My third pregnancy was a breeze. I exercised 5 days a week, I was a full time student, I was working part time. I had no morning sickness. I had no bleeding, I had no ‘signs’ that I was going to deliver a baby the size of my hand.
But that I did. My third pregnancy was a breeze until the day it wasn’t. March 19th 2015. I had been to spin in the morning, felt great. I had been to college all day and had felt great. I was 25 weeks and 2 days pregnant. Just before my last class I felt a bit weird. Looking back now I can’t even really explain what it was, but it was enough for me to call my mum and say ‘please don’t worry but I just don’t feel very well’. I had had a previous premature baby you see, so literally everyone except for myself was on high alert. I was in some sort of denial that anything could possibly go wrong.
It was a Wednesday that day. I came home and took my other girls to swimming lessons (see previous post for how I feel about that), went for a wee and there was blood. And then suddenly there was some pain. So off we trotted to triage. When I called them they said to go straight up, and somewhere in the back of my head I think I recognized that this was probably ‘it’. So I sorted #1 and #2, I fed them and bathed them and got them into bed, laid all their stuff out for the next day and then we left. My mum flapping as only she can do, and me in my little bubble of denial, sarcastically dismissing the fact that I was pretty sure I was in labour at this point. **FACT – average survival rate for a 25 weeker is 50%**
I remember arguing with some poor orderly when she came to take me to a ward. I was so utterly convinced they would let me home. Now I’m not the easiest person to deal with at the best of times so I can only imagine how I was that night. I was contracting, properly contracting, every 5 minutes and still refused to acknowledge that things were bad. But shipped off to a ward I was, and there I stayed for 6 more days until she finally decided she was coming. I can’t really remember much about those days but here are the bullet points:
- Thursday 20th – consultant decides I need steroids. This consists of 2 injections given 24 hours apart. Which means I need to stay in until at least the Friday. Great. This also happened to be the day I bumped into my college lecturer in the ward. His wife was in being induced, and given the fact I was still hoping to sit my exercise to music exam on the Friday this was a bit of a bummer. I actually tried (and failed) to hide from him behind a nurse.
- Thursday 20th 9pm. This deserves a bullet point all on its own. My waters break. I know they have broken because there is an audible pop and I start leaking. Everywhere. The doctor, who was ‘like 12’, who came to examine me and persuade me that ‘I had probably just pee’d myself’ swallowed his words (and some of my amniotic fluid) when he asked me to cough and got a face full of water. “See i told you they had broken”. I get whisked to labour ward.
- Friday 21st. I call my mum, and immediately warn her that she shouldn’t flap. She flaps. I had already called Anna (other birthing partner, my absolute rock, who happens to not flap) so they both arrived in a flurry. We spend the day in labour ward, trying to write Anna’s essay and eating Pizza Hut (still convinced that it must be the weirdest place they have ever delivered to). I get pumped full of some stuff that made me feel SHIT. I want to remember the name but I’m pretty sure i’ve blocked it out. Its normally given to mums with high blood pressure and has been known to prevent bleeds on the brain in preemie babies. Basically, imagine vaseline being pumped into your arm VERY quickly, it burns. Your arm goes numb. You swear at people, and cry. Or maybe that was just me.
- Saturday 22nd. Bio Donator has called by this point and the army have thrown him on a flight back from Afghan to the UK. Pretty sure I was still the only person thinking that this baby wasn’t coming any time soon. I was checked (again) and was dilated. Whoop. A nice policeman comes to visit me in labour ward. Now I say nice. I was wearing Anna’s husbands pyjamas and had been given strong codeine to stop my contractions. I was high and I told him he had nice arms. Poor guy. Still have no clue why he was there either, don’t think he did either.
- Sunday 23rd. Baby still isn’t here. Obviously. Some lovely lovely midwife has decided I’ve had enough of the Magnesium Sulphate (clearly haven’t blocked it out) and I am enjoying being able to feel my arm. I’m back on a normal ward because everyone else has cottoned on to the fact that the baby isn’t coming.
- Monday 24th. So I’m tired. And I’m bored. And I’ve not seen #1 or #2 for ages. Some doctor, who had the privilege of examining me on Wed night, comes back and tells me I’m not in fact dilated at all. Cue a meltdown of massive proportions from myself. I cry. He nearly cries (told you I’m not pleasant to deal with). The end result is I get sent from labour ward (yes I’m back there) for a ‘walk’. Except I’m in a wheelchair and I’m told not to go outside. Oh and I’m also back on the magnesium because apparently I need to be on it until delivery. FML. Anyway at some point in WH Smith my contractions ramp up a bit. And suddenly I get a bit worried. This definitely feels different. So we go back to labour ward. It all progressed pretty quick after that, she was coming, and she came. Fast. I dilated from 4cm to delivering her in 43 minutes. Yes it hurt. Please do not insult me, or any other preemie mum by suggesting that premature labour isn’t ‘real’ labour or that it doesn’t hurt because they are little. ACTUAL FACT – It is HARDER to deliver a smaller baby than a larger one. No gravity you see. They don’t just fall out onto the floor.
