Charlotte Poppy Hope was born at 13:27pm on April 11th 2017 weighing just 518 grams (1lb 2ozs). Born early at 24 weeks and two days after my waters broke at 19 weeks and six days, Charlotte was born via an emergency caesarean section under general anaesthetic and taken straight away to the NICU unit at QA.
The month between my waters breaking and Charlotte being born was spent on bed rest at home and admissions to my local hospital to ensure the best chance of continuing with the pregnancy and to monitor how the baby was progressing, plus to check for any potential issues. This was a stressful and difficult time for us all as we tried to have some normality for my other daughter, four-year-old Skye.
The day Charlotte decided she was ready to be born was no straight forward event and I am so grateful that I was already on the maternity ward at QA after a particularly heavy bleed a few days previously.
Charlotte decided to make a speedy exit commencing with a prolapsed cord (where your umbilical cord comes out!) whilst I was in the shower. After a frightening and emotional few minutes, I was whisked away to the operating theatre to have an emergency c-section. There were a huge number of staff around me, a team to care for the baby and a team to care for me. I was told there was a chance the baby wouldn’t survive due to the early gestation and lack of development but it was imperative that she was delivered immediately due to a risk to both me and her.
After waking up in recovery I was moved to a room where my partner had been waiting nervously. We were given a card with Charlotte’s picture and details of her weight and time of delivery and it was hard to imagine what the journey ahead had in store. All we knew at this point was that she had been born and was in an incubator in intensive care. My partner was then given the opportunity to go and see her which he did but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go as I was still recovering from the procedure. When he returned, he showed me pictures of her. It was surreal seeing this tiny little red being, connected to tubes and monitors as our daughter.
Later that evening one of the staff wheeled me round to go and meet Charlotte for the first time. It was a completely unreal experience, seeing this tiny baby attached to so many wires and monitors, in an incubator looking so helpless. The noises of the beeping and humming machines were to become the soundtrack to our lives over the next few months.
The staff at QA and in particular the teams on NICU became like a family to me as I adjusted to life as a mum of a preemie. From the nurses, the doctors, the ward clerks, the maternity assistants and support workers through to the cleaners and housekeepers I was made to feel welcome and informed of what was going on at all times.
Altogether Charlotte spent just over 16 weeks in hospital, 14 of those on the NICU unit at QA. She spent 41 days on a ventilator and it was five weeks before I could have my first cuddle with her. As time progressed Charlotte’s health was up and down, some days she was doing well and was needing less oxygen, other days she would be struggling and would need more help to breathe. Every day was different and could change so quickly. Gradually she was strong enough to move from the ventilator to Bi-pap, C-pap, High Flow and eventually Low Flow. Each time a milestone was reached it gave us a fantastic feeling of hope and excitement for the future.
During her time in NICU, Charlotte picked up two infections, Sepsis and E- Coli. These were scary times as these can lead to her health deteriorating further and in some cases can be fatal. She had to be monitored even more closely but thankfully with the right medical care and antibiotics she was able to beat them.
Being in NICU as a parent to a premature baby was a really challenging time as you feel like you are existing in a type of bubble whilst the normal world continues all around you. I experienced a whole range of emotions including fear, sadness, excitement, guilt, disengagement and helplessness as our journey continued.
Charlotte had a total of 13 blood transfusions and spent 93 days in an incubator before finally moving into an open cot where I was then able to give her her first bath. We were one of the longest standing patients at the time having spent 100 days in NICU before moving back to our local hospital as she got bigger and better. Without a doubt I had learnt so much from our time in NICU, including understanding the importance of blood gases, oxygen requirements, numbers, ROP and infection control.
When the big day came for us to be transferred to our local hospital in Worthing, I was full of excitement but also a little nervous. I was glad to be going closer to home after traveling in almost daily for the last 14 weeks (a total of 525 miles a week), plus of course the fact that Charlotte was now well enough to be transferred to a hospital that cared for babies with lower support needs, which in turn meant a step closer to getting her home. I was also feeling a bit sad to be leaving the security of what had become my second home over the last few months. Some of the staff had become like family to me and I was sad to be leaving this. I can honestly say that the care, skills and devotion that each and every member of the unit had shown me had been of the highest level and if it hadn’t had been for them and the equipment on hand my story may well have been a completely different one, with a very different ending.
Charlotte is now at school and is thriving. Without the care of the clinical teams we would not be where we are today. So from the bottom of our hearts to all the care teams you have changed our lives- thank you.