Our first two babies were both born two weeks overdue, healthy but larger than average. It wasn’t a big surprise when the consultant recommended induction at 37 weeks due to the baby’s size. The induction itself went smoothly and I had a natural birth with no complications. Theo was a healthy 9lb 2oz, so the weight predictions had been accurate. When he was born he was purple in colour- but we soon heard his cry which put us all at ease. As the midwife worked on me it became clear Theo was not happy. He was grunting and bubbles were forming at his mouth. The doctor was called and we were told he was being taken to the ward to be observed. Looking back I was really naive after two perfectly healthy babies- I had no idea they meant NICU. I do wish that had been explained to me, as though I think they didn’t want to panic me an hour later when they wheeled me under the sign saying Intensive care I felt physically sick. I looked at my husband and could tell from his face it had just dawned on him too just how poorly our little boy was.

It was a shock to see Theo on CPAP with so many wires coming from his little body. I felt completely stunned and couldn’t really process what was happening. I was sent to get some sleep and despite everything I fell asleep straight away as I was so exhausted from birth and still had pain relief drugs flooding my body.

In the night we were woken by the wonderful NICU nurse who explained Theo had had to be intubated because his oxygen levels were so low. Again, I didn’t understand how serious this was at the time- a week later when they explained they would have to scan his brain to check for lasting brain damage I burst into tears. I think I learnt more about medical procedures in that week than the rest of my life up to that point.

The next day we were told Theo’s infection markers were up and they would need to do a lumber puncture for meningitis. This absolutely floored us. We were asked to leave the room as it would be too upsetting to see him go through it. Every time I came back to him he would be crying- this is something that still makes me tear up out of the blue even now. I definitely treat him a little differently to his sisters, I can’t bare hearing him cry.
Thankfully his lumbar puncture came back clear, and in just a couple of days (although it felt like a lifetime) his infection markers started to come down. Just when it felt like we were out of the woods, and we had brought the girls to NICU to meet their brother, he seemed to be struggling again. Theo’s right lung had collapsed, a pneumothorax. The doctors explained they were going to insert a syringe to try and release the trapped air, but this procedure didn’t work. After many X Rays it was decided a chest drain would have to be inserted. Again I was asked to leave as it would be too upsetting. I was on my own as my husband was looking after our girls. I just made it to the disabled toilet before I burst into tears. I had a good cry and when I had composed myself enough to come out again the wonderful NICU nurse was waiting for me with her arms open.

Once the chest drain was in he settled and slept properly for the first time since birth. It was lovely to see- he wasn’t crying constantly any more, his pain was obviously less. He started to take some of my milk through an NG tube. During these 24 hours we weren’t allowed to hold him for fear of dislodging the drain, which was really hard.
Before they removed the chest drain they X rayed him to check his lung had repaired- it had but he had a small pneumothorax in his left lung. Thankfully, he didn’t need a chest drain for that one as it repaired itself.

Theo was on NICU for just a week, then special care for 5 days, but it felt like so much longer. It was really hard when I was discharged after a few days and had to leave him behind. When I got in the car to go home his empty car seat was on my seat and I sobbed the whole drive home.
In the morning when I called the ward to check we were told he was being moved to special care. We practically skipped back to hospital and had such a wonderful day feeling like we were finally out of the woods. But that afternoon one of the families we had became friendly with suddenly lost their little boy. It felt like the wind was knocked out of us, there were no words that could mean enough. We hugged this poor family who we barely knew as they completely broke down. That night I stayed over with Theo to feed him through the night in preparation for coming home, and this family were in the next room saying goodbye to their little one. I didn’t sleep a wink- I watched Theo all night long. When we did make it home it was really hard to relax when he was sleeping, I constantly woke through the night for the first few months to watch his chest rise and fall.

Theo got oral thrush from the strong antibiotics, so breastfeeding was really difficult. Because I had fed both my girls with no problems at all I put pressure on myself to feed him too- this was really hard once we were home as he wouldn’t feed from me because of the thrush. I was constantly expressing with two children and a newborn to care for. It was really hard work, and when he was diagnosed with a tongue tie at 10 weeks I hoped things would change once it was cut. A friend suggested nipple shields and they finally helped him feed from me which made things a lot easier. But he still relied on them even after his tongue tie was cut- we finally ditched them 13 months later!

Now Theo is a happy and healthy 15 month old. He is definitely clingier than my girls- a mummies boy and loves cuddles. But thankfully there seems to be no long lasting damage. Sometimes something will trigger me to think all of this through and dwell on it, and what might have been. We feel extremely lucky and appreciate our babies all the more for our experience.