Expecting the Unexpected

When Tracey and Jonathan Shelton were looking forward to the birth of their second child, they never imagined that she would arrive fourteen weeks earlier than planned…

Tracey and Jonathan’s first baby, Harvey, was born right on time, weighing a healthy 6lbs. “He was just perfect,” remembers Tracey, “he had a tiny button nose and I was in awe of him immediately.”

Eighteen months on, the couple, who live in Walton-on-Thames, were delighted to discover that Tracey was pregnant again. “Because my previous pregnancy had been uneventful, I expected my second to be the same,” says Tracey, “but at 16 weeks I started to get very uncomfortable. I was in pain at night while I was sleeping and I had lots of sleepless nights, trying to find a good position.”

At 24 weeks Tracey also started bleeding and was taken in to hospital several times. The doctors explained to Tracey that in most cases of bleeding during pregnancy the reason is never discovered, but in a small number of cases it’s a symptom of a placental abruption, where the placenta detaches from the womb before the baby is born.

At 26 weeks Tracey was in hospital again, because of her pain and bleeding, when she suffered a severe placental abruption. “An hour later I started to have labour pains, and I realised that I was going to have the baby.”
A paediatrician visited Tracey, to explain what she could expect over the next three months. “I wasn’t thinking straight,” says Tracey, “I had it in my head that in two weeks’ time I would be bringing the baby home! The doctor explained that I could expect to take her home at about the time of the original due date.”

The doctor also explained that, being born almost 14 weeks early, Tracey and Jonathan’s baby would have a 50-80% chance of surviving, and might suffer long term complications, for example problems with her sight or hearing.

Chloe was born on the 10th of August 2005, weighing 2lb 1oz, and was taken immediately to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). “When I first saw her, a few hours after the birth, I was still in shock,” says Tracey, “I couldn’t believe how much hair she had – lots of dark hair! Harvey had been bald until 10 months – how  could a prem baby have more hair?”

Over the next 11 weeks Tracey and Jonathan were to spend many hours each day in the NICU. “Jonathan left work early to go into the hospital,” says Tracey, “And I relieved him for the late afternoon and early evening shift.”

Tracey was also busy expressing milk, “I remember Harvey sitting in his high chair, watching me, while I was strapped up to this machine!”. The hospital staff encouraged Tracey and Jonathan to be as involved as possible with Chloe’s care – changing nappies, feeding her and giving her kangaroo care, where a baby is wrapped up snug against the parent, for body heat and skin-to-skin contact.

‘Three years on, and Chloe is an ordinary, healthy little girl’.

Tracey and Jonathan were anxious to keep everything as normal as possible for Harvey. “Harvey was at that challenging two year old stage,” says Tracey, “Sometimes I took him into hospital with me, but with all the wires and machines within reach it was hard work!”

During her stay in the NICU Chloe was given four blood transfusions, but fortunately, despite having been born so early, she didn’t suffer from complications. By the end of October, at what would have been 37 weeks gestation, Chloe was allowed to go home. “It was a very special occasion,” says Tracey, “but also very scary because we were leaving behind all the care we had from the NICU, and we were suddenly on our own looking after a 4lb baby!”

“We had lots of support from the community midwives and the health visitors -they really helped to get us through the transition. There was still a risk of infection, so Chloe wasn’t allowed to go to crowded areas – even supermarkets were out of bounds, which was difficult with small son to look after as well. Nobody with a cough or a cold was allowed to visit us. The health visitor said we could relax when Chloe reached 6lbs.”

Three years on, and Chloe is an ordinary, healthy little girl. Her premature birth will put her into an older school year, but Tracey isn’t concerned, “She’s up there with the best of them!”
“We’ve always taken every day at a time, and never taken anything for granted. We feel so lucky – Chloe is doing what every other three year old is doing. Every milestone she reaches is really special, because there was a time when we didn’t know whether she would ever get there.”