“The Bliss stories page got me through those nights at hospital” - Dally’s story

Dally's babies feet

Dally shares her experience of having a baby born prematurely, and undiagnosed severe pre-eclampsia. As her baby turns one, she reflects on her journey.

I had my baby in September 2021. It took me ten years to conceive and nine IVF cycles (but five transfers).

I had no sickness throughout my pregnancy and felt really healthy - I was walking every day and worked throughout. When I reached 34 weeks, I noticed a streak of blood when I went to the bathroom. I called the unit and they said to go in and get assessed.

My cervix was fine, just slightly irritated, but they did other observations while I was there. The nurse took my blood pressure and then she got another machine, asking if I felt well. She started checking my ankles or my hands for swelling and asked me if my vision was okay and if I had any headaches. I felt absolutely fine, which they found bizarre as my blood pressure was very high.

Other tests showed that I had acute kidney injury and raised alt levels – this basically means that I was showing signs of kidney disease and liver disease.

I was admitted to the maternity ward and the following day, my waters broke in hospital. I think I imagined it like how it's shown in the movies, your waters break and your baby's coming – now I know it isn’t the case!

They gave me a steroid to make sure that my baby’s lungs were okay and took my blood pressure again. They discharged me with a plan that I would come in every 24 hours and then get the baby out by 37 weeks.

After experiencing pain, I went in on Friday night at about midnight, and then he was born the following evening. He weighed about three pounds eleven, which was a real shock to me.

I'd never seen such a small baby before. I first felt a sense of relief that he was out and crying really loud - I held him for maybe a minute, but he was really wrapped up. We had no skin-to-skin contact and then he was taken by the neonatal team.

My health had been deteriorating and my organs were showing signs of damage. I had no protein in my urine all week, only during labour, which is when they confirmed I had severe pre-eclampsia. I felt slightly overwhelmed because after he was born, they started taking my bloods and my liver still wasn't looking good.

My baby was with the neonatal team for two nights, and then he stayed on a transitional ward with me so we could be together, which was really nice. We were there for just under two weeks as they were treating his jaundice and establishing feeding. Once he was checked over by the neonatal team, they had no real serious concerns over his health.

On the unit, they said I could put my hands through the holes of the incubator. I remember holding his head and his feet, through each of the holes and saying to the neonatal nurse, “do you think he knows I'm his mum?”

She said, “of course, he knows you're his mum.” That was my biggest worry at the time because you hear so many people making a huge deal out of that golden hour, that skin-to-skin contact. I worried that not having it was going to completely jeopardize my bond with him and that he was never going to love me. It sounds so irrational now!

I felt like having a premature baby took that joy away from giving birth.

Dally's baby boy in the incubator

There’s a lot going on and on the unit – there are lots of noises and monitors everywhere. When I saw him, he just had this tiny little nappy on these little skinny little legs. He was having LED therapy - I'd never seen a baby look so tiny, vulnerable and so pink.

I felt like having a premature baby took that joy away from giving birth. I didn't even share his birth with anyone apart from our immediate family. I could definitely not announce his birth while he wasn't with me - I needed us to be together.

When my extended family and friends found out that I’d given birth, I had so many beautiful messages, but I felt guilty because everyone was congratulating me and I just didn't know how I felt.

My baby still had tubes in him and I almost didn't want people to congratulate me. I thought - he's been born early. He's tiny. I don't know if he's going to be okay yet - why are you congratulating me?

I think a lot of people don't know what having a premature baby means if they've not been exposed to it. The whole experience has put me off having any more children. The way I see it is that my son needs me now. More recently I started reflecting on what happened - having severe pre-eclampsia – I’ve realised that it was a pretty big thing to go through. Having such big issues with my kidneys and my liver, while feeling completely well with no physical symptoms, was actually quite a scary situation to be in.

When I was in the hospital, I went on Bliss’ website and read every single story – I vividly remember laying there every night and going through them all. Those families made such a huge impact on me as I finally felt that I could relate to someone.

I wasn't in the right head space to think about my mental health at the time. I thought that I needed to focus purely on my baby, but I guess I was putting a barrier up. When my son got to six or seven months old, all the memories came flooding back.

My son is doing really well now – the stronger, bigger and healthier he gets, the worry starts to fade. I do find that I get quite bad health anxiety if we have any medical appointments – (he just had his nine-to-twelve-month check-up), but I think the anxiety will always be there to some extent. Luckily, my kidney and liver are working well now and I’ve been discharged from hospital care.

I have learned to trust my mother's instinct, which I questioned a lot at the beginning. I don’t know if that's just a normal new mum thing or because he was quite vulnerable when he was born, but over the last couple of months, I’ve just been really relaxing into my role as a mum.