Today is World Prematurity Day. A day to spread awareness, and to remember the difficulties babies born too early face.
Our own little Theo was born ten weeks early, due to pre-eclampsia, and it was one of the scariest things we've ever had to face. Thankfully, he was so strong and didn't encounter many issues during his seven week nicu stay. Others are not so lucky.
I was taken into hospital six days before Theo was born, when I was 29 weeks pregnant. My blood pressure was through the roof, I had swollen up to something resembling Violet Beauregarde when she turns into a blueberry, my head was at explosion point, and I had off the chart levels of protein in my urine. It wasn't good.
Medication controlled things for a day or two, then my kidneys started shutting down. The decision was made to give me steroid injections to develop Theo's lungs in case they needed to deliver. I am incredibly grateful that there was time for those injections.
By the fifth day things were looking better and there was talk of me making it to 34 weeks. But overnight things took a turn for the worse.
My blood pressure had significantly increased and wouldn't come down, my headache was extremely severe, the protein levels were even higher, the swelling worse, and I couldn't see properly. The first midwife to see me was so shocked she phoned the emergency doctor, and the decision was made to do an immediate c-section. I couldn't stay pregnant any longer - it was making me too sick.
I was terrified. And alone. Tom was at work, and my family were in France. I was so scared that it was too early, that Theo wouldn't make it. Babies aren't supposed to be born ten weeks early. The nicu team reassured us that 30 weeks was good, and that he had strong odds.
I remember phoning Tom to tell him to come quickly, I was a puddle of tears. By the time I phoned my mum, I was hysterical. I have never been so scared in my life. I did not want to lose our baby.
Tom arrived whilst I was being scanned. Fluid was leaking into my abdomen and things were not great. I heard Tom ask the midwife what would happen to me if we didn't deliver now, she replied 'a stroke, or she'll die'. From that moment on, I was brave.
I was transferred to intensive care, hooked up to all kinds of drips and monitors. I was given magnesium sulphate to stop me seizing, and had an aterial line put in for constant blood pressure monitoring. Having that line put in was the worst thing I had done. Worse than the section by far. I have a lot of scar tissue in my wrists, and the anethetist couldn't get the line in. She was so lovely, and told me that if she wasn't worried, I didn't have to be worried. I often think of that. Ninety minutes later the line was in, and I was stable enough to deliver.
I felt calm. And we laughed a lot. About silly things I'm sure, but it really helped.
The section went well. And Theo came out breathing by himself. We were over the moon and were able to have a quick glimpse at our amazing baby before he was whisked away into an incubator. So tiny and perfect. At only 3lb 1oz he had a tough journey ahead but we knew he was in safe hands.
I spent two days in intensive care. Tom spent his time dashing between Theo in nicu, me, and a poorly Matilda who we had to leave at home with his parents.
Seven hours after my section I begged the doctors for a pump so that I could start expressing breastmilk for Theo. They were not keen, saying I needed rest, but I was determined. I expressed every three hours round the clock and sent my tiny bottles of milk up to nicu for my little one. It was a while before he was strong enough to take it. At first only 1ml an hour, down his feeding tube, then gradually he could tolerate more and more. (I managed to continue expressing for a year, and donated thousands of ounces of milk to the human milk bank, which was given to other premature babies.)
It was two days before I could see him. And five days before we could hold him. The first time I changed his nappy, I had to stop halfway through and let Tom take over. There were so many wires, and alarms, and I was shaking like a leaf. He was just so tiny. He lost weight, as most babies do, and went down to 2lb 10oz. But he was here. And he was ours.
Theo spent seven weeks in nicu growing and learning how to eat, and cuddling down my top! He sailed through, not really conforming to the one step forwards, two steps back that the nicu doctors warn you of.
We took him home, at 4lb 2oz - still tiny but so strong. And everything felt right again.
It was scary, and horrid at times - beautiful at others. There are so many positives that came from our journey, not least our amazing little boy, and his sister who developed the strongest bond with her baby brother whilst he was in an incubator. I wouldn't change it for anything. I don't know what will happen if we ever have another baby. I guess we'll cross that bridge when we decide to. But for now, we're extremely grateful for what we have.
And so, that is our story. Aren't we lucky?