The emotional rollercoaster of prematurity - Sophie's story

Sophie's Story Hero

Walking into my routine appointment at 32 weeks, I had no idea that within 45 minutes, my baby would be born.

My midwife found that my baby was in distress and her heart rate had slowed drastically. Before I knew it I was whisked in for an emergency scan and was put to sleep for an emergency caesarean section. I didn’t even have a chance to phone my husband to tell him what was happening.

When I came round I was told that I’d had a little girl, but that she had stopped breathing and was in NICU receiving the best care possible. I couldn’t tell you what passed through my head at that exact moment but I remember my teeth chattering uncontrollably and feeling completely numb. I spent what felt like an eternity thinking I’d lost her. Luckily our baby Florrie was a fighter and with help from the most amazing doctors and nurses, she pulled through.

We had a week or so in intensive care as she continued to show very irregular heart rhythms. Our hearts would race each time her monitor beeped. She was also very small at 3lb 12oz. We were in hospital for over a month due to feeding concerns and repeated episodes of bad jaundice, but slowly she improved and we managed to wean her from tube feeds to expressed milk after four weeks.

In the weeks after she was born, several doctors confirmed just how lucky we were to have had that appointment and had I not had it, that I could well have lost her shortly afterwards. In some ways this was horrendous to hear. Knowing I could have been hours, or even minutes away from losing Florrie was heart wrenching, but ultimately she was here, and that was the most important thing in the world.

That said, the emotional rollercoaster after her birth and once we returned home was a hard one, even though she was doing well. I felt an incredible level of guilt, as if my body had failed her. I ran through that day over and over again. Had I missed the fact that she hadn’t moved as much? Had I been too active or underactive? Had I eaten something bad? In retrospect a lot of these thoughts were irrational but I felt them nonetheless. All I wanted to know was: why? Why had this happened to her? What had gone wrong?

I also felt guilty because if she was ok, why wasn’t I? I tormented myself looking at endless studies on premature babies until the early hours of the morning and suffered bad flashbacks for months after.

People would comment and say: “She’s alright now” or “she just couldn’t wait to see you.” They meant well, but what they didn’t realise is that their comments undermined and trivialised the experience and insinuated that it almost didn’t matter now, because she had survived. Someone even asked if I was upset just because of the caesarean section.

I was upset because I was in shock, and I was grieving. Grieving for those last months of pregnancy and the birth I should have had. I was grieving for those first precious moments when you see and hold your baby, and have your partner there to share the joy. I’d had none of this. I couldn’t meet my baby for hours and wasn’t allowed to touch her. My husband and parents had been able to see her before I had, because I was in recovery. Most importantly, I was grieving for the start in life that my baby should have had, and I worried about her constantly.

I was never angry about the comments people made. I knew they meant well but they were naïve and didn’t really help at the time. If I’m honest, I felt very, very alone. Talking with other parents of premature babies was the only thing that helped, along with time, but the experience will never leave me completely, and nor should it.

I am still tinged with a mix of sadness and jealousy when I see pregnant women. Six months on though, I can finally talk about it without welling up, and I thank my lucky stars every day. I like to think that fate must have played a hand and that somebody was looking over me that day.

I wanted to share my story so that other mums and dads going through something similar know that all these emotions – the shock, guilt, anxiety, grief, fear and sadness – are all very normal and that you should never apologise for feeling them. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for feeling any of these things.

I’ve known two friends who have lost their babies at or after birth and I’ve watched their pain. I have perspective and know just how blessed I am to have mine and I tell her every day. However having a premature baby is life changing and although these feelings will pass or at least lessen, it might take a lot of time. Your memories might not be as they were supposed to be but those first touches and cuddles, even with all the wires, are arguably even more special.

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