Sorry it’s taken so long to post the last part of my birth story. Freddie is now almost four months old, can you believe it? Although the days with him are getting easier all the time, finding a spare moment to sit at the computer is still very difficult. But I have also been putting off writing about what happened after Freddie was born, as I’m sure you will understand when you read about it.
Freddie had come into the world at 7.14 am and been placed on my chest straight away. After a few minutes, one of the midwives commented that he was making a slight ‘mewing’ sound, which meant that he hadn’t cried properly yet and got his lungs working. However, they were happy to leave him on me and for me to try to get him to latch onto my breast. I think he was on my chest for about an hour, during which time Tom cut the cord, the placenta was delivered and Freddie was weighed, but he still hadn’t cried, was feeling slightly cold, hadn’t latched on and was still making the mewing sound. Never having had a baby before, we weren’t concerned as everyone was being very calm so when it was decided to bring in a pediatrician to look him over, we didn’t feel alarmed. Tom even popped out to call his parents and get Freddie’s bag from the car. The pediatrician came and put him on a panda unit (a mobile incubator): a heater was put on him and an oxygen mask held over his face. Quite soon the doctor said that they would just take him to the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) to look at him a bit more, but still we didn’t feel alarmed by what was going on. Tom followed Freddie after a few minutes and I stayed in the room with my mum, who had arrived before Freddie had been taken away, to be stitched up (nice).
I was very much still on a high at this point – everyone was chatting calmly and I had no reason to believe anything was wrong with my baby. Tom then came back and told me that Freddie was being given oxygen and they were keeping him in SCBU for a while and from then on the next part of the morning is a complete blur. I suddenly felt very faint and tired and when I tried to go to the toilet, I fainted and had to be pretty much carried back to the bed: all at once I think the adrenaline from the birth left my body, my blood pressure dropped and it started to sink in that something wasn’t right with Freddie. My mum and a midwife helped me get washed and dressed (not easy when you can’t lift your head) and I was taken on a hospital bed to the ward. Luckily the hospital I was in had a section of the labour ward for mothers who didn’t have their babies, which were mainly in SCBU with Freddie – I think it would have been awful at that point to have be surrounded by babies when mine wasn’t there with me.
For the next few hours, I wasn’t allowed leave the bed until I felt better, so I slept and Tom napped on the chair next to me. A nurse from SCBU then came and told us how he was: our poor, tiny baby had pneumonia, which they had diagnosed by giving him an x-ray. He was on on CPAP because he couldn’t breathe on his own, but because the hospital only had a SCBU and not an Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit on which they are only allowed to keep a baby on CPAP for four hours, Freddie would have to be taken to Leicester Hospital (we were in Warwick) until he could come off the machine. A wheelchair was quickly found and we went over to SCBU to see our baby and watch the transfer team prepare him for his journey. This is what we found:
I burst into tears, there was no way I could not. My baby looked so ill and covered in tubes – this was not how it was supposed to be. I couldn’t breast feed him – in fact his first feed was glucose through a feeding tube – or comfort him. We sat and watched as the transfer team got everything ready and then, just before they took him away, Tom was allowed to hold him for the first time. I couldn’t bring myself to do it and tried to stop the thoughts of what could happen by taking photos and stroking Freddie’s hand.
The next day Tom arrived at 10.00 and we discussed arrangements for getting to Leicester to see our baby. Incredibly, not long after Tom had arrived a nurse from SCBU came to my bed to say that Freddie was coming back! He had responded really well and had come off the CPAP almost as soon as he had arrived and stayed off it all night, so there was no need for us to go anywhere. In fact, they were already getting him ready for the return trip.
Seeing him again was much less of a shock as he didn’t have the scary CPAP machine attached to his face – just the feeding tube, two bandaged hands covering the cannula for his antibiotics and a strap around his ankle that linked him to the machine that measured his oxygen level and pulse. We could finally sit and stare at his beautiful face.
Freddie’s pneumonia was already clearing up, but he had been put on a five day course of antibiotics, so we knew we wouldn’t be leaving until at least Friday. At that time, we didn’t care at all: everything was looking up and we knew the worst was over – it was time to look after our gorgeous baby boy.
