Real-life Special: Early Addition

We had such a fantastic response to our real life special earlier in the year that we’ve decided to make it a regular feature.

Over Winter and Spring we’ll be running another six stories, detailing the amazing and inspiring real life experiences of our readers and their families.

All families are unique, and we love to celebrate them – and to pay tribute to the strength and determination which enable people to overcome setbacks, large and small, to forge the family that they have hoped for. This issue you we bring you Sadie Sheliker who battled a rare cancer while she was pregnant, in order to give birth to baby Jessica; Samantha Feeney, who was distraught when she spontaneously went into labour at the end of her second trimester; and Kirsten Mieklejohn, who managed, very unusually, and through sheer force of will, to have a natural, home birth – even though her baby was in a breech position.

Pregnancy, and the arrival of a new baby, are transformative experiences for parents, and our children come into the world with their own individual stories already underway. Whether you’re suffering from a minor complication of pregnancy, or facing something more serious, it’s always comforting to know that other people have faced similar things, and with the love and support of those closest to them, have survived to tell the tale.

We hope you enjoy reading about this season’s families.

amantha Feeney was alone in her house in Hemel Hempstead when she realised that her labour had started, just 28 weeks into her pregnancy. “Everyone – my partner, my mum, my family – was twenty miles away. I’d never been so scared in all my life!”

Samantha’s pregnancy had been pretty trouble-free until, at 26 weeks, she developed sciatica. During the same period she and her partner, Chris, were moving house. “Sometimes I wonder whether I over-exerted myself. I was madly cleaning the new place and unpacking boxes – on my feet all day.”

A week later, when she started feeling more pains, Samantha assumed that it was the sciatica again. “I was ironing at the time, and I carried on as usual, cooked dinner, and relaxed in the evening after Chris came home from work. I didn’t call the hospital or midwives – it seemed crazy that I could be in labour.”

However, during the night, Samantha became more concerned. “I was beginning to realise that the pains were on and off, and at 5am, when Chris woke up for work, I woke up with him and jumped in the bath. Chris joked ‘it’s like you’re in labour!’ I’d started to think that I actually might be, but I didn’t want to sound ridiculous – from everything I’d seen, labour was excruciatingly painful from the beginning, so I thought I must just be being silly.”

Five minutes after Chris left for work, Samantha saw a small amount of blood in her bath water, and panicked. “I tried to call Chris – I must have tried him a thousand times – but there was no answer. I was crying, and I didn’t know what to do. The only person I could call was my mum. Thank God, she answered first time.”

After talking to her mother, Samantha called Chase Farm Hospital, where she had been planning to give birth.

“The midwife told me that I needed to call an ambulance, and that I couldn’t come to Chase Farm because it was too far, and too risky. I started to panic and cry again. I called my mum and asked her whether I was going to lose my baby.”

Samantha’s mother rang for an ambulance, while Samantha packed a hospital bag. “There were a million things rushing through my head. For some reason, I packed baby clothes, as though I would be bringing my baby home the next day, and under the illusion that she would fit into newborn clothes!”

Samantha was then rushed to hospital in Watford. “I was surrounded by doctors and nurses. They went to examine me with a speculum, but quickly removed it when they realised that I was already 4cm dilated. I was so scared, and so alone. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Samantha’s contractions stopped about an hour later, and her partner, Chris, arrived at the hospital, “God, I was glad to see him! My mum arrived shortly afterwards, and I started to feel more at ease.”

Although the contractions had stopped, Samantha was kept in overnight. But, because she was no longer officially in labour no one was allowed to stay with her. “It was the longest night of my life.”

Unfortunately, in the early hours of the following morning, Samantha’s labour started again. She was given medication to stop the contractions, as well as steroids to help Jasmine’s lungs to develop. She and Chris had a discussion with the consultant. “He talked to us frankly about all of the risks, and the conversation left us both in tears.”

By the end of the day there had been no contractions for a while, and Samantha was taken off the medication. “It seemed as though it had worked. I was relieved, and hoped that all would be okay.”

However, once again, Samantha’s contractions came back overnight. It was now the morning of her 22nd birthday. Before Chris had time to get to the hospital, Samantha was examined, and found to be 10cm dilated. “The room was full of doctors and paediatricians, ready to take Jasmine away to the NICU. They calmed me down, and reassured me. I started to push and the doctors said they would need to cut me, so that there wouldn’t be too much pressure on Jasmine’s head as she came out. They went ahead, and just as they did, Chris arrived – the doctors must’ve told him not to look because he faced the wall as he came into the room. I whispered ‘I love you’, and he held my hand.”

After just eight pushes, Jasmine was born. “The reality of her size was shocking, her skin was so thin you could see every vein. We felt love, of course, but, more than that, fear. We were just so scared of losing her. They laid her on my stomach for two seconds, and then she was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).”

It was a couple of hours before Samantha and Chris were able to go and see Jasmine. “I felt like a failure – in that moment, I felt as though it was my fault. The only thing I could do was reach through the opening in the incubator and hold her tiny hand.” The doctors reassured Samantha that she was in no way to blame – in fact, they suspected that the early labour may have been caused by Group B Strep, but couldn’t say for sure.

“The weeks after the birth were definitely the hardest of our lives,” says Samantha. “I spent the first two nights on a ward where the other mothers had their babies with them, and I cried myself to sleep. I thought that going home might make me feel different, but leaving the hospital without my baby girl was like ripping out my heart.”

Jasmine had to stay in hospital for nearly two months, which was a difficult time for Chris and Samantha. “The feeling we got when we went home and saw all her beautiful things, empty and unused, hurt very much, and put a lot of strain on Chris and me. But we were strong, and dealt with it as a team. My mum also came to live with us for a while and helped out with everything – without her I would have been lost.”

“I spent most of every day at the hospital with my baby girl, learning how to care for her, holding her, talking to her and expressing milk for her.” With her family behind her, Jasmine made amazing progress. “She didn’t have any complications from her birth,” says Samantha, “and, from day one, she surprised the doctors with her weight, her breathing and her recovery. She weighed around 5lbs 5oz when we were asked to do the overnight stay, before being allowed to take her home – in plenty of time for Christmas, and way before anyone had anticipated.”

“Waiting for the doctors to sign the final papers and hand over her medication was so exciting, it felt almost as though that was the day she was born. We wrapped her up in a snowsuit and tucked her into her car seat. She slept through the whole thing.”

“When we arrived home it was as if a new chapter had started. There was so much love and happiness – we just couldn’t wait to begin normal family life.”

Happily, after making such a dramatic entrance, Jasmine has gone from strength to strength. “Since then, parenthood has been everything I had hoped for, and more,” says Samantha. “Jasmine is on track with all her milestones and each one is as exciting as the last. Thinking back to her start in life makes us grateful for each day, because there was a time when we weren’t sure whether she was coming home.”