Being pregnant as a first time Mummy you have these ‘perfect’ images of meeting your baby for the first time, the first skin to skin, the first photo, the first outfit, meeting grandparents for the first time. Meeting your baby surrounded by tubes, wires, monitors, beeps and separated by glass in the NICU is never what you would dream of.
Everything during my pregnancy was going amazing. I was active, the morning sickness had subsided early on, baby was described as ‘Little Miss Average’ on all the scans and midwife appointments. All going perfectly until my 28-week check-up. The midwife was just about to write me a fit to fly note as we were going on holiday to Egypt over Christmas. Thank goodness she didn’t otherwise I might not have been here to share this story or telling a very different one. The midwife picked up on high blood pressure so sent me to be monitored. Whilst in the hospital it had come down so was asked to come back two days after for more monitoring as it was on the higher side of the normal range. I went back to hospital as asked two days later after doing the Nativity play with my class in the morning, fully expecting to be back in work the next day. My blood pressure was still high so I was put on medication and monitored with an overnight stay in hospital. I had no other symptoms so was diagnosed with Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH). The following Monday I went for a growth scan and baby measuring as ‘Little Miss Average’ still and seemed happy. There was talk about possibly inducing me around 37-38 weeks but I was to be monitored for my blood pressure twice a week. Feeling perfectly healthy I had a little moan about the twice weekly check-ups (again thank goodness I did because otherwise it could be a very different story)
On 3rd January I went for my blood pressure checked with the midwife. Despite being on the medication it had sky rocketed. I had a bit of protein in my urine and was sent to the hospital for monitoring. By the time I got to the hospital the protein had gone but my blood pressure was still high. After monitoring baby and having some blood tests I was sent home with the medication increased.
The next morning, I had a phone call to say could I come in at 3pm for some more blood tests as my platelets had dropped to 78. Dropping to below 150 is classed as low. I was told I should be home before dinner time so not to take a bag. As soon as I arrived at hospital more bloods were taken and we were left chilling, happily listening to baby’s heartbeat. Within an hour of arriving a doctor came into the cubicle and said she was going to give me a steroid injection into my leg to help develop the baby’s lungs and they were admitting me onto labour suite. I can remember saying “I’m not even 31 weeks pregnant.” I had developed a condition called HELLP Syndrome which is a rare but life-threating condition. It causes red blood cells to break down, problems with the liver, bleeding and blood pressure. It was then a whirlwind of doctors, surgeons prepping me for an emergency general anaesthetic caesarean. They put me to sleep in case of complications with clotting and was given a platelet transfusion beforehand. Madison-Rae was born on 4.01.20 at 8.29pm, weighing 2lbs 13oz at 30+6 weeks.
We were then catapulted into a world of machines, beeps, tubes and wires. Words you’ve never heard of before but become an expert about. The first time I saw her I was wheeled down on the hospital bed after coming round from the general anaesthetic. She looked so tiny and fragile with her intubation, my heart broke. The glass of the incubator feels like a brick wall when all you want to do is pick your baby up and cuddle them. You feel like you’ve already failed your baby by not keeping them safe. She should be inside me safe not fighting for her life. Her tiny little fingers barely covered my nail when she held my hand. I can remember wanting to cry every time someone congratulated me because we didn’t know if she would make it through each day. We had our first cuddle with Madison-Rae the day after she was born. It was like a surreal dream but the best feeling in the world. The NICU nurses are like angels on earth. They get you so involved in your baby’s care that you soon become ‘experts’ and learn all the medical terms and what the machine beeps mean. Learning to test your babies stomach acid before tube feeding is far from the images you’d imaged when you are pregnant.
Being in the NICU is like being on a rollercoaster of emotions. Madison-Rae had 9 days where she was so poorly with sepsis that we were looking at how she was doing on an hour by hour basis. Her oxygen levels were continually desaturating and she kept having bradycardias with her heart. It was a terrifying time but every day I would write down two positive things which had happened that day and focus on those.
When her tiny body started responding to the antibiotics she seemed to turn a massive corner and soon started breathing for longer periods of time without the CPAP mask. Within a few days she was bottle feeding my breast milk and moved to low dependency after 28 days. Madison-Rae came home after 5 weeks in the NICU weighing 4lbs, the day before I should have been 36 weeks pregnant.
Being in the NICU is hard. There is no sugar coating it. It conjures a strength inside you that you didn’t know you had. You watch your baby fighting for their life every day and have to be strong for them, even if you are falling apart inside. Seeing them lying there and not being able to pick them up when you want or comfort them when they are distressed is the most heart-breaking thing. It tests your relationship but makes you stronger.
Having Madison-Rae in the NICU and premature has made me appreciate being a Mummy even more. I’ve learnt to let go of what you expected and go with the flow. I am so proud of every little milestone she makes and how well she is doing. She is now nearly 9 months old, super cheeky, sitting up, rolling, trying to crawl and a happy little girl. Madison-Rae was born at 30 weeks and a strong NICU warrior, she wasn’t born to be ‘Little Miss Average!’