On Unit: May – July 2020
Gestation: 30 Weeks.
Mam, May: “I was 30 weeks pregnant when I suddenly had a huge bleed in the middle of night. I’d had a fairly normal pregnancy up until then, or so I thought. Our taxi journey to the RVI was full of worry and we assumed the worst had happened. Arriving at the hospital was pretty terrifying, COVID restrictions meant my husband Richy had to wait outside whilst I made my way up to the maternity unit alone to find out the fate of our unborn baby. An initial search of the baby’s heart rate was inconclusive (my heart rate was sky high), so an ultrasound was performed and thankfully the baby’s heart rate was found. He was alive but distressed. I was told I would be moved to the delivery suite where they would continue to monitor him and potentially deliver him by emergency c-section.
As I was wheeled along to the delivery suite I kept thinking ‘he’s only 30 weeks’ and fearfully wondering if babies survive being born at 30 weeks. Over the coming weeks I found out that many babies are actually born much earlier and go on to thrive, as I met many amazing Mum’s on the unit of babies born as early as 22 weeks.
As I entered the delivery suite I was greeted by an amazing medical team all scrubbed up. It was hard to believe that just an hour earlier I was asleep in my bed. Any fears I had were significantly eased by the team who were incredibly professional, supportive and reassuring. My husband was called up and soon after that our baby boy was delivered weighing a tiny 970g (2lb 2oz) with a full head of hair. It all happened so quickly, I had woken up in bed at 1am and our baby was born at 2.48am. He was soon wheeled over to us and his oxygen mask was removed for a few seconds so we could see his tiny little face and then he was taken to Ward 35. It was another 8 hours before I would see him again and 38 hours before I would get to hold him for the first time.
Over the coming weeks the RVI became our second home. COVID restrictions were in place, so Dads could only visit every other day and only one parent could visit at a time. The days were spent expressing milk, tube feeding, and changing nappies through little incubator doors. On days when Alexander was able to come out of his incubator we were lucky to get lots of skin-on-skin cuddles. On other days, we would stand for hours, ‘comfort holding’ him in his incubator, gently cradling his head and legs.
There was lots of support on the Unit which helped get us through what was the most difficult experience of our lives. I’ll always remember the amazing Mums I met, some who were not strangers to the Ward but had been there before and were still stronger than I could ever imagine being. The wonderful feeding team taught me all about expressing milk and were there every day to check how I was doing. The friendly physios and OT’s provided gel cushions to support Alexander’s head development, sling demonstrations, and car seat trials to ensure a tiny Alexander was safely positioned when the time came to go home.
I’ll always remember the kindness shown by the nurses and appreciate everything they did for Alexander. I’ll remember the nurse who comforted me when Alexander desaturated the day he moved to the home bay, the nurse who would stop in the corridor to ask how he was doing even though she was on her break, the nurse who noticed he was looking a bit pale one night so ran a blood test and found he needed a blood transfusion, the nurse who had been so helpful and informative and taught me so many useful little things. There were of course some really hard times but we try not to dwell on them now. We can almost laugh about the fact that our taxi was dispatched to the RVI rather than our home address the night we went into hospital.
Some people tell us that we are lucky to have had Alexander during the COVID pandemic whilst his Dad was on furlough and had time to be with him. We are thankful for a lot of things but certainly not COVID. COVID deprived his Dad of seeing him in hospital every day. It prevented us from seeing him together meaning we missed out on each other’s firsts with Alexander, like first cuddles and first feeds. It meant we each had to face difficult news alone, and then had to relay it to the other parent, like finding out Alexander would be coming home on oxygen. COVID deprived us of the support of our extended family and it prevented them from seeing Alexander for so long.
After 7 weeks on the Ward, we were invited to ‘room in’ with Alexander for a few days before going home and this was the first time the 3 of us would be together. We think of this time as our first family weekend away, fully catered with a view of Leazes Park. At the end of our stay, Alexander was discharged from hospital and after weeks of seeing parents come and go with car seats it was finally our turn to take our baby home. Alexander came home on 12th July 2020 weighing 4lbs and we couldn’t be more grateful for the care he received and the support provided by Tiny Lives.
One year on, Alexander is a very happy, excitable and energetic little boy. He faced two re-admittances to hospital, one for a double inguinal hernia operation in August 2020 and one for severe constipation after starting solids in November 2020, both of which are common in premature babies. He came off the oxygen at 9 months and caring for him has gradually become easier. Whilst we will always constantly worry about him, we now worry about more normal things like teething, weaning and sleeping, rather than oxygen, blood transfusions and surgery.”
How did Tiny Lives impact your time on the Unit?
“Tiny Lives supported us in so many ways, both on the Unit and after we came home. From the Parent Packs and Miniboo comforters we received the day Alexander was born, to the sandwiches and refreshments which kept us going every day in hospital. For someone who didn’t have a hospital bag, I was instantly grateful for the mini toothbrush & toothpaste contained in the Parent Packs, and we loved the memory book which we filled with photos of Alexander’s stay in hospital. I’m sure we’ll show it to him one day when we tell him the story about his very special start in life.
Tiny Lives have provided sessions with a Clinical Psychologist to help process the trauma we experienced the night of Alexander’s birth, as well as the ongoing challenges we faced when he came home, including the two hospital re-admittances and the ongoing anxieties surrounding COVID. Tiny Lives have provided online classes and support groups which have been so valuable, especially during lockdown. It’s been so helpful to have the support of other Mums who have been through similar experiences and the wonderful community nurses who run very special groups. We will always be so grateful to be a part of the Tiny Lives family.”