Premature birth: Angela’s story

This morning we bring you Angela’s story of Lewis’ rather dramatic arrival at just 26+4 weeks gestation. What a little fighter and stories of the NHS at its finest! Thank you so much for sharing your story, Angela. 

Lewis’ arrival was quite a surprise for everyone, he was our first child and everything had being going well with the pregnancy.  My husband and I had a lovely time off work over Christmas and in early January I went shopping with my mum and mum in law to buy all that we needed for the baby’s arrival, I thought it was a bit early but wanted to make the most of the last day of our holidays.  The next morning I woke up and had been bleeding slightly.  The hospital told me to come in to be checked over so we travelled up in a complete panic.

The midwife couldn’t find any reason for the bleeding and all scans were fine.  I was kept in as a precaution and told that once the bleeding stopped for 24 hours I could go home, after four days I got to around 22 hours without bleeding so thought I was escaping, however I was very wrong!

I started bleeding again so they said I had to stay, what I didn’t realise was that I was retaining water, had protein in my urine and my blood pressure was starting to creep upwards, my husband went home after visiting finished, about 30 minutes later the head midwife came and told me they were taking me straight to labour ward for one on one monitoring as I had pre-eclampsia,  they called my husband who had just pulled into our driveway and he turned the car around and raced straight back to the hospital.

I remember being told by the consultant that at 26 weeks the baby had a 50/50 chance of survival, at 28 weeks it was 75/25 and at 30 weeks everything was likely to be fine.  They wanted me to hold off until at least 28 weeks but I couldn’t even manage 12 hours.

The drugs to reduce my blood pressure weren’t working so we had no option but to agree to an emergency section, I remember pleading with the consultant to at least wait a few hours longer to see if the drugs would work but they would not back down.

I had to have a general anaesthetic whilst Lewis was born by section and due to the pre-eclampsia causing me to retain massive amounts of fluid, they arranged to have a ventilator on standby, should I have needed some help breathing, it transpired that I did!

Lewis was subsequently born at 07:10 am, some 11 hours or so from when I was transferred to Labour suite.  My husband was pacing the adjacent room all the time I was in the delivery suite and remembers seeing a tiny little bundle flying past him in an incubator with a number of doctors in tow.

One of the first photos of Lewis that Angela saw

Some hours later, my husband was told that Lewis was stable and on a ventilator in ITU and that I was still in the delivery suite on the ventilator.  Unfortunately, the fluid in my body had increased to such a level that my lungs had become saturated and the delivery ventilator was not up to the task of maintaining my breathing for an extended period of time.   I needed to be transferred to a specialist recovery unit in another hospital that had an appropriate ventilator that would in effect, exercise my lungs to expel the excess fluid.  This, my husband was told, could take anything up to 48 hours.

It transpired that I came round after 36 hours and true to style, I hour after my husband had left my bedside to return home, again, he got the call at 9.30pm, as he pulled into the driveway and promptly turned round and returned to the hospital.

It was more than 48 hours from delivery that I got to see my baby.  My husband has a vivid recollection of those hours where he found it difficult to decide which hospital to go to.

Meeting Lewis for the first time

Lewis was 2lb 11oz when he was born – much bigger than most babies at 26 week gestation – and that helped him battle through.

Lewis spent a total of 15 weeks in the hospital – nine of those weeks were on a ventilator, much longer than doctors would like but he needed to have an operation on his heart to have his PDA closed and he wasn’t well enough for over a month due to infections to have the operation.

The first time we got to cuddle Lewis was just before he was taken for the PDA operation at around 5 weeks old, before then we could only care for him in the incubator, changing his nappy and feeding him expressed breast milk through his nasal tube.

He was a little fighter and quite often the nurses found him with his nasal tube pulled out, one nurse joked that she was going to have to use superglue to keep his tubes in!

The hospital staff were amazing, they couldn’t offer enough support, it was like a little family in the unit, but it was also one of the scariest places I have ever been, the constant beeps of the machines, the wheezing noise that one of the machines made as it did its work to keep the babies alive.  The constant roller coaster of clearing one infection only to get another, the lumbar punctures for suspected meningitis, the isolation after he had been cared for by a nurse who later found out had Chicken Pox, the endless brain scans to test for issues, the eye tests to assess if the nerves are forming correctly, just test after test, antibiotic after antibiotic, off the ventilator, back on the ventilator, the sheer panic when he aspirated his milk and the machines bleeped endlessly.

After 15 manic weeks we were eventually discharged, Lewis still needed oxygen so we carried about our portable cylinder everywhere we went for the first year of his life.

Lewis is now 5 years old and other than lots of tiny pin pricks in his hand from all the injections and the scars from his operations you would have no idea now just how premature he was.  He has no lasting issues from his prematurity and I put that down to the amazing care he received from the Queen Mums Special Care Baby Unit and Yorkhill hospital.

Lewis’ first day at primary school

The staff were wonderful, I had their full support in helping me first to express enough milk to feed Lewis and then to teach him how to actually feed for himself when he developed the suck reflex.  They helped me that much that I actually managed to express enough milk to donate to the milk bank.  I felt it was important to do this as Lewis’ first feeds were of donated milk as I was too ill to express.  We also had help from a psychologist at the hospital that helped us rationalise and understand what was going on.

We have gone one to have another child since Lewis.  I was under constant consultant care and took aspirin from early on in the pregnancy.  It was all completely uneventful with a planned c-section at 39 weeks and discharged from hospital the next day.  Quite a difference and a welcome relief.

I cannot thank the staff enough for all that they did for Lewis and for us.

Big brother Lewis with his sister Rachel

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15 million babies are born preterm around the world every year—that’s 1 in 10. More than 1 million babies die due to complications of preterm birth and many of those who survive face a lifetime of disability. Both Tommy’s and Bliss raise funds to help both babies and families who are born prematurely and require special care.    You can find more about what they do, or make a donation, by clicking the links provided. 

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