Tommy's guest blog, 07/11/2016, by Sinead Hayes
At Tommy’s, we know that the emotional burden of having a preterm baby on you and your wider family is huge.
As well as being concerned for the health of your baby, the experience of going through a birth that you weren’t prepared for can be distressing.
From the first doctor’s appointment after getting those all-important two lines, blogger Sinead Hayes was deciding what type of delivery she would have with her doctor.
Having previously suffered with pneumonia whilst pregnant and having both lungs collapses, it was decided that a caesarean would be the best way for Sinead to have her baby.
‘He asked if I had been pregnant before and what the pregnancy had been like and what sort of delivery I had had the first time. He asked whether I would have another c-section and I explained that I was worried I could not physically handle a standard delivery, that my lungs, so scarred and battered that they are, would just shrivel up and whither when put under pressure. He nodded in either agreement or sympathy and said another c-section sounded inevitable.’
Several months later Sinead found she was bleeding and, after some previous confusion as to whether or not her waters had broken, she phoned the hospital.
‘It was 57 days before my due date and all I could think was this is too early. This is just too too early. I called the hospital and this time they told me to go to the delivery suite.’
After waiting for several hours, Sinead was told that her waters had broken but as she was less than 34 weeks pregnant she would have to be transferred to a different hospital.
She was taken to a hospital in Coventry and wheeled in to the maternity suite.
‘A paediatrician came to see us and explained all the things that could go wrong if a baby decided to come before 32 weeks from not breathing to heart problems and lung problems and I still can’t bear to think about it. He left and said we would have to wait and see what happened. A consultant came to see me to ask whether I would want a natural delivery or section. We explained that I had been planning for a section, that I had not done a natural delivery the first time, that I had never even considered it. The consultant harped on at me and I was exhausted and I wasn’t in labour and I was telling her that I didn’t know what I wanted or what was best because I had spent months preparing for a section and she left telling me to think about it and they would keep an eye on me.’
Almost 72 hours passed Sinead’s baby hadn’t arrived. Plans were put in place for her to go home and start a course of antibiotics twinned with bed rest in the hope she could make it to 36 weeks.
Later that night, however, Sinead began to experience pain at regular intervals. The doctors were unsure whether she was in labour and took her to the delivery suite.
‘A consultant came in whom I had not met before and checked me and told me the baby was definitely coming. They asked me whether I wanted to try for a natural delivery or go for the section as planned and I said nothing, I didn’t know what I wanted or what was best. The consultant told me that if I took the natural route then it probably wouldn’t take long but I was scared; I was scared that I couldn’t do it, I was scared that my lungs would collapse with the effort, I was scared that this baby whom I hadn’t been able to keep inside for a long as I had wanted, would suffer. I said no, I can’t do it; she nodded and they started to prep me.’
At 4.13am the surgeon announced that Sinead and her husband’s second baby girl had been born.
‘There was no cry because babies born that early don’t cry. I didn’t see her because that same paediatrician who had spoken to me just two days earlier whisked her away and I sent my husband with him. Minutes later the paediatrician brought her to me so I could see her, she was tiny and had black hair, I looked at her for seconds and then they took her away and I sent her Daddy with them.’
We are often told by mothers whose babies are born early that the hardest part is having your little one taken away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) straight after birth.
Premature babies can sometimes a long time in the NICU which can be heartbreaking for parents who have to wait weeks for their first cuddle.
‘There is an expectation that following a pregnancy you will be holding a little human against you. Their heart will be beating as you hold this little bit of wonder next to you and that space where once you were feeling kicks and turns is replaced by a little hand holding on to your finger and they will feel as safe next to you as they did whilst floating around inside.’
Sadly, for parents of premature babies this is often replaced by a period of time in the NICU bonding with their new-born through the glass walls of an incubator.
After Sinead has recovered enough strength she was taken to meet her baby.
‘I spent time with her, looking at her, putting my own hand through the little porthole of the incubator, stroking her hair and her hand and wishing desperately that I could hold her against me and just breathe her in but there were too many tubes and too many wires and I was told I had to wait. I was wheeled up to a room on the floor above and for my own sanity was put in a private room away from the Mothers with their babies and instead in the section of the ward where the women who were as lucky as me or tragically otherwise; we were all without our babies in some way.’
When Sinead’s baby was 3 days old, that special moment arrived and she was finally able to hold her baby for the very first the time.
‘I remember that I had been neurotic up to that point about anyone holding her but me. I could cope with the doctors and nurses handling her but to me they were purely functionary and my hormone laden topsy turvy self hadn’t even wanted my husband holding her before me. Now I realise that seems silly but at the time it made complete and utter sense and in retrospect gave me something to fixate on as it was something that I could control when so very little was in my control. The nurse passed her to me, she was 4 lbs 13 or 2.18kg. I have larger bags of pasta in my kitchen. She was so tiny. I stroked her hand and her face and drank her in.’
Sinead was readmitted to hospital several days after leaving due passing what she thought was a blood clot, but turned out to be placenta.
She had to stay in overnight to ensure she was safe to go home. Her baby girl spent 6 weeks in the special care baby unit (SCBU) before coming home.
If you have been affected by this article, you can read our information and advice pages about premature birth here.
You can read our advice on taking care of yourself after premature birth here. It is important that you don’t forget to look after yourself whilst you are understandably focusing on your baby.
Tommy’s have developed a free app for parents of premature babies. The first of its kind, this app will help you track your babies’ development and connect you with other parents going through similar experiences. You can read more and get the app here.
You can read Sinead’s original blog posts here if you want to hear more about her experience.
Skin-to-skin contact with your premature baby is a wonderful way for you both to bond. It also provides health benefits.
You will play an important part in your premature baby's care, even while they are in the NICU.
Your premature baby's diet will be carefully balanced to suit their tiny digestive system while meeting the needs of their growing body.
You may be asked if you would consider taking part in research into premature birth. We explain what this might involve.
We answer some of your questions about your premature baby's time in the hospital and neonatal unit.
You're bound to feel anxious if your premature baby needs surgery, but try to focus on the positive: the operation is likely to help improve your baby's chances.