Our NICU journey started when I went into spontaneous preterm labour at 25+2 weeks.

I had been feeling uncomfortable all day, but by 5pm I was in pain and went to my local hospital where I was told that I was 4cm dilated and the baby, who was in breech position, was coming. A doctor came to see me to discuss the options for a vaginal birth or a caesarian section, she told me that the baby might not survive either way but that I needed to make a decision. Soon. This was my first pregnancy, I hadn’t made it as far as antenatal classes, I had no idea how to give birth what was I supposed to do? It felt like an impossible decision and one that was ultimately taken out of my hands as the baby’s heartbeat dropped and stayed down. The nurse shouted at my husband to pull the emergency cord and suddenly the room filled with people and I was rushed down the corridor.

Emily Faye Read was born at 20:54 weighing 1lb 13oz via caesarian section while I was under a general anaesthetic. I didn’t see or hold my baby as she was already in intensive care, but one of the nurses gave me the hat she had worn initially and that hat didn’t leave my hand until I finally saw her at 11am the next morning when I was wheeled down to NICU. It was dark in the room and she was being prepared for transfer to Oldham as she needed ventilating and our local hospital didn’t have the facilities for this. And there she was, asleep, breathing mechanically with the aid of the ventilator, skin red and bruised from being born, but strong, so strong. I knew from that first glance that she was going to do everything in her power to stay with us.

Emily was transferred to Oldham and I followed in a transport ambulance, I was taken to the post-natal ward, a place filled with women who were taking those first gentle steps into motherhood with their babies at their sides while I was faced with, well I didn’t know what I would be faced with would I ever take my baby home? If I did, would she be healthy? These women had their babies with them, but all I had was questions, so many questions.

I find it hard to remember those first few days in NICU a blur of new information: bradycardia, TPN, long line, blood gases. What I do remember is being told that we had to take Emily’s progress an hour at a time and that will stay with me forever. I should have still been pregnant for another 3 months, but instead I was looking at my baby through an incubator wall willing time to stand still, scared what the future would bring and at the same time wanting to rush to the end, to know our fate whatever that may be.

Emily was stable and we were allowed to do her cares 4 days after she was born and hold her after 7 days. She was doing so well that they tried her off the ventilator on day 5, although she did need to go back onto it, she was proving me right, she was strong. When I look back on the photos of these early days I look tired, bewildered, full of love for my baby, but this is not how I was feeling. What I was feeling was guilt and grief. Guilty that I had done this, my body had failed my baby and she was suffering as a result. And grief for my pregnancy, my missing bump, missing kicks and flutters. Both of these feelings stopped me from bonding with Emily, I just did not feel like she was my baby and I also felt guilty about this.

Emily spent a total of 14 weeks in NICU, we were extremely lucky and had a relatively straightforward journey and she surprised everyone by not needing home oxygen! I slowly bonded with Emily over those 14 weeks and Spoons was there for all of the milestones, big and small, weight gains, moving off the ventilator, wearing clothes for the first time! On Mother’s Day they left a gift bag for all of the new mums and I will never forget that. I walked into the unit feeling nothing like a mother and walked out feeling completely different. Even when we had moved to our local hospital Spoons remembered us and we received a first bath kit in the post!

For some friends and family, the day you come home is the day your journey ends, but it is just another step in your journey. Having the support group was another lifeline for us when we came home. Emily came home breastfeeding, but we very quickly had to put her onto formula and this broke my heart. Without the ongoing support from Spoons I would have felt completely alone. I am so glad that I reached out for support and I am so grateful to Spoons for everything they have done for me and Emily and I’m so happy to say that at 2 years old my little girl and I are the best of friends and she shows us just how strong and brave she is every day!