When I was younger I always thought that giving birth and breastfeeding, although challenging, would be no problem for me. I was wrong.
On my third hospital admission for raised blood pressure I was properly fed up. At 32 weeks I had already been signed off work and my due date seemed an age away. On 1st May (32 +4) I woke to pains in my chest and the sensation that I was drowning. I pressed my buzzer and from then on my day was going to take an unexpected turn. Small traces of protein had been found in my urine the night before, but now the situation has worsened to full blown preeclampsia. After reams of tests on me and the baby my consultant came to the ward to tell me that my baby would be born today by caesarean section. Still trying to process this I was then told that my little helpless baby would most likely have to be transferred to another hospital due to his gestation. I was devastated and in a state of shock.
I was transferred to the labour ward and hooked up to monitors for me and my baby. I was so swollen (which is why I felt like I was drowning!) that they couldn’t get any lines in me. The anaesthetist was called and they had to ultrasound me to find me veins. I knew I was in trouble when the anaesthetist told me he would normally put in a local anaesthetic first before inserting a central line into my wrist but he ‘didn’t have enough time’.
My blood pressure was creeping higher and higher (210 systolic at one point) and the doctors administered magnesium sulphate and various other drugs to try to lower it enough for it to be safe to go to surgery. My blood pressure finally dipped and then the worst news was about to be announced. Due to how swollen I was and the urgency of the situation I was going to have to have a general anaesthetic. I was whisked into theatre terrified that either my baby or I wouldn’t make it and we would never see each other.
Alex was born minutes later at 1.05pm, a teeny 3lb 4oz. Alex came out fighting and after a bit of help he was breathing on his own – this was crucial as it meant that he could stay in the same hospital as me.
I woke some time later hooked up to machines and on constant watch. I wasn’t allowed to move for 24 hours – which meant I couldn’t see Alex. A neonatal nurse came through to see me with a picture of my little baby boy in his plastic box. It didn’t seem real. I don’t remember much of that first 24 hours as I was so unwell.
Alex, despite his size was remarkably well. By the time I saw him the only tube he had was his NG tube for his feeds. He was a miracle. I had my first skin to skin with him, he felt like a tiny bird on my chest. His skin was see through and I was told it was best not to stroke him as it could hurt him. That night on the maternity ward I was presented with a breast pump, during the first 24 hours I had agreed for Alex to receive donor milk (for which I am eternally grateful for) until my milk came in. I sat on the edge of my bed in an empty side ward (probably reserved for Mums who didn’t have babies with them) hooked myself up and watched as the machine whirred away. Unsurprisingly, nothing happened yet I was told to persist at regular intervals including during the night.
With every day my amazing baby boy grew stronger but my milk supply still wasn’t coming in. Even after 20 minutes or more on the pump I would only get 10-20 mls combined, it was soul destroying. One day in that first week my community midwife came to see me and I happened to be pumping at the time, I was engrossed in the conversation rather than obsessing about the minuscule amount in the bottles and before I knew it I had nearly filled them to to top. I was over the moon, I had cracked it! Later that very same day I received the news that Alex had dangerously high calcium levels and would have to commence with a low calcium formula. I think the shock of this news and the fact that I felt like my milk had made him ill shut down my supply almost entirely. I persisted for another long 12 weeks pumping and breastfeeding when he could manage to but in the end I had to admit defeat when I couldn’t keep up with demand.
Twenty-three long days after Alex was born we got to bring our beautiful boy home. He’s now two years old and is an absolute delight. He hasn’t suffered any ill effects of being born premature and he is truly our little miracle.
I wanted to tell my story to help encourage other Mums who maybe didn’t have the birth or breastfeeding journey that they hoped for.