When I was 25 weeks + 1 day pregnant, Jake was born weighing 2.2oz.

When I was 25 weeks and 1 day pregnant I started to get slight pains. I was at work and became concerned enough to go to the maternity assessment unit at North Manchester General Hospital. Within 40 minutes of arriving at the hospital Jake was born weighing 2.2oz. I can’t remember much of the birth as the room was packed with doctors nurses and midwives and everyone was in a bit of a frenzy. I do remember hearing a consultant saying ‘is he breathing?’ And another replying ‘he’s trying’. Jake was quickly put on a ventilator and then into an incubator and wheeled off to the Neonatal Unit, 5 hours later I was able to see my son, he looked red and swollen and full of wires.

As Jake was born so early and North Manchester is only a level 2 hospital, Jake was transferred that night to Preston. It was the only hospital who could take him that night. Jake went by ambulance whilst I stayed at North Manchester, Andy was allowed to stay with me. I felt absolutely useless but a lovely midwife sat with us and asked if I had considered breastfeeding, I had but just assumed I wouldn’t have any milk, she showed me how to hand express and straight away the colostrum was there, for the next hour the midwife sat with a syringe and collected all the ‘liquid gold’ as she called it. At 1.15am, Preston Hospital called and said Jake had arrived OK.

The next day Andy and I went to Preston and the hospital gave us a family room so I was able to stay there. We were only at Preston 6 nights but it still felt a lot longer. I don’t think there was a moment at Preston Hospital that I wasn’t crying and it seriously felt like all the other parents on the ward were able to hold it together yet I wasn’t. The nurses got to work getting me familiar with certain terms like blood gases, cares etc. and tried to drum it into us at any given moment that it’s 1 step forward and 3 steps back and that it was going to be a long journey for Jake. I was told to focus on Jake getting through an hour at a time.

On day 6 in Preston, we were told Oldham Hospital had a bed and the transport team came to take him, but blood gas wasn’t good enough and they weren’t happy to take him. I broke down and begged them to move him closer to home for us, as we also had a 3-year-old son and not being around him was breaking my heart. An hour later his blood gas had improved and Andy and I watched the transport team wheel his incubator into the ambulance and it felt like a small victory. For the first time in a week I felt almost relieved.

Although the next day I expected to feel more positive as Jake was now much closer and I could stay at home each night and see my other son, but I didn’t, in fact I felt worse. I’d paid all my attention to getting him moved and was elated when he was but the next day it hit me all over again, the happiness was short lived, Jake was still very poorly and on a ventilator. They took him off the ventilator and he lasted 12 hours and had to go back on… at this point I started to understand about the back and forth and really wished I hadn’t excitedly let the family know he was off and then hours later say he was back on. 7 days into being at Oldham Hospital, he picked up an infection suspected Meningitis and Sepsis. He had to have a lumbar puncture but the results were inconclusive and he was treated for all suspected infections. It didn’t seem good and I asked the consultant if he believed this was the start of the end, of course he couldn’t say for sure but he said in his opinion he felt Jake had a good chance. Due to the stress, my breast milk then stopped and I couldn’t express. I felt so low I spoke to my doctor.

Eventually Jake fought off his infection and after 3.5 weeks on the ventilator he was given a chance to come off and this time he did it! He went onto CPAP and then the Bipap and then the Vaportherm, all within a week, he was doing amazing and at this point the full on dread was leaving me and I started to feel like eventually I would be able to take him home.

After 5 weeks at Oldham Hospital, he was transferred back to North Manchester as he was no longer classed as needing intensive care. We were truly upset to be leaving Oldham Hospital but within a week or so we had settled in at North Manchester.

Jake came out of the incubator and started to feed expressed breast milk from a bottle, he made it home 11 days before his due date. He was in hospital for exactly 3 months and came home in September on oxygen and by Christmas he was off his oxygen completely. I thought the struggle would be over once he was home, but I struggled with anxiety. I wasn’t used to being around people and at home. The hospital and nurses had become the norm and once Jake was discharged I had to readjust to ‘normal life’ and it wasn’t easy. I felt better talking to other mums, knowing someone else felt the same way as I did was comforting. I had mentioned it to other people how I was feeling anxious and some responded with ‘oh but Jakes here and doing great’. Hearing that made me feel worse, I just felt guilty like people thought I wasn’t happy that he was doing well. Speaking to other mums from Spoons definitely helped as it made me feel that my feelings were normal given the circumstances and slowly I’ve started to recover.

Jake has now been off oxygen over 6 months. He’s had a couple of colds and a chest infection and although it took longer than most to get over them he did and did it without the need of a hospital stay. He’s gaining weight steadily albeit on one of the lowest centiles but now he just looks like any other baby and you would never know he had such a rocky start to life. Jake is 12 months old now, I can’t quite believe the difference a year makes.