When I look into my baby Sophia’s eyes as they stare in fascination at the twinkling lights on our Christmas tree, I have to pinch myself to remember that this is real, that she’s home with us at last.
The pregnancy really couldn’t have been easier. All the scans were fine and I had no morning sickness to speak of.
On the first weekend in August I popped to Southend to see Mum and Dad, but woke early the next day with terrible stomach cramps.
When I saw blood in the bathroom I panicked, thinking I was miscarrying. At only 24 weeks, I couldn’t possibly be going into labour, I told myself.
My parents rushed me to Southend University Hospital where, within a few hours, I was told I was already 4cm dilated.
“Your baby’s coming today,” a doctor told me.
At 106 days before the due date, I really thought it was all over, there was no way she could survive. I was given steroids to delay the birth and strengthen her tiny, undeveloped lungs.
My husband Will had been seeing friends and rushed to join us at the hospital.
I was given just gas and air and, before I knew, it Sophia was born and whisked away to an incubator before I had a chance to see or hold her.
She weighed just 1lb 10oz and her life really was in the balance.
After an initial faint cry, she went silent for several minutes while the doctors tried to start her breathing again.
Those seconds and minutes felt like hours and days.
I remember shouting through my tears: “Is she okay?”
They told me they were “doing their best to stabilise her”.
An ambulance had been pre-booked to whisk her to Royal London Children’s Hospital. I seriously thought she would die in that ambulance, so told Will he had to go with her and leave me.
Mercifully, Sophia clung on. And later that day, Sunday August 5, I was discharged and allowed to go and see my daughter for the first time. She just seemed so impossibly fragile.
Even reaching into the incubator to hold her hand I feared that I would hurt her. Doctors would only tell me they were “taking it day by day”.
Somehow, the unknown was so much more frightening than a more concrete prognosis, however bad.
It was over 90 minutes from home, so Will and I were offered a place in Stevenson House – a “home from home” next to the hospital provided by the Sick Children’s Trust. It meant we were just minutes from Sophia during those next few precarious weeks.
I remember so many hours sitting by her incubator, barely able to see her through umpteen tubes going into her tiny body.
Being able to get some rest and talk to parents going through a similar hell was invaluable for our sanity. The first major hurdle was getting her to breathe on her own.
Sophia had patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), where a valve in her heart didn’t close properly, causing her heart and lungs to go into overdrive.
She was also diagnosed with acute renal failure, pneumonia, chronic lung disease and a grade two bleed on her brain. While the bleed was resolved, we still don’t know what the long-term implications might be. Her kidney problems meant she couldn’t feed for a few days and she lost almost all the weight she’d put on since birth – the very last thing she needed.
Amazingly, on September 24, we were told she was well enough to be transferred to our local hospital, Broomfield, in Chelmsford, Essex. She was still in high dependency, but less critical. But just as we thought we were on the up, she developed chronic reflux, which at times caused her to stopped breathing.
Alarm bells would ring and doctors and nurses raced to save her. I thought each time that this was it, our daughter’s fight was over. But Sophia wasn’t going to give up easily.
Thickener was added to her milk to stop the reflux. And on December 4 we were told we could finally take her home.
This was just 15 days after her actual due date, but she’d spent the last four months critically ill in hospital, when she should have been inside the protection of my womb, growing and getting ready for the world.
We know how lucky we are to have Sophia. And, with the help of friends and family, Will and I have raised over £3,500 for the Sick Children’s Trust to help other, less fortunate families who also need to be beside the incubators and cots where their children are fighting to see it through to 2019.
You can help too: the Sick Children’s Trust’s My Christmas Wish appeal aims to raise £13,230 to run 10 “Homes from Home” this festive period.
Just £30 will ensure one child in hospital will wake up on Christmas morning with their family by their side. To donate, visit justgiving.com/campaign/mychristmaswish, sickchildrenstrust.org or call the trust on 020 76384066.
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