraught because I wasn’t allowed to go with him because of my c-section.

The following day, I was transferred to the same hospital as my son. He had been put on a ventilator and we stayed at the hospital until he stabilised. I didn’t suffer with PND this time round so I felt far more in control the second time. I was relieved when I loved him at first sight. He is 6ft 2in now and has just gone off to university. I am so proud of both of my lovely children.

I hope that my story can be a message of hope for a bright future that those suffering with PND can’t see right now. You think you’ll never get through it but you do somehow. Talk to those around you about your feelings and remember that you aren’t alone.

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