Gabby and Tom stayed at Ronald McDonald House Brighton when their baby, Camila, was born premature. Here Gabby tells us about that testing time and their experience of staying at a House.
GUEST BLOGGER: GABBY, MUM TO CAMILA
At just 24 weeks and five days into my pregnancy, I started having contractions. My partner Tom and I rushed to hospital in Dartford, where doctors gave me special medication to try and stop them. Meanwhile, the hospital tried find somewhere for us to be transferred to, to give our baby the best chance of survival. But local hospitals didn’t have any availability and the next morning there was still no response.
The decision was made to transfer us to Brighton. This presented itself as a major inconvenience. Tom was thinking about what time he was going to be given off work, paying for hotels, travelling a 127 mile round trip between home and the hospital each visit, and that was before even thinking about the basic things that might be overlooked. Without knowing about Ronald McDonald House Charities, Tom even joked with nurses that they should try calling Leicester Hospitals, close to our extended family, so at least we would have somewhere to stay.
On 26 February 2016 at 11:01 am, at 25 weeks, our baby Camila was born. She weighed just 761g. We were later told that this was due to an infection in the placenta. The nurses told us about Ronald McDonald House Charities and called the Brighton House on our behalf, to start the process of being given a room.
Stepping into the House, you feel exhausted. You’re on autopilot. It’s like your brain is in a different time zone and it takes a bit longer to keep up with what’s happening. Once our disbelief at the existence of a place like a Ronald McDonald House (and that it’s free) wore off, we felt so incredibly fortunate and grateful.
At moments when we were faced with challenges, when we expected phone calls in the early hours of the morning, when we walked out of the unit not knowing if Camila would survive the night, Ronald McDonald House Brighton was consistent, constant and stable.
Gabby Mummy to Camila
After birth, Camila did very well. There were a few setbacks, but it’s normal. As resilient as preemies are, they are still delicate and dependant on the finely tuned balancing act performed by the nurses and consultants. She was finally discharged on 10 June 2016, which also happened to be her due date.
Ultimately, people do what they need to do. The experience is very much like being on a rollercoaster. Once it starts you are already strapped in and you can’t just get out. You can’t stop it or put it in reverse. You have no choice over where it goes, how fast it goes or how many loops or rolls there are. You just have to go along with it and try to survive.
If the House didn’t exist, we would have had to beg the hospital for somewhere to sleep. That would have been next to impossible where we were. The next option would be hotels, because travelling would be impractical and expensive. Once Tom went back at work, I would have been left to get public transport, which would be useless in an emergency. Then the question “How are we going to be able to pay for it?” would come, which could only be answered by borrowing money, either on credit cards or from family.
Leaving the House can be a conflicting time, especially after staying there for so long. I was at Brighton for so long that it almost became my home. I knew the staff on the hospital ward as if I worked there; I knew the staff at the House and the families that stayed there like friendly neighbours that I had lived next door to for years. Tom and I were so happy to be leaving because it represented progress in the health and development of our child, but at the same time we were sad to be leaving such an amazing group of people behind.
Since leaving, we’ve visited the House twice, for no other reason than to say hello.
To anyone who’s thinking of fundraising or donating, we would say thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you. You have no idea of the significant impact you are making on the life of a family in great need.
By supporting Ronald McDonald House Charities, you are allowing a parent to be close to their child without having the additional stress of worrying about where to stay, or how much it might cost. You are helping to create a small but incredibly supportive community who help each other get through their most difficult times, despite being complete strangers.
Camila went home on oxygen but was off it completely by the end of October 2016. She currently has no apparent complications as a result of premature birth, apart from some abdominal scars. She is a very happy little girl and leaves a wonderful impression on the people she meets, which always leads to surprise and disbelief when they hear her story.