By Emma Reed – a blogger, freelance writer and self-published author from Hampshire. A Mother to 2, Emma’s blog has flourished and she covers a wide variety of topics from parenting to babies, prematurity to breastfeeding, home and garden, the highs and lows of being a Mum and honest accounts of her real-life experiences.
Having a premature baby wasn’t something that I had ever thought about. It wouldn’t be if you’re having your first baby or if your first pregnancy went swimmingly as mine did, yet, sometimes some things just happen and as we all know, every baby is different!
After having an emergency c-section with my first child, my biggest aim the second time around was to have a natural birth. I spent a lot of time focusing my energy on being fitter and stronger, doing my research, discussing my options with my midwife and consultant and booking in ante-natal classes. However, there was this niggle in my mind that something wasn’t quite right.
That Niggly Feeling
I was noticing that I was breathless most days, that my bump was often quite tight and uncomfortable, that I had a lot of discharge (which I hadn’t had with my first) and that I was extremely tired even though I wasn’t too far along. Of course, everybody told me that it was because I was running around after a three-year-old this time yet I couldn’t see how I would feel this bad.
And then one evening I started to bleed. Again, I was told this was normal in pregnancy. Approximately a week later I bled for a second time. I knew this wasn’t normal for me as it didn’t happen the first time around. When I lost my mucus plug at around 26 weeks I knew I had to push for answers…
To cut a long story short, after going back and forth, I finally persuaded the midwives to investigate and after a swab, I received the diagnosis of Group B Strep, a bacterium that is usually found within the gut but can also be present in the vagina in around 25% of women. The course of action is to give the Mother IV antibiotics at birth in order to prevent her baby from contracting it as they pass through the birth canal. However, medical staff insisted that it is a symptomless condition and I was told that it wouldn’t be causing me these issues with my pregnancy… What happened next makes me believe otherwise.
At 30 weeks gestation, I was stood in my kitchen and felt fluid leaking. I quietly went to the toilet but knew I hadn’t wet myself, I knew this was my waters. I stayed quiet, I didn’t want to say it out loud to my husband. I cleaned myself up only for it to happen ten minutes later. That to me was my confirmation and I told him. We waited to see whether anything progressed but nothing else happened until around 2 am when I woke soaked. My waters had gushed and I knew I needed to seek medical attention.
At the hospital, it was confirmed and they began prepping me in case I went into premature labour. I was given antibiotics to protect my baby from infection and steroids to ensure his lungs grew sufficiently. After a few days in hospital I was allowed home but on strict instructions to rest, to keep taking my antibiotics and to monitor my water loss. The aim was to get me to 36 weeks, ideally…
They Come When They Come…
I lasted 2 more weeks. At 32 weeks pregnant, I went into labour. There was an infection and my womb was no longer a safe place for my baby to be. There was no time to even think about what was happening he was coming and coming fast! At 9:36 pm he arrived and was briefly placed on me to say hello and to have the cord cut.
The NICU team were on hand to give immediate medical attention and he was taken away from me in a flash and down to the department that would become his home for the weeks ahead.
When it came to visiting my baby 4 hours later, I didn’t know what to expect. We’d already had a tour of the NICU in preparation for a potential premature birth but I had no idea how poorly he may or may not be and what help he may need. We were taken to an incubator where this tiny body lay right in the centre. Tubes and wires covered him and I didn’t know how to react or what to think. I guess I went into serious mode and asked all the right questions and answered sensibly all whilst keeping my cool, yet deep inside all I wanted to be able to do was cuddle my newborn and cry. We weren’t allowed to touch him or hold him, he was too small and he’d just been through a huge trauma. So, we sat with him for a while and then left him to recover.
The next day, we returned expecting to hear the same thing so we were surprised when the nurses encouraged us to place a hand on him for reassurance. I was overjoyed and was washing my hands before the nurse had finished speaking! Whereas my husband felt that our baby was still too fragile to be touched by him so he chose not to.
