"She is a born fighter and such a strong little girl" - Anna's story

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Anna's daughter Millie was born at 26+3 weeks and spent 72 days in neonatal care. Anna explains the ups and downs of their NICU journey and shows why having neonatal leave and pay is so crucial for parents.

In April 2021 we found out we were expecting a baby two months after having a miscarriage. Because of the miscarriage, I was classed as a high-risk pregnancy.

I started to have small bleeds at eight weeks in and the hospital kept scanning me to make sure the pregnancy was progressing well. They found I had a low-lying placenta and although my baby was fine, as my pregnancy progressed the bleeds were getting heavier and more frequent.

At 16 weeks I had my first big haemorrhage and was put on complete bed rest. I managed to stay at home until I was 20 weeks when I had another massive haemorrhage. I was taken to Darlington Memorial Hospital that night and lost two units of blood - my partner Michael wasn’t allowed with me in A&E due to the Covid-19 restrictions, so this was a very scary time.

I was assessed by the midwife and taken up to the delivery suite at the hospital, where Michael joined me. The midwives and doctors gave me two units of blood that night and transferred me to the maternity unit the next day. I was visited by the special care baby doctors who explained the risk of having a baby early.

This put the fear of God into me as it was a lot of information to take in by myself. I was kept in hospital for three days but just before I was supposed to go home I had another haemorrhage.

I was taken back up to the delivery suite where they assessed me and I was transferred to Sunderland Royal Hospital, which had a NICU in case my baby came early.

When we got to Sunderland I was about 22 weeks pregnant. I passed a huge blood clot and kept on having haemorrhages on and off for days. I told my partner to go back to work and that I would handle whatever was to happen.

A few days later, I haemorrhaged quite severely and within seconds everyone was in the room trying to save my life. From that point Michael was called into the hospital as they didn’t know if I was going to have to deliver the baby at 22 weeks.

They gave me another two units of blood and fluids to get me back to normal. Covid restrictions hit again and Michael was told if he left the ward he would not be allowed back with us.

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He told his work that he would not be going back as he couldn’t leave me. We went on like this for another four and a half weeks until eventually, the final haemorrhage caused my placenta to give up.

Within minutes the midwives and doctors kicked in and made sure I had the medication needed for both me and baby to survive. I was whisked off to theatre for an emergency c-section at 26+3 as my baby was in distress.

My partner was told to gown up and meet us in theatre. Unfortunately by the time we got in, I was deteriorating rapidly and had to be put under general anaesthetic. Michael was told he had to leave theatre and to prepare for the worst - they said I might not wake up again and that our baby may not survive either.

Luckily, thanks to Nick Matthews, his team and the NICU team, me and Millie survived.

Millie was put straight on a ventilator and had to have a tube in her lung as it had collapsed. We spent two weeks in the Sunderland unit before getting transferred back to Darlington Hospital special care baby unit.

On the day of the transfer, Millie’s stomach was quite large but we were told she was okay. When we arrived at Darlington, Millie came off the ventilator however she still needed more oxygen. We questioned this as Millie had been suffering from necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) over the few weeks we were in Sunderland but they said she was fine.

We spent all evening with her in SCBU, and went home that night, but received a phone call later saying Millie had deteriorated and they were waiting for a team from the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) Newcastle to arrive and assess her.

Millie had to be re-ventilated and taken up to the RVI as it looked like she had a severe case of NEC and a twisted bowel. We followed her up and that night she was whisked down to the theatre and had her bowel untwisted.

We spent a week at the RVI and then were transferred back to Darlington, when we were told Millie might have sepsis. Michael was at work at the time, and this was very hard news to take in and one of the other NICU mums came over to hug me as I burst into tears.

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Michael told his work he wasn’t going back until Millie was more stable, but they said they would terminate his employment. He went back but within two days Millie took another turn for the worst, needing to be transferred back to the RVI yet again, where we stayed for three weeks. During this time Millie was operated on and we got told she might not make it.

At this point I was not coping very well. I was there from early morning doing Millie’s care needs, bonding and expressing milk for her. It was mentally draining watching her on the ventilator. I was still recovering from my c-section as well.

Michael struggled more with his mental health than I did, as he not only had to watch us nearly die but also had the stress of commuting between the RVI and Stockton for work, to avoid his employment being terminated.

I explained everything that had happened to Michael’s work and how I needed him with me. They agreed but said if he wasn’t back after Christmas they would have to let him go. It was added pressure as we were already dealing with so much.

In total Millie spent 72 days in neonatal care the doctors and nurses are amazing and without them, we wouldn’t have survived.

On 21 December 2021 Millie was discharged from neonatal care and allowed home.

Millie is now 20 months old and loving life. She has got cerebral palsy on her left hand side but nothing stops her from doing what she wants. She is a born fighter and such a strong little girl.