How much can one woman take? Kate's journey to having a baby was harrowing to say the least. Here she recounts her experience.
Like most couples, when my husband and I decided to start a family we knew that getting pregnant could be lengthy, that staying pregnant isn't guaranteed and there would be worries over the health of your baby.
I was lucky enough to fall pregnant the first cycle of trying but unfortunately miscarried at eight weeks. I didn't realise how much miscarrying would upset me. The loss, physically and emotionally is so much to bear and telling people is brutally painful, "I was pregnant, now I'm not". People not knowing what to say, having to take time away work, and having to return feeling empty, again both physically and emotionally.
After that, the drive to be pregnant became even stronger than my initial longing for a baby. I was blessed that only two months later I was pregnant again. I got to the 12 week scan and my baby was happy and healthy (even if the morning sickness was in full swing!).
It was Christmas when I felt able to share my beautiful black and white scan with my mum, dad, family and friends and I felt like, "great this is it, six months from now I'll be able to meet my baby"....
But in the New Year, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, it was abrupt, it was severe and it nearly killed him in a week. I forgot about being pregnant to some extent, I just wanted to spend any time I could with my dad.
Racing up and back from the hospital on a nearly daily basis, I hadn't even noticed that I wasn't feeling well in myself. I'd even had a pre-eclampsia scare but was given the all clear and I didn't think about it again, I couldn't. I didn't really know what pre-eclampsia was but I didn't have the mental capacity to worry about it.
My dad battled through and saw my 20 week scan but died at the beginning of April.
By mid-April I was getting very swollen, I could barely walk on my swollen feet and I did not feel well. I left work one morning, leaving my laptop turned on, my lunch in the fridge and went to see my midwife. I was seven months pregnant. I said to my colleagues, 'hopefully I won't be long'. What I didn't know then, was that actually I wouldn't be back for a long while.
My midwife was quick to diagnose that I did indeed have pre-eclampsia now and I was sent straight to the maternity hospital. The hospital said I had severe pre-eclampsia and that mine and my baby's life was in danger. I would have to be admitted immediately and remain until my baby was delivered (cue frantic reading of leaflets about what pre-eclampsia was and what 'severe' meant).
I called family and friends in floods of tears, I had to call work and say, "I'm not coming back."
That was the Wednesday. The next morning, I woke up unrecognisable, the swelling had gone to my face. They decided my baby had to be induced, (the only recognised cure for pre- eclampsia).
Thankfully my husband and I had decided on boy and girl names the day prior, and we named him Lucas. Lucas was born early Friday morning, he was only 31 weeks and 1 day gestation.
He was born blue, starved of oxygen, weighed only 3lbs and was put straight into a tiny plastic bag with a hat on his head.
Thankfully, his colour returned and I was allowed to see him for a matter of seconds, he looked at me the moment he heard my voice, I gave him a brief kiss and then he was whisked off to intensive care.
An hour or so later the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) staff came down to let me know that Lucas was doing well and gave me my first photograph of him, which I will always treasure.
It had never crossed our mind that I would have pre-eclampsia, or have a premature baby, or what any of that even truly meant. The next few weeks we couldn't have predicted even if we had known.
I didn't get to see Lucas again until very late in the evening as I was so unwell. I was taken up in a wheelchair, He was in an incubator, wires and splints all over and in him, on a ventilator, snuggled in a nest pillow, I was so happy he was alive and so sad at the same time of his horrific arrival into the world.
I was still incredibly unwell and the next day my blood tests showed that I had developed many of the systems of HELLP, where my liver enzymes were rising and my blood platelets were dropping drastically. The consultants, doctors and midwives were, quite frankly, amazing and saved my life, while Lucas was fighting his own battle to survive in NICU.
In the early hours of Monday morning I was woken by tears down my face, as I was in hospital alone with my baby boy in NICU, had suffered terrible health and my family were 100 miles away getting ready for my Dad's funeral.
There were tears of joy too also that day, as I got to hold Lucas for the first time. He was already 3 days old. He was still attached to many wires but no longer ventilated and on something called c-pap (continuous positive airway pressure, it puffs air into the lungs to assist breathing).
He was so tiny and there was no weight at all to him. His head was the size of a small apple. It was so amazing to finally hold him. We had skin-to-skin cuddles, this helps them to maintain their body temperature and allows them the best access to hearing the soothing heartbeat.
When I was finally released to go home, I cried the short car journey home (thank goodness we lived so close, I would later realise). I had not left the hospital in eight days since being admitted in very urgent circumstances. On getting home I completely broke down, I had left my son in hospital but I had to go home.
Over the next five weeks, each day I woke up, got dressed and went to the hospital for the day, that was my new routine. I had sent my husband back to work, for there was little he could do, (he just didn't have the right body parts!) and I wanted him to have a 'normal' paternity leave when Lucas was home from hospital.
There were many cuddles, sat alone, but not alone in the hot and noisy NICU. I spent hours just sitting there on an uncomfortable chair, Lucas snuggled on my chest, listening to all the beeps and tings of the equipment, feeling my heart lurch every time Lucas' equipment alarmed as he had stopped breathing (prematurity sleep apnoea, where they forget to breathe). I was able to be a 'proper mummy' during those hours to some extent, I changed nappies, I changed clothes (albeit at the beginning it was mighty tricky through the small arm holes of an incubator), but also had to do some NICU mummy things like feed him his milk through a nasal gastric tube and give him his supplements, comfort him whilst he had blood tests, brain scans and more.
The worst part of my day was when I would have to leave to go home, I cried most days, leaving the ward in tears and had to stop them falling before I could drive home. I would wake in the night to express and call the hospital at 2am in the middle of the night to see how he was.
When Lucas was six weeks old he and I were admitted to the mother and baby ward to establish 24/7 breastfeeding. I was so happy to be a normal mummy with him. To have him by my side in a cot, to be with him day and night, so happy to see his full face with no plaster or tubes distracting from his gorgeous face. Even writing this now tears still come to my eyes thinking of that happy moment.
Seven weeks after he was born, we finally got to take Lucas home. It felt like I had lived a life time. He and I slept so wonderfully that first night at home.
Everything after that started to fall into place, and it was relatively 'normal', we were lucky that Lucas had recovered from the more serious medical conditions before being brought home. We still had to give him supplements, and we had lots of appointments and prescriptions to fill but I didn't care, he was home and mine to love.
Since then, I've been lucky enough to have a second child (albeit with two more miscarriages and associated heartbreak in between).
The difference of having a term baby was agonising. My daughter was born at 10pm on a Wednesday night. Within seconds I was able to hold her, I was able to breastfeed her within minutes, she slept by my side that night and we were home on the Friday by lunch-time, with a very happy big brother bursting with pride.
I would cry and my husband would ask, "Why are you crying? This is so much better than when Lucas was born." I would reply, "That's why I'm crying, it's not fair that her entry to this world was so much better than Lucas."
Having Lucas early and all the grief surrounding his birth still makes me desperately sad and he's now five years old. I still dread the month of April and I don't look forward to Lucas' birthday.
The whole month feels like I go back in time and the pain I feel is just as bad as when it happened. Some years it's worse than others, but I fear I have a long way to go before it doesn't bring a tear to my eyes.
I didn't know what pre-eclampsia was and how dangerous and how common it is, but I do now. I didn't know what having a premature baby meant but I do now.