Tuesday 25th March 0424. Jess Elisabeth Horsburgh enters the world. She was 26 weeks and 1 day gestation. Average rate of survival – between 50-80%. Average change of a permanent disability – 25%. And the real fun began. **Warning** The following picture is of a small, premature baby. Scroll fast if you don’t want to see.
She weighed 860 grams. That’s 1lb 13oz. One of the nurses commented that they weighed her 3 times because she was so small they were convinced she should be lighter. She would have sat in my hand. I had my eyes shut when I delivered her because I was too scared to look at her. But I did, after a gentle nudge from the midwife that she was ‘fine’. And she was perfect. Just tiny, very very tiny. Her eyes were fused shut and her legs and arms weren’t even as thick as my thumb. BUT she was strong. I had been so keen for delayed cord clamping had she delivered at term and we managed a mammoth 45 seconds with Jess before they had to take her away. They had warned me that she would go straight to the unit but they brought her back in before hand because she was so stable. The doctor who worked on her commented that she was the strongest 26 weeker he had ever come across. There was hope. If she got through the next 48 hours then things would be better.
And she did. She thrived. She was on a ventilator for a grand total of 6 hours. To come through her neonatal stay as relatively unscathed as she has is unheard of. Medically she is fine. Always has been. There were hairy moments of course. I had to wait a fortnight to hold her.
Her skin was so thin it actually caused her pain to be touched. The day I went in and overnight her oxygen requirement had gone from 24% (21% is air) to 78%. Yeah that was a dark day. I laid my head on the nurses shoulder and cried silently. That was the day I realized there was a chance we might lose her. To answer another popular question, yes it was scary. There were horrible dark days, but you just get on with it. Nothing else for it. Fall apart in private, that’s what I came to realize. Be strong in public.
But she rallied. Every time. I had been warned she wouldn’t know how to cry, but the nurses commented that they had never heard a baby her size make as much noise. They had warned me that if she got to 36 weeks gestation and was still on oxygen then the chances were she would suffer consequences, and that she would go home needing oxygen. I had gotten it into my head she would come home the last weekend in May. That weekend came and went and she was still on oxygen. I locked myself in the pumping room that Saturday and I cried. I just couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. That night, the nurse looking after her turned her oxygen off just to see how she would go. She hasn’t, to this day, needed oxygen again. She came home a week later. The below photo doesn’t hold much medical reference, but imagine this – she was 9 weeks old in this picture. And I genuinely didn’t know what she looked like. It was the first day she hadn’t had a mask on. I cried that day too. It was literally like seeing her for the first time.
All in all she spent 73 days in the hospital. When she left, except for one other ‘lifer’ in there, she was the longest serving resident. A couple of her pals took that title away from her shortly after, but it was the longest 73 days I have ever experienced. She had 4 blood transfusions, she had to learn to feed, to regulate her temperature, to breath on her own. She faced one of the biggest battles there is. The battle to survive. And she won. She came home on 6th June 2014, 24 days before her actual due date. She weighed 6lbs.
So why 30 for 30? Because – that 860 gram scrap of a baby (and her sisters) are my reason for being. I would have broken had I lost her. I would break if I lost any of them. The nurses and the doctors and the staff at the neonatal unit in Edinburgh are the unsung heroes of that hospital.Of any hospital for that matter. Without them my children wouldn’t be here. So I am giving back, in as big a way as I am capable of. I cannot save babies, but I can run. I can climb walls and I can navigate my way over monkey bars. So this year, I am competing in 30 events. Different in length, and in toughness, but 30 events all the same. And I am raising money for the Simpsons Special Care Babies charity, which is the charity that runs out of the neonatal unit in Edinburgh, I’m also 30 this year, which is where the number comes from.
So far, I have done 20 events. Only 10 to go. I am so so close to the end, I can see the finish line. And then I’m done (until next year). Every single penny of the money I am raising is going towards SSCBU, so that other families, other babies, and other parents can receive the type of treatment and care that Jess and I did when we were residents. Because we were lucky. Some babies aren’t so lucky. And I just want to be able to say Thank You.
My fundraising page is below, if you can donate then please do.
This was Jess on her 2nd birthday. Just now she is ‘fine’. She’s little for a 2 year but she can hold her own. I won’t know, until she’s around 8, whether her prematurity has caused any damage to her in terms of learning difficulty etc, but she is here. She is alive. She is feisty, she is funny, and she is alive. Anything else is a bonus.