"That moment I yearned for felt nothing like I thought it would" - Leah's story

After a smooth pregnancy, Leah gave birth at 42 weeks. No one expected her baby to need neonatal care, but her son Oscar was born with his umbilical cord around his neck and experiences seizures. Here, Leah tells the story of Oscar's birth and how he spent the first three weeks of his life in NICU.

I always dreamed about the mum I’d be, and after trying to conceive for almost two years with no success, we went to the doctor. We found out we had less than a 5% chance of conceiving a baby naturally, so we were referred for IVF. We finally got the go-ahead to start in January 2019. On February 8th we found out we were pregnant. We couldn’t believe we were successful the first time!

Our pregnancy was described as ‘textbook’ and we had a happy, content baby. So happy, I thought he’d never come out. After getting to 40 weeks, I was booked in for induction at 42 weeks. Then on the 18th October 2019, I went into labour at home. I was adamant I wanted a water birth, to see my baby born in the water and scoop in my arms and to hear him cry.

I stayed at home as long as I could. I tried baths and showers and managed to stay until the early hours of that day. I was admitted straight into the delivery suite at 3cm dilated. I got in the birth pool, the way I always imagined I would deliver my boy. I knew I was going to give birth in a hospital. Something about it just felt safe, knowing everything I needed was there.

I slept on and off for a while until my waters broke. I remember waking up on gas and air, talking all sorts of nonsense. A few hours, things took a turn. I needed to push, I tried with everything that was in me, but nothing was happening. The midwife tried to find my baby’s heart rate, twice with no success. She left to get a senior midwife who couldn’t find it either, as the contractions were so close together. I remember her telling me “you need to do this now”.

They eventually managed to get me out of the pool and on the bed. I remember them finally getting his heart rate, which by this point had dropped dramatically to 112bpm. I will never forget the moment the buzzer was pressed, the people running around me, I don’t even remember seeing my husband, Mark, for what felt like a really long time. I had an extended episiotomy and moments later Oscar was born. From the moment it became an emergency to when Oscar was born, it was only six minutes. But it felt like a lifetime.

I waited in the bed while Mark was ushered to cut the cord and our Oscar was rushed off to the side. I didn’t even see him. Oscar was born blue, and floppy with the cord around his neck. They worked on him next to me, before whisking him away to the NICU and me telling Mark to go with him.

I laid in the bed, being stitched up, wondering what was happening to my baby. I phoned Mark who told me he was having a seizure. I sat bolt upright in bed and said “A seizure! What do you mean?"

I was wheeled up to see my son. Floppy, still and so swollen covered in tubes. Even writing this now, I am still struggling to think about it without tearing up. I finally got to touch my baby for the first time. I was in a complete blur, just overwhelmed with what was happening. That moment I had yearned for, for so long felt nothing like I thought it would.

They explained Oscar had suffered from a seizure and he needed to be transferred for more specialist care. It took them a while to get him stable enough to travel. But he was finally moved to another hospital where he was therapeutically cooled for 72 hours.

Oscar suffered a from a hypoxic event during the last stages of labour, meaning his brain was deprived of oxygen at some point during the end of labour, causing an injury to his brain.

After the cooling process was completed and they began to warm Oscar up, he was still very stiff and unresponsive. I truly feared the worst. Mark and I both feared that our boy would not be coming home. We had both been thinking and questioning whether Oscar would survive. But we were too scared to ask each other or the doctors.

The scariest day for me had to be on day three. Oscar seemed to be trying to breathe over his ventilation system, so the nurses tried to let him breathe on his own. Oscar could not hold his head to control his airway, I watched his SATS drop and I collapsed. I screamed, I thought I was about to lose him. I had to be dragged outside while they tried to stabilise him again. They did, he just wasn’t quite ready to breathe fully on his own.

Oscar made it to day five and had his MRI, they confirmed he had suffered from a hypoxic event at birth and was diagnosed with Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE). This means that Oscar’s brain was starved of oxygen at some point during his birth and part of his brain has died as a result. He was diagnosed with grade 2 HIE Which is a moderate form, but it meant he would likely have lifelong disability of some kind.

There was still more turmoil to come in our birth story, as little did I know I was about lose 2.5 litres of blood. After we thought things were getting better, I woke up in the NICU accommodation, went to shower and began to bleed. It didn’t stop. I was rushed back into the hospital and after losing so much blood, I had to have emergency surgery and a blood transfusion to save my life. I don’t remember much, apart from Mark telling me he didn’t know where to turn. He stood in the corridor with Oscar down one end and me down the other.

Oscar was transferred to the local NICU two weeks after he was born. I finally held him for the first time when he was five days old. I heard him cry for the first time when he turned ten days old. He finally came was home at three weeks old.

Our time in the NICU was something I will never forget. I learnt how to care for my baby in a different way than many mothers, through the wires and the tube feeding. Oscar finally came off his tube on the 9th December 2020, and I haven’t looked back.

Oscar has been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, which is often the case with children diagnosed with HIE. But he continues to fight every day to make us proud. Our babies are warriors, they’ve fought to be here and I will always fight for you Oscar.