#PrematurityIs being told your baby is on his way into the world, foot first, at 25 weeks in the wrong city.
Friday 17 November is World Prematurity Day and the charity, Bliss, is doing a great job of raising awareness of prematurity. Prematurity is the leading cause of death in children under five around the world. One in ten babies is born prematurely.
I have had some experience of prematurity in my life so far. I was born five weeks premature. My youngest sister, Taylor, was born ten weeks premature. There were no signs during the pregnancy that my son, Leo, would be born at 25 weeks and 6 days. It had been plain sailing before that.
Unbeknown to me, my labour started on Sunday 11th June in London. I was uncomfortable and experiencing pain. During the early hours of Monday morning, I became concerned that I was due to get a train home to Dundee that day and the pain was getting worse. I called the Triage service at my local hospital to ask for advice and they told me to get to my closest hospital in London and get checked out. We were all pretty sure it was a urine infection.
I woke the friends I was staying with and they got me to University College London Hospital’s Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Wing. Luckily, I was in one of the best neonatal units in the UK, but I didn’t know that yet. They were crazy busy and it was without a hint of humour that the midwife told me it was because of the full moon. There were literally babies arriving all around us and we were going to have to wait.
I was given a scan by a young doctor. The words she would use still fly through my head most days. “Nicola, you are in labour. The baby is on his way. I see a foot making its way.” I shook. Violently. I knew how early it was. I didn’t ask the question. I had no idea if the baby would survive.
A consultant came to see me. He was very calm and reassuring. He told me I would be given an injection to try and stop or slow the labour. I would also be given steroids to help the baby’s lungs, just in case they couldn’t slow it. An intervention that made Leo’s first days of life much more stable than they could have been. I still wasn’t really getting it. I asked if it would delay labour enough to get the train home. I was told I would not be leaving the hospital until the baby arrived. The consultant explained that they routinely deliver babies in that hospital from 23 weeks’ gestation and someone from the Neonatal Unit would talk to me about what happens there. The neonatal consultant told me that my baby had a good heartbeat and he estimated a good weight for his gestation. He was confident. I didn’t need to know numbers. I just had to keep calm, and I needed to see my husband.
Ross made what I imagine was one of the worst journeys of his life after being fleeced royally by Ryanair and got to me in time. In fact, he was there two hours before Leo arrived. I go a bit blurry after that. I was in labour pains, getting contractions and could have nothing stronger than paracetamol to help.
It became apparent the labour wasn’t going to go away. I was moved to a labour suite and finally got my hands on the gas and air. Things moved quickly from there. My friend recently talked me through it. I get flashbacks, but not all the detail. Apparently, emergency alarms were pressed and the room filled with people. I remember events coming into sharp focus when the obstetrician who delivered Leo, wearing a hairnet and scrubs, got down in front of me and said in a very calm and stern voice. “Nicola, this baby is coming, it’s going to be breech. We are confident and we are just going to let it come now.” The neonatal team were already there waiting to work on the baby.
Leo entered the world only minutes later. He yelped as he did. The neonatal team intubated him and he was taken to the Neonatal Unit. We had a chance to stroke his head as he passed us.
The following hours, days, weeks and months would be the hardest I would ever know. We would be raised up with hope and Leo’s triumphs and we would be crushed with disappointments and setbacks. Leo would experience ventilators, long lines, cannulas, blood gases, lumbar punctures, neurosurgery, infection and jaundice. We would make friends. We would love and admire the teams at UCL and Ninewells Hospital. We would be airlifted home by Lucy Air Ambulance. We would experience the dark days when one of the fellow babies would find the fight too hard. We would have the bittersweet moments when other babies went home. We would have our terrific and terrifying first night at home. Mostly there would be a lot of watching and waiting. Holding and hoping. That’s what #PrematurityIs to me… Having hope for my baby and giving gratitude to all in Heaven and on Earth who have helped us.