My little warrior born at 24 weeks

Zahida Bansal, 37, lives in Watford with husband Manny, 34, Hana, 3 and son Kiyan, 3 months. When Zahida delivered her daughter Hana at 24 weeks, she says information from charities including Tommy’s helped her feel less ‘alone’.

We got married in 2016, fell pregnant quite quickly and it all seemed to be going well at first. I took all the prenatal vitamins and did all the things they tell you to do. By 12 weeks, the sickness I’d been suffering started to ease and our first scan went well. The 20-week scan also showed that baby was growing and healthy.

At 22 weeks I started leaking a little and, as a first time mum, I wasn’t sure what it was. I called the hospital maternity unit who gave me an internal examination and said it wasn’t my waters and there was no infection, so everything was fine. Looking back, I do wonder if that was the start of things.

The following Saturday we went to look at prams, but my back hurt so much that we turned around to go home as soon as we got there. The next day I still felt under the weather and wondered if I had a UTI. That evening I had a pulling pain across my tummy. It wasn’t severe, so I kept thinking I’d call the doctor in the morning. I was naïve really, having never experienced contractions.

I didn’t sleep much and in the early hours I had some spotting. I called the hospital maternity unit and they told me to come in. They checked me over and found I was 2cm dilated. I’d just turned 24 weeks.

Premature labour

I think I was in shock because I kept telling myself it would be fine. Even when they told me they needed to blue light me to Luton hospital because I’d need a higher level of care, I was talking to my husband about the fact I’d not done a handover at work.

It hit me in the ambulance and I started crying. They gave me steroids and magnesium for baby’s lung and brain development and the contractions came and went as I was admitted to hospital. The staff spoke to us very honestly about the complications associated with premature birth.

They explained that there was around a 50% chance a baby born at 24 weeks would survive and high probability of long-term health problems. I hardly took anything in, I’d put a wall up. I was frightened, in denial and hanging on to hope.

On day 3, my contractions died down and the hospital staff talked about sending us home. I felt happy that there was a chance we could get further along. But it wasn’t to be and later that day I went into full blown labour. She arrived at 5.50am the next morning weighing 720g. They whisked her off to a ventilator, so I didn’t get the chance to see her for 2 hours.

In the baby unit

The baby unit is like a completely different world and nothing prepares you for all the wires, the tubes. I’ll never forget the noise of the machines. I still hear them now sometimes.

The other parents on the ward really helped and I've become life-long friends with one of them. We shared our experiences, fears and lifted each other up when we were down. I don’t know if I would have coped without that support network.

Hana was in NICU for 2 months, then spent a month back in Watford’s special care baby unit. She had lots of issues, for example she needing help with her breathing, she’d had a grade 1 brain bleed, a congenital heart defect called PDA. She also caught infections, so was on broad spectrum antibiotics much of the time. But she's such a resilient little thing. A survivor.

During this time the average day was spent going straight to NICU, pumping milk constantly, doing Hana's cares, changing her nappy, and feeding her through a syringe. Other than that I didn’t really feel like a mum. That’s why feeding was so important to me. It gave us skin-to-skin time, and although it wasn't the way I wanted to, I was still feeding her.

I feel forever indebted to the NICU, the nurses are just so fantastic in the way they care for those babies.

I was over the moon when she went into an open cot, because it was a real milestone. There were no wires or machines and I could start dressing her myself. By the time we got to Watford we focused on her feeding, her temperature and anything else we needed to get her home. You still have constant questions going through your mind, worries about long-term damage, and it’s so mentally exhausting.

Coming home

We came home in November, without oxygen, which was exciting but scary. There would be no doctors and nurses around. At first I’d watch her chest all the time to make sure she was breathing.

It takes a long time for that paranoia to leave you. I was also overly cautious about germs and wouldn’t really leave the house for the first couple of months. I must have driven the community midwife crazy with all of my questions and the consultant’s secretary must have regretted giving me her number. But there was nobody else to give me advice. My friends and family with babies hadn’t had them early.

Hana has caught up in everything and has now been discharged from all consultants, which helped us start to treat her like a normal child, to not be so overprotective.

It’s still raw for me and I’m not sure I’ve gotten over it but having my son Kiyan, experiencing a full term pregnancy, has healed me in many ways.

I remember saying to my husband that all I wanted was a balloon. There’d been no time and too much worry for a ‘Congratulations!’ balloon with Hana. He brought one to the hospital on the day we took Kiyan home which meant so much to me.

Initially I felt very alone, didn’t know where to turn but fortunately our neonatal team pointed me in the direction of several charities, including Tommy’s, and it helped me feel less lonely, gave me comfort and hope and I hope my story can do the same for someone else.


Hana Bansal as a baby and child
Hana Bansal, then and now

More support and information

Premature birth is when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Most of the time, premature births happen on their own and often doctors will not be able to find out why. 

If you have any concerns about premature labour or birth, you can talk to the Tommy's midwives on our pregnancy line. Call 0800 014 7800 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm), or email [email protected].

Find out more about premature birth.

Your pregnancy symptoms

In many cases, pregnancy symptoms can be treated easily and will not lead to a serious complication. But sometimes they are signs of something more serious. 

Tell your midwife or doctor if you have any symptoms that you're worried about. Do not worry if you've talked about it before and don't be concerned about whether you're wasting anyone's time. This is your pregnancy and it's important to trust your own instincts.

Maternity care is still essential during the coronavirus pandemic and services are still running. If you have any concerns about your pregnancy call your GP, midwife, nearest early pregnancy unit or maternity unit.