When I think about the rest of that week, I can’t quite piece together what happened when and in what order: not long after returning from Leicester, Freddie became very jaundiced, but this didn’t overly worry me as it is so common in babies and considering the stress he had experienced I wasn’t surprised (besides, we were already in the best place for him to get treatment); he came off his feeding tube and had no further problems breathing, and hasn’t since. The days passed in a blur of feeding, expressing, running between my bed and SCBU, eating as much as I could and sleeping whenever I could. I reached absolute complete exhaustion one night, but we got through it – with Tom coming in every morning with fresh food and clothes, keeping me together and doing everything at home so that I could concentrate on getting to grips with breast feeding and sleeping whenever I could.
Although I would never wish the experience we had on anyone, in some ways it was an incredibly special time: the nurses in SCBU were amazing and helped us with giving Freddie his first bath, nappy changes and night feeds; I was fully recovered from the birth by the time we left hospital and seeing how strong our little boy was had given us some confidence in how to look after him. Don’t get me wrong, it was by no means an enjoyable time (one day I’ll tell you about how I lost it at the nursing student at half midnight on the second night…), but we had nothing to compare it to and it was obvious that he was getting the best care possible and was getting better everyday.
But by Friday, I had had enough: Freddie was off the heat lamps as he was almost jaundice-free and his last dose of antibiotic was that evening, so I started to ask about going home. I wasn’t too surprised that they wanted to keep an eye on him after he’d come off the antibiotics and therefore wouldn’t even talk about discharging him until Saturday, but I kept my fingers crossed. When we arrived at SCBU for Freddie’s early afternoon feed, we were thrilled to see that he had been moved out of his private room, was off the monitors and had had his cannula taken out. Then we were asked whether we’d like to take him onto the main ward with us – he was being discharged from SCBU! We practically skipped all the way back to the ward, thinking that we would be home by that evening, and spent a glorious few hours showing Freddie off to the midwives and generally staring at him from my hospital bed.
However, when we returned to SCBU a few hours later to get our discharge papers, an emergency had come in and they couldn’t sort it out right then. So back we went, ready to return in a few hours and still hoping to be home by evening. That was when one of the nurses dropped a bomb-shell: “Don’t worry about rushing back because you’ll need to stay in until Monday anyway so that the consultant can look at Freddie’s lungs again”, she said offhandedly, as she waved us off.
I couldn’t believe it: I so desperately wanted to go home and couldn’t stand the thought of having to stay in hospital for two more nights. Tom and the midwives back on the ward tried to calm me down, but I point blank refused to entertain the idea of staying until Monday. By this point it was 10.00 pm so there was no chance of going home that night, but luckily one of the midwives understood my position and convinced SCBU to let Freddie stay with me that night and put us in a private room. The next morning I got another midwife on my side and we went about doing everything we could to make sure Freddie and I could go home that day.
You may be reading this and thinking that I was mad not to want to get the all clear from the consultant before we left – after all, what was one more night for a piece of mind? Up until the Friday I completely felt that way – Freddie needed the care and medicine more than I needed to have him home – but then something switched in me and I just knew that the best place for us to be was at home. After all, if something went wrong, we could be back at the hospital within 15 minutes.
By lunchtime, we were ready to go having had the all clear from our favourite SCBU nurse Bettina. The consultant had agreed to see Freddie as an outpatient in a few days time (this didn’t actually happen until he was 9 weeks old, but there you go – more proof that I was right!) and we just needed to get the paperwork signed-off. Not long after that we were walking out of the hospital. And then, finally, we were home, ready to start the next chapter of our lives as a family of three.
Looking back at Freddie’s first week on earth is always going to be hard for me, I think. Whenever I hear about other babies first feeds, first nights, the cuddles that they had as a family when baby was a few hours old, I can’t help but feel emotional and sad that that was not our experience. Every time Freddie goes through a fussy phase of wanting to be held all the time I think that it’s because we didn’t get the opportunity to hold him skin-to-skin when he was tiny, or when I try and rationalise why we’ve had so many problems with breast feeding (more on this soon), I think it must be because he didn’t get his first taste of colostrum until he was more than two days old, or that my milk didn’t come in quickly enough because he wasn’t there to get it going… But ultimately there is nothing I can do about it: our story is our story and I wouldn’t change our wonderful baby boy for the world, stressful time in hospital or not.