When you have a premature baby it is about getting the right balance of touch and care so you don’t stress them but also so that they can get used to your smell and they can feel comforted. I think with each baby this will be different depending on their gestation, their weight (because jutting bones on skin can be tender), their progress and their reactions to it all. This is where we were lucky. William responded very well to gentle touch. He didn’t jump or seem distressed and because I had received my steroids, his lungs coped well enough to only need his breathing aid for that first night which meant he could come out of his incubator on the first day and we could enjoy some kangaroo care.
Life in NICU is a tough one to explain if you haven’t been there. You cling on to every little bit of progress, you spend your days wishing for your baby to improve, you ask the nurses and doctors over and over how they are doing just in case something may have changed in the last hour and your world revolves around trips to the hospital, pumping milk, delivering it, scheduling your real life around the hospital and worrying.
Looking back now, so much was a blur. At the time it was raw and scary and utterly exhausting yet I’m sure if it all happened again I would still feel this exact same way. People try to understand, they try to say the right things but nothing feels right. Leaving your baby night after night alone in a hospital is one of the most painful things you’ll have to do as a parent but they do not provide a bed for parents and if you have other children at home, you have no choice.
Each day is about feeds, attempting breastfeeding, pumping, weight gains, observations and working towards the next step up. When they achieve those steps it’s further progress to getting your little one home, where they belong.
After receiving light therapy for jaundice, coming off of his glucose and saline drips, taking to feeds really well, William was quickly moved from his incubator into a hot cot. This is an open cot which is warmed to keep their temperature regulated. From here he was then moved into his very own room! Here I had privacy to be with him, to establish breastfeeding and to tend to a lot of his needs myself. When I had to leave to go home I would hand these duties back over to the dedicated nursing team. There was so much that happened each day and he made such amazing progress and it was easy to forget a lot of what occurred when, which is why I began to write a diary. This was not only helpful to remember the information to then pass on to family members but it was also extremely therapeutic. I would spend hours sitting alone next to his bed so writing really saved my mental health.
I published my diary on my blog which is available to read in a four-part series.
William’s biggest hurdle to overcome was his temperature regulation. In order to come home, premature babies need to show that they can feed well, that they are gaining weight, that their sats are stable enough and that they can keep their temperature to a safe level.
Once the medical staff think your baby is close to being able to go home you are allowed to come in for the weekend to ‘room in’; at their unit flat. After almost 3 weeks I was finally getting my very first night with my baby!
It was so emotional, it was what I had been desperate to do from the moment I laid eyes on him and I will never forget that night, I didn’t sleep but it was still amazing!
However, after the weekend was up I was told he wouldn’t be coming home due to his temperature not staying where it needed to which meant I went home alone… and sobbed my heart out. I knew he was in the best place but it still hurt.
Yet, something else you learn from the NICU is that a day can make the world of difference and you can never really predict what may happen next. As I was about to leave at lunchtime to go and collect my older son from pre-school, a doctor I hadn’t seen before popped in to give her assessment on William and to my astonishment she announced that he was, in fact, ready to go home! After three weeks of tests, observations, monitoring feeds and weight, mastering breastfeeding, my brave little fighter had done it, he had achieved what we thought may have taken up to 5 weeks longer.
Once at home, he continued to blossom and proved to all of us how amazing premature babies really are.
Over a year on he is now an active, happy, healthy, bubbly toddler who lights up our lives. Having a baby born 8 weeks too soon was the most terrifying time but it has also been one the biggest eye-openers and I wouldn’t change a thing about him.
Emma Reed is a blogger, freelance writer and self-published author from Hampshire. Her writing career began when she struggled to find information to help her first child through his teething journey. As she began to research this area, she realised how much there was to understand and learn and it led to the idea of a book to help other parents who may also be struggling.
Once her book, ‘Your Teething Baby, from one parent to another‘ went on sale on Amazon, Emma started up her parenting blog to reach out to others and to document her journey as a Mother to Jake.
Three years on and now a Mother to 2, Emma’s blog has flourished and she now covers a wide variety of topics from parenting to babies, prematurity to breastfeeding, home and garden, the highs and lows of being a Mum and honest accounts of her real-life experiences.