4. Experiences of preterm birth
A preterm baby's early experience is very different to that of a term-born baby.
After birth, babies born at term, and most babies born late and moderately preterm, go to a normal maternity ward with their mother and will be discharged home within a few days.
In contrast, doctors will take babies who are born very preterm to a neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, where they might stay for several weeks or months. This experience not only impacts the child but can also be distressing for the parents. Listen to Susannah’s experiences of having an extremely preterm baby.
Usually you’re really excited about giving birth and meeting your new baby, but when I started going into labour at 23 weeks I was willing it not to happen, it was just too early. I was rushed to a delivery room with about 10 doctors and nurses, and midwives, some for the baby and some for me. As soon as George was delivered he was whisked away to the neonatal unit to be resuscitated, not passed straight to me like most babies are. After the most traumatic experience of my life I was left all alone in the delivery room. I didn’t even get to meet him for a few hours. When the consultant came to see us I started to feel hopeful, then crushed when he told us that he didn’t think anything could be done to save George, as he was just too immature. The next thing we heard was that the ambulance team were on their way to collect him and take him to a bigger hospital. We got to take some photos and hold his hand before he left in the ambulance but some of the doctors and nurses were all crying as we left the unit.
Most women stay in hospital for a day or two after giving birth, but instead of reaching over to the cot next to me, I had to get the midwives to wheel me round to the NICU to see my baby. I didn’t even get my first cuddle until he was 6 weeks old. Rather than going home, I was launched into a world I didn’t even really know existed. I spent the next 5 months in hospital with George, in a different town from my husband and other son, while he fought every day just to be here. After everything we went through, taking George home was a huge milestone. He still has many long-term health issues but I’m so thankful that our little boy is still here with us today.