Charlie Marsh's story
So we’d been away to the Amalfi Coast, Rachael was 6 months into her pregnancy and it was a last weekend away ‘just us’ before our first child arrived –- it was amazing, we climbed Vesuvius, we walked up Capri and had mocktails (no really we did), we had so much to do and so much time, although as it turned out we didn’t and, naively, we literally had no idea what was about to happen.
Just 2 nights later, Rach woke me in 3am, in pain and wanting to call an ambulance – I will shamefully admit I nearly told her to go by herself (I look back and shudder) but I reluctantly got up and we headed off to St.George’s in Tooting to see what the problem might be.
Turns out there was a problem. Quite a big problem actually. Rach was officially in labour and from there events ran away from us fast. Steroid injection, transfer to labour ward, intro to very capable midwife, contractions, warm smiles from a neonatal team, crash trolley prepped in the corner, stronger contractions, clinical team totally focused on Rach, lots of noise, voices and machines beeping…..and then silence as our baby arrived….and was whisked to the resuscitaire, and surrounded by the neonatal team, each doing their job, whispering urgently yet efficiently, leaning inwards, blocking our view.
So much silence….turns out it was almost 7 minutes worth before we heard the first cry and the whispered focus turns to relieved smiles, the odd positive glance towards us. It was a boy!....but he was the patient now.
“Dad. Follow me please, we’re going to the NICU.” Wait, what, we’re going where? I just followed meekly as the crash trolley was wheeled to the NICU, a short yet very long trip, watching as the son we had not yet held, a canular taped to his nose, swaddled in a clinical warming blanket, was moved oh so gently into an Incubator. Then something that seemed extraordinary, a polaroid camera was poked through the incubator window and a single picture taken and handed to me, before the clinical team crowded in again and I was ushered out and told to come back in a few hours.
I had no idea what to do. I turned one way then the other, slightly dazed and then left the NICU and walked slowly back to maternity ward 7, holding a slowly developing polaroid picture of our son. In the short time I’d been away, Rach has passed the placenta, been seen by the obstetrician and is alone momentarily in the room when I return, the midwife having stepped out to do a mundane job, the chaos of birth all around us.
The next 5 hours passed slowly, that photo on the bed between us in the place of our son. Turns out they take that photo just in case the worst happens, so you have at least one photograph of your child. Fortunately for us, everything worked out well and we spent the time phoning family and texting friends, everyone tells us they remember exactly what they were doing when we called or received our text – we knew nothing about Neonatal care and turns out none of our family or friends did either.
I even had time to go home and get some clothes for Rach and some food for us both and I will admit to having a good cry to myself in the car-park - we had arrived at hospital at 3am and parked right by the ticket machine, a snap-decision I somewhat regretted as I slumped over the steering wheel, blubbing as people paid for their tickets, but hey, it’s not every day your life pivots and changes you.
We were allowed to see Charlie later that day, he was stable and being helped to breathe, with his eyes firmly shut (as they would stay for 3 weeks or so). So started a 3-month vigil by Incubator, cot and bed-side before we brought him home. Our tiny, incredible, resilient, courageous, beautiful little boy, who’s early arrival was the spark behind us starting the Ickle Pickles Charity to raise funds for Neonatal units and to spread the word about the incredible care Neonatal professionals deliver every single day.