Shocked, she can’t believe it. “I am only 26 weeks pregnant” she pleads. The husband is sitting beside her, their hands gripped together. He asks if anything can be done to stop the labour. No. Tears. Sad tears and fear.A busy flurry of activity continues outside the room. The midwife draws up the drugs; steroids, atosiban, benzyl penicillin, magnesium sulphate.
Phone calls are made, everyone is aware and ready. If there is no cot space in NICU, a doctor would call every neonatal unit. The search would start local and then extend across the country. The baby today will be lucky, there is a cot waiting for him upstairs, he won’t need to be transferred to another hospital.
A grey cannula goes into her hand. The drugs are explained but mums’ mind is elsewhere. Do anything, she thinks, just save my baby.
The neonatal team arrive on the ward. There are hushed conversations outside the room. Steroids? How many weeks? What’s the weight? The team then enter and speak to the couple..50%, 10%, 25%..Her mind still isn’t there, she can’t get her head around it all. Then they mention cerebral palsy.
The labour becomes more established and delivery seems imminent. The doctor is at the bottom of the bed. Waiting. The neonatal team are poised in the corner of the room.
The baby arrives and delivered into a plastic bag to keep him warm. His tiny body fills just one hand as he is passed to the neonatal team. The clock is switched on, they are working against it now. Get an airway, keep his heart going. Surrounding his tiny body they work together to save him. His destiny if born a term baby is no more. His new future as a prem hangs.
Behind them are the couple. They haven’t seen him yet, their son. They don’t want to ask any questions yet. It might be too distracting. It might be bad news.
The incubator arrives to take their son to NICU. Covered in lines and breathing tubes they catch a glimpse of him before he is wheeled away.
The room turns from hectic swarm to empty quietness. The couple are too shocked to cry. What just happened?
A knock on the door disturbs the silence.
A trolley noisily is thrust into the room. A big smile on her face.
“Tea and toast Mummy?”
Preterm birth affects 10% of pregnancies and can happen to anyone. This could have been your story but in fact its mine.
It was a harrowing experience that continues long after the birth. We have been very lucky. Our son is now 4 years old, loves school and being a big brother.
Going back to work in obstetrics after mat leave, I became increasingly frustrated when mums presented in preterm labour as there is nothing we can do to stop the inevitable, a prem baby. I therefore decided to get involved with research as without progress in this field, mums will continue to have babies born early.
For the last 18 months I have swapped my scrubs for a lab coat and working towards a PhD in preterm birth. Hopefully with continued progress in this area, scientists and doctors will be able to discover what causes preterm birth and we can prevent it.
The Smallest Things campaign has been incredible; the following it has gained and the awareness it has created about premature birth is truly inspiring. It makes me really believe that together we can all really make a difference.
I would like to come from a different angle and wanted to let you know ways in which it is possible to help in the world of prematurity research. There are many ways in which you can help:
– Join a preterm birth PPI group (patient/parent group that advise scientists and clinicians on future and current research projects) http://www.ptbnetwork.co.uk/ppi/ has contact details for three groups but there are more all around UK.
– If you do decide to get pregnant again, join a preterm birth research study if offered
– Continue to raise awareness of preterm birth by talking about your experiences and sharing your stories
– Support a charity that funds preterm birth research eg Tommys, Borne or Genesis Research Trust.
I am doing the London Marathon for Genesis Research Trust. This is a very worthy charity that supports preterm birth research carried by Imperial College which is one of the UK’s leading groups in this field. If you could sponsor me that would be very gratefully appreciated!