"We had no idea if she would survive" - Hannah's story

When Hannah was about to give birth to her full term daughter, she did not expect for her to need care in NICU. Here, Hannah discusses the birth journey, as well as the incredible support she received from the NICU nurses.

It was February 13th 2019, I was in labour with my second child, and everything was going fine. I was so happy to have gone full term after having a premature baby two years previously. However, as the labour progressed, the pain became unbearable. I kept telling myself “come on, you can do it!”

It was time to push, and with support from my husband and the midwives, contraction after contraction I pushed as hard as I could and then everything became a blur.

The emergency buzzer pulled, swarms of people ran into the room, my baby’s head was out but her shoulder was stuck. The team did all they could to get her out. As soon as she was delivered, they began resuscitating my little girl. There were medical staff everywhere, surrounding my little girl and me. I kept shouting “please save her!”, “is she ok?”, “Someone tell me she is okay”. I kept hearing the words “baby unresponsive”.

After what felt like an eternity, we heard her cry. She cried, we cried more. She was alive!

The doctors held her up for a brief moment so we could see her, then she was taken to NICU. Within an hour, she was being prepped for transfer to another hospital who could give her the care that she required. Our plans of taking her home dashed with the severity of a blue light hospital move. We were taken down to NICU to see our little girl before she left, huddled in a small room staff began to explain what was happening and going to happen.

We recognised one of the nurses in NICU who had looked after our son two years prior. She hugged me, and that hug, at that time, was amazing. Everything ran through my mind, “She’s full term, she isn’t premature, this shouldn’t be happening, she is too big to be on NICU”.

A fleeting visit to see my daughter, Evelyn, in her transfer machine left us broken. She looked so poorly, so many wires and tubes. We had no idea if she would survive. We had no idea if there would be any lasting damage from the lack of oxygen to her brain. Hours went by and we heard the news that I could be transferred to the same hospital.

I can vividly recall the first time we stepped foot into NICU. Evelyn looked so big in comparison to the tiny premature babies who had just become her neighbours for an indefinite length of time. She looked so still in her incubator, so grey and poorly.

Evelyn spent 72 hours on the cooling therapy and then her body temperature was slowly brought back to a normal temperature. We were repeatedly told this wouldn’t fix any damage that was caused by the lack of oxygen but could help prevent further brain damage.

Every time I went to see Evelyn, I was trapped by fear. Fear of bad news, setbacks or worse still. I couldn’t take any more bad news. I’d often wait until my husband arrived so we could walk in together. I remember walking in sitting by her incubator, talking to her, the first time she opened her eyes, oh the joy, it felt amazing to see her eyes like we’d reached a huge milestone.

As we sat holding our little girl’s hand a doctor came to talk to us, explaining exactly what had happened. During labour, Evelyn’s shoulder had become stuck, technically known as shoulder dystocia. Her head was delivered before the rest of her body and with her shoulder becoming lodged it resulted in her brain being starved of oxygen. Again, we heard of the uncertainty of brain damage at this stage, continuous monitoring, MRI scans, growth charts and milestones. No questions from me at this stage, just a numbness as I began to process information all the while, holding on to these tiny, seemingly lifeless fingers.

I remember one evening after my husband had left, sitting alone, unable to sleep. A nurse came in my room to check my obs. The hospital had found a bed for me on antenatal ward because of the circumstances, so I saw lots of heavily pregnant women preparing to give birth. The staff were very busy, but the nurse sat with me and answered question after question. I recall her saying, "Don’t feel we’re too busy to speak to you. Just because your baby’s been born, we are here for you as much as we are here for every lady, your baby is seriously ill, we are here for you". She sat with me, comforted me, let me cry and listened in a time when I felt at my lowest. I blamed myself and she held me.

When a baby is on a neonatal unit, it’s not just about the baby, it’s about the parents as well. Our baby was so ill and we had no idea what was going to happen. All the information felt a blur, but knowing we could talk to people helped us massively.