"You just don’t know until you go through it" - Giorgia's story

Giorgia's son Arlo was born 11 weeks premature during the height of the pandemic. She explains how the parental restrictions and neonatal experience have impacted her mental health.

It was a normal Sunday day, even in the height of the pandemic. That night I woke with awful back pain, my husband Ben suggested maybe it was trapped wind. Thinking nothing of it I popped to the loo when, all of a sudden, I had the most horrific pain coming from my stomach and I screamed.

We didn't know what to do so we rang the maternity helpline. Even though I had never had this feeling before I knew my waters had broken and that the pain, I was feeling was contractions. When I told my husband, his legs turned to jelly.

The hospital asked us to come immediately. We left the house at 12:40am and got there within minutes. Due to the pandemic, Ben was not allowed in with me to start with so I had to walk into the hospital alone, crying and screaming in pain.

Once I got to the delivery suite it was utter chaos! There were so many staff members around me all in a blur. They gave me gas and air then went to fetch my husband (who knew then something was very wrong).

The midwife was trying to find our baby and his heartbeat but they couldn’t find it.

At that point I thought that we had lost our baby and kept crying my baby is dead, the midwife assured me that they are trying to find him. When they found a heartbeat, they said it was slowing and he needed to come out. He was breached. I was already 10cm dilated in that short time but he was stuck. The healthcare professionals made the call for an emergency C-Section. As I was 10cm dilated, I had to be put under general anaesthetic.

I fell asleep pregnant and woke up without a baby; feeling emotionally numb and wondering what had happened.

Arlo was born 2lb 15oz at 1:08am, because of the quick labour he did not get the steroids needed for his lungs in time. This meant that when Arlo was admitted to NICU he had to be ventilated.

When I was reunited with my husband I just cried and cried. He had seen Arlo and told me that he was doing well. As I had a C-section, I had to wait to visit and, because of Covid-19, I wasn’t even allowed to visit with my husband.

When I did eventually get to meet Arlo, it was a very bittersweet moment. There laying in a glass box was my beautiful baby boy. He was ventilated, covered in wires and sedated so was not aware of what was going on.

After a few days in hospital alone and feeling so many emotions I got told I can go home. Leaving the hospital without our baby was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do, also watching the new parents leave with their baby I felt it was not fair.

Arlo was in neonatal care for a total of nine weeks but it felt so much longer. The nurses were amazing; not only for Arlo but for me too as I really struggled emotionally with Arlo being in NICU. After a week I was finally able to hold him when he went on CPAP, then two weeks later me and my husband were both allowed in at the same time. I would always be involved with Arlo’s cares and feeds but was so scared as he seemed so fragile. However, when Arlo went on Vaportherm and went into a heated cot I found it far less scary as I feel the incubator was very intimidating.

Bliss has so much information online and with their Little Bliss magazine that I did feel more reassured that I wasn't alone in what I was going though.

Arlo hit a bump when he was struggling to come off Vaportherm. Because of his chronic lung disease, he needed extra help. Arlo would most likely need to come home on oxygen, which was a hard lump to swallow. I thought to myself, I have to be strong for Arlo and if that is what it takes to get him home then that is what he needs!

The weeks, tests, scans, weigh-ins went by and finally he was in the special unit getting prepared to come home. The next big step was practice breastfeeding.

Through this journey I wasn’t producing enough for a full feed even though I did everything they told me. Arlo struggled with breastfeeding as it was hard work and it would tire him out quickly. As we kept trying it wasn’t getting easier, a nurse suggested if we wanted to try a bottle with expressed and formula milk. I really didn’t want to but I couldn’t just think of myself. I agreed to try and as much as I hated it, he did so much better on a bottle.

Even though I was so happy for him, I was also hurting inside as I felt that breastfeeding was best for him. If he wasn’t going to breastfeed, I decided to stop expressing. As it was not only causing me stress, I also wasn’t really producing much. I would rather be happy and enjoy my baby. I gave him the best start with whatever I could produce.

In August, Arlo was finally discharged with oxygen ready at home for him. We were so thrilled but also scared as he was still so small and seemed so fragile – but we were over the moon!

Arlo is now off oxygen and stronger than ever! He still loves his food and is developing extremely well for his prematurity. This was an experience I never want to go through again and have really suffered mentally, which I am getting help for. Babies in neonatal care are very strong and I wish the world knew a lot more about this. You just don’t know until you go through it.