The journey to becoming a mama
Guest Blogger: Tracy Lancaster
My life changed forever on 26 November 2014. I was at work and received a call from a clinic in Canterbury Hospital. I had been there the day before to ask for help in getting pregnant.
To be honest the story started 20 years earlier when I was settled in a relationship and aware I hadn't fallen pregnant even though I wasn't trying I was leaving it up to fate!
Then in 2004 I did fall pregnant and was in shock for a good week, then blissfully happy (and felt very sick). My first scan was at 12.4 weeks, I was so worried because until I saw my baby it all felt like a dream. My bladder was beyond full and I was so nervous I lay there and within seconds I just knew it was all over. The nurse turned to me and told me there was no heartbeat, just a mass in the centre of my womb, my baby had died around week 10. I was in shock and had to sit with a doctor telling me information about what my options were; going in to hospital and having a removal or leaving it up to nature, which could take weeks, as it was a missed miscarriage. I was in hospital the next day, the saddest day of my life.
Life went on, but every month I would cry alone when I knew I wasn't pregnant. A year later I fell again but started to bleed at week eight, this time I told no one. I was convinced something would go wrong, and it did. Over time my relationship ended and I stayed single so I wouldn't have heartbreak each month. Then aged 39 and in a great relationship, I spoke to my doctor as one last ditch attempt before I was too old, to see if there was anything else I could do. He ran bloods over three months and the results told me I didn't seem to ovulate anymore or if I did it could be once or twice a year. I asked if there was any drugs that would help and he referred me to Canterbury fertility clinic.
Back to 2014, when asked if I was sitting down, I laughed and said, “How bad is it?” The nurse told me I was very pregnant and that it was good news, she hoped. She said that my blood levels would be right for around 8.5 weeks and that I needed to be scanned as soon as possible, so I was booked in for the next day! No sleep was had that night, I cried mainly and didn't tell a soul. The next day I told my mum and she then cried a lot with me, she came with me and all I remember was two voices telling me there was a heartbeat, so that was the start of Pip’s journey.
I felt so different in this pregnancy; well and so positive. At 12 weeks I had blood tests for Down’s syndrome, not sure why as it wouldn't have changed a thing. The results put me in a very high bracket 1 in 36 people.
Sadly my relationship ended and I moved back home with family. I had regular scans and blood tests - at 20 weeks they became worried that the baby was small; the thigh bones were smaller than normal. I was promptly referred to foetal medicine in my local hospital. At 22 weeks, I was left devastated with my dad sat next to me listening to the doctor telling me that the baby was froth restricted and I was a huge risk of pre-eclampsia. When I asked them if they would save my baby they told me I had to get to 27 weeks and the baby needs to grow a lot more. Then the doctor told me she would see me again in four weeks, which felt like a lifetime away. My world was falling apart again, poor Pip had to hold on, what a struggle he had.
As it was, I did feel him move and that kept the worry down, I carried on working and reading to Pip all the time. Week 26 was a long week and when I reached 27 weeks I felt great. I had a scan on the Thursday and the doctor told me baby was still very small and that they would probably deliver me within three weeks. They gave me a steroid injection (to help baby's lungs) and I was to go back on Friday to have the second dose, which I did, I also had to stay all day as my blood pressure was high.
Sunday was spent with friends and that night I couldn't settle and by 8am I phoned my midwife as something was up. She told me to go for a monitoring. By 11.30am I was waiting in a small room for a doctor to tell me what I already knew - baby was very tired and needed to come out now!
One ambulance ride later and I'm at another hospital being shown to my room. All hell lets loose - so many people wanting me to sign stuff and for me to listen, my friends turn up and my mum is there just as they’re taking me to theatre. Fifteen minutes later Pip has arrived, he was whisked away to get some help as he was born in very poor condition. My son weighed 915g and at 26 minutes old I got to meet him for seconds before he headed off to NICU, I was finally a mama!
At 10pm I finally got to NICU to see Pip, he was so tiny and his skin was so thin. I was terrified and so thankful my dear friend Rooney was with me. We sit for a couple of hours listening to alarms and watching all the flashing lights and lines going into my tiny, little boy.
I finally fall asleep at 5am and by 6.10am I'm woken by a nurse and told my baby needs me. I'm pushed down to see Pip and there are lots of people around his bay. Pip had been fighting all night to stay alive. He had the team around him, he was bleeding and sugars were unstable. This went on for five days and by day six I left my baby in hospital as I was discharged, that then became the worse day ever! I would return to the hospital every day by 7.30am with my little efforts of breast milk, (such hard work getting that). I wouldn’t leave until around 5pm and I wouldn’t breathe until I was back there the next morning.
Day 16 of life and Pip became very unwell. By the next day lunchtime I was waiting to hear which hospital Pip was going to. Necrotising Enterocolitis was suspected and this can kill babies within hours and surgery is sometimes the only option. St Thomas' in London had a bed so we left Kent by 11.30pm and were in London by 1.45am. We met the surgeon early hours and he wanted to watch Pip for a while, my little boy was so swollen and his tummy looked green/mottled in colour. He was dying in front of me.
By lunchtime we were walking Pip down to theatre, he was in there for four hours. I went for a walk and stayed close to my friend. We both cried a lot and talked about Pip’s strength, such a little fighter. Well the good news is that Pip came out of surgery doing very well! Out of 80cm of small bowel they had removed 50cm, leaving 19cm good and 11cm bad. I didn't really understand what that meant at the time. All that mattered was that Pip was alive and I was his Mama.
My next biggest worry was where am I going to stay? The consultant had told me Pip would be in hospital for months, I couldn't afford to live in London and I would not leave Pip. He was still so very poorly and on day five of being in London and crying myself to sleep, washing my clothes out in my maternity ward room, I was given the best news that week; Ronald McDonald House had a room for me. Amazing! I left Pip that afternoon (which was so hard) to go and see my room and meet other families and staff who would fast become my new friends.
I found the place very easily with the directions I was given, and what a welcome. The House is so homely and all the staff made me feel so at home. I was given a tour and then told the House rules and shown to my room. I could relax now, I had a place to stay, friends and family could also stop worrying.
Over the next few weeks I got to know the staff and was so humbled by the fact that whenever I came through the front door, someone would ask how my day was and about Pip - such loving people.
I spent five and a half months in London and throughout that time Pip had some terrible days, going from Special Care Baby Unit to High Dependency Unit to Neonatal Intensive Care Unit all in one day, this happened a few times.
When it's been a hard day at the hospital the last thing you want to do is cook when you get in but Ronald McDonald House Guy’s and St Thomas’ has thought of this. They organise businesses, individuals and other groups to prepare meals for the families. It makes such a difference when you’re away from home and family. All day long I lived off packet food from the hospital and having a home cooked meal in the evening and being able to talk to other families and staff went a long way to help keep my sanity in all the sadness and uncertainty surrounding Pip. Some of the staff would share their own family tales, this stopped me feeling so homesick. I was able to talk about my little boy and feel a very proud mama. I made my room feel like home, by having lots of photos on ribbons around the room and staff would comment on how cutie and small Pip was, it meant so much.
I could never put into words, the love and respect I have for the team at Ronald McDonald House Guy’s and St Thomas’. Every day for over five months they would ask about my little boy Pip and that meant the world to me. I am finally a mama and it's amazing.
P.S. Pip and I are back at home. He has a way to go but he is a happy little 10 month old baby who is learning every day about the world!