Three hospitals before my baby was two days old – Charlotte’s story

Charlotte describes what it was like being transferred by ambulance to three different hospitals as doctors looked for a unit which was able to treat her baby’s rare condition.

The pregnancy was the best one I had had: my blood pressure behaved, the baby wriggled lots, morning sickness had subsided by 12 weeks and the scans were all perfect! I was working full time and I planned to start my maternity leave at 36 weeks so I could have longer off after the birth and I knew I would only be restless at home. But my baby had other plans: she arrived a fortnight before I was supposed to go on leave, at just 34 weeks.

I was in work and something just didn’t feel right but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I wasn’t in pain, I didn’t feel poorly. The baby had kicked briefly but not as much as usual, and there were still no movements after I had an ice water. I drove to see a midwife and she found a good heartbeat. Phew! But my blood pressure was slightly up and there were some traces of protein in my urine, so we decided I would go to the day unit at our nearest hospital. Hospital number one.

I felt fine while I sat in the corridor outside the ward. But when I was called through to be put on the monitor, I suddenly felt sick, and blacked out. When I came around, I was in a room on the labour ward with my partner on his way.

When our little girl arrived, she wasn’t breathing and was bluey-grey in colour. All I wanted was skin on skin with her and to breastfeed her, but she was whisked away and we didn’t see her for five hours. Later, we were told our baby had been resuscitated and put on a ventilator as she could not breathe on her own. But the hospital did not have the equipment or expertise needed to keep her alive, so we were transferred to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.

As I got into the ambulance to Alder Hey, with everyone around me looking on sympathetically, my legs felt like jelly. Only one parent could travel in the ambulance so my partner had to find his own way there. I heard the words ‘blue lights – quick as you can!’ I knew the journey was over an hour by car – would we get there quick enough? I was so sore that each bump in the road was agonising; machines were beeping around me; the sirens were so loud. Through a tiny gap in the window, I could see cars pulling over, making way for my baby fighting for her life. But the ambulance team were so calm, and kept chatting to me – I can’t remember what about – to lighten the mood.

I just wanted to have a bath, get in a pair of clean pyjamas, and have a cup of tea and slice of toast on the post-natal ward. But instead, my breasts were leaking, I was still losing blood and I was travelling with total strangers in an ambulance with its blue lights flashing.

At Alder Hey, hospital number two, they soon discovered the problem: our baby had persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN), a condition which affects roughly one in five hundred babies, where the pressure in the blood vessels in the lungs doesn’t lower like it should after birth.

That night we stayed in a room next to her ward but the following day, we were told she needed to be transferred to Glan Clwyd Neonatal, another specialist hospital, over two hours away, which could give her the medicine she needed and monitor her one-to-one. We still couldn’t hold her. We hadn’t even had a chance to name her. I felt calmer for this transfer as we had the same lady driving us and she was so happy to see us. She let me ride in the front and offered me some sweets, which made me smile. It sounds silly what you remember, but her kindness kept me going.

We arrived at hospital number three and settled in. There, we had our own little apartment where we took turns to shower and get some sleep. Our parents were keen to visit their new grandchild; her siblings were wondering why they hadn’t held her yet. Our mobiles were constantly beeping with messages from concerned friends and family but we didn’t have the words to explain what was happening and why. All I could think was that my baby was three days old and had never been held.

Yet when, at the end of the third day, I heard the words ‘would you like to hold your baby?’, I was petrified. ‘How?’ I thought, ‘she’s too small, and what about all the wires and tubes?’ I was worried there wouldn’t be a bond between us, but there was. It felt amazing just to hold her and breathe in her hair.

The next day, our baby was starting to move around and was even breathing on her own. She was on the road to recovery so was transferred back to hospital number one. Suddenly, back at the ward where it all started, I froze. I couldn’t move my legs. My throat went dry and my chest was tight. This was where I had given birth, where I had my baby taken away and where she had stopped breathing. The memories came rushing back: the same smell; the same staff who tried to reassure us. It was all so familiar. But the incubator she had been in was now occupied by another poorly baby. Our baby, Isabella Grace, after twelve days, three hospitals, and three ambulance journeys, was finally coming home.

People asked me how I coped and, to this day, I don’t know. I cried, I constantly had a feeling of dread, I was numb. I still have so many questions about why this happened, why it was not picked up on scans, why it happened to us. And I still get upset when I look back at everything.

For weeks afterwards I suffered with PTSD: I would have recurring nightmares, I could still hear the machines beeping in my sleep and I would keep waking through the night to check her breathing. But every single day, we thank our lucky stars for our determined, strong-willed little girl who, other than needing regular scans on her heart, will get to lead a normal, happy life.

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