Our story, Francesca and Macaulay
ALBIE THOMAS MCGOWAN, 8lb 9oz, 18/12/19
Wednesday 18th December, 40+1, my waters had gone the day before and we were ready to be induced! 2nd baby, low risk pregnancy, we were soooo excited! Induction began, pessary given and off for a walk around the hospital we went. Anything to get our baby moving and bring him into the world.
Within a couple of hours everything changed. I was in agony. A quick check from the midwife back on the ward and she pressed “THAT” red button. Category A caesarean, separated from my partner and my mum. The last words I heard were “threat to life, mother and child” repeated over and over. I was pretty much chucked onto the theatre table, put to sleep within moments shaking with fear.
I woke up in recovery, everything hurt, I was trying to understand where I was, what had happened, and most of all, WHERE IS MY BABY!?? Through the mist of the morphine I could just about piece together what the doctor was saying. I only remember a few words… [LOSS OF OXYGEN TO THE BRAIN] [NO HEARTBEAT] [INTUBATED] [NICU]
We didn’t know much more. I wanted to know more but I could barely stay awake to ask I was so weak and under so much morphine. I had suffered a placental abruption and internal haemorrhage, causing our baby’s oxygen supply to be lost. I didn’t know when it happened, but I knew when I was having pains during induction that something wasn’t feeling right. I’m so glad I told the midwife to check things.
Our beautiful baby Albie was born in what they call ‘poor condition’, without a heartbeat and resuscitated for approximately 8 minutes. He was pale floppy and unable to breathe, his blood gases were 6.8, we now understand that this is how they determine how severe the HIE is at first instance.
Albie was intubated and taken up to NICU. He was later transferred to a different hospital about a 30-minute drive away by ambulance. I had started to come around and I was distraught, what was happening, why has this happened to me and when can I see him, will he die, how bad is this? I had so many questions, I never asked half of them, I was almost too scared to hear the answers. But looking back, my imagination before I met him was much worse.
I was shown 2 photographs of him once I’d come out of the recovery. They weren’t good but I was just so happy to see his little face. I cried as soon as I saw the photos, they were scary, he was full of wires and tubes.
He was later wheeled into my room quickly before the ambulance was transferring him to the other hospital. I wish I remembered this moment more. I was struggling to think straight from the medication and so weak, still having a blood transfusion done. The pictures here are of that moment, they are sad and show how I felt but they’re real and raw and that’s the first time I met my boy.
The other hospital was able to offer the therapeutic cooling. This this was what he needed to prevent any further damage to his brain. I didn’t know what any of that meant. I just wanted him to get whatever help he could even though it was torture being apart.
I spent 2 more nights at the local hospital whilst Albie was in NICU 30 minutes away. It was hell. There were no beds available for me to transfer or ambulance and I was too ill to be discharged. On the 2nd night, I called to check how he was doing. My heart sank. The nurse explained he had suffered a 5-minute seizure. I felt like someone had hit me in the stomach. I just wanted to be there, I really thought, this is it, he’s not going to make it. My partner rushed to the other hospital, and I screamed until they were able to transfer me. I got there at 3am and finally got to be at his side. Although it was still scary and I had no idea what we were about to face, I finally felt like his mummy.
Every day Albie got stronger. We sat for hours watching his monitors, jumping at every beep. We cried, took photos, held his tiny hand, and just held onto the only thing we had, hope.
On day 5, Albie was bottle fed. He tolerated a feed by bottle. I was disheartened he couldn’t breastfeed but relieved he was able to swallow. I knew this was a hurdle and was anxious on what might happen. On this day it was time for his EEG to check his brain activity. This came back abnormal as expected, an indication for seizure activity which he had suffered. Then time for his MRI. We sort of expected the worse but knew it would be a wait before any results. Sitting in the waiting room while your 5-day old baby has an MRI is one of the hardest things I imagine any parent has to do. I spent 30 minutes going over what the results might be and what it will mean for the future.
Day 6, time to transfer back over to our local hospital, it was Christmas Eve. We were just so glad he would be around the corner from us, we were juggling a toddler and Christmas day, it was tough to say the least. The doctor called me on Christmas Eve as I was on my way to the hospital to transfer him in the ambulance, she told me Albie’s MRI was “okay”. But…What does OK mean? Is that it? Will he walk, talk, smile, know who we are? So many questions, we were happy we knew this was a good result, but we were scared to be TOO happy.
When I got to the hospital, I probed the doctor further about what this meant. She explained that it’s a good indication that the effects may be mild, but Albie would be monitored for the first few years of his life to check for any problems. Oh, OK. I wasn’t sure what to think, but it was like another bit of hope for us to cling onto and it felt good.
Albie spent Christmas day in NICU. By this point, I was holding him, feeding him, dressing him etc, I was just so glad to be his Mum.
My thoughts were all over the place about the future, but whenever I held him, I just knew I was going to protect him from anything in the world.
Day 10, time to bring our baby home, finally after the roughest 10 days of our lives. We had to do some resus training which wasn’t nice to comprehend but very important also. As soon as we walked through the door, I felt like he was finally mine. I could hold him as many times as I wanted without feeling silly about needing to check with nurses about wires etc. I felt so complete.
Albie is 6 months old as I’m writing this, our HIE journey is only in the early days, we see physio every 4 weeks from him being tiny. So far physio has picked up on some stiffness in his arms and legs. When they told me, I cried, although we knew it was coming, we could tell, it was still difficult to hear it from a professional. I’d done so much research on the possibilities of the future for Albie and what diagnosis we may get so I had an idea on what the medical professionals are looking out for. At 6 months old we know this may improve and we know we may get a mild diagnosis in the future. Whenever we feel low about things like that, we think about how lucky we are that he survived those first 10 days and how lucky we are to have him. Our HIE journey has meant we have read so many stories of other families, babies born in similar ways who were not so lucky and sadly did not make it, and babies who did make it but have many more battles on a daily basis. We know we fall into the luckier bracket in comparison, but we also know that there’s a mutual understanding that we all know what those early days feel like and how you are genuinely clinging onto the hope that your baby will just know they are so loved.
We know the next 6 months and the next few years will really be our telling point. We’ve heard the “wait and see” so many times from medical professionals. It’s hard to hear and some days it can feel like torture being in the unknown limbo phase. There are times we can send ourselves crazy watching his every movement, considering what we may face in the future, but we love him unconditionally. Our hopes and dreams for will never go away.
We hope that anyone else reading this who also has a clear MRI knows they are not alone. And the watching and waiting is hard but the best thing you can do is to just love your baby and what will be, will be.