Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Michelle Townsend

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Michelle Townsend. She took her prematurely-born daughter home from hospital, just days before the lockdown. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown. 

Ten days before the lockdown was announced our baby girl finally came home from hospital, she had been there for 131 days.

In October last year at 26 weeks pregnant I began to feel unwell and was diagnosed with severe pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome; the only option to save me and our baby was to deliver her early. I had arrived at hospital at 11am and by 3.35pm our baby was born; she weighed 1lb 10oz.

I was too unwell to see her at first so my husband had to go alone returning to my room with pictures taken through plastic of the smallest and most perfect thing I’d ever seen.

At first we counted the hours and then the days, slowly learning things we never imagined we’d need to know about neonatal medicine and premature babies. Then every day for over four months we went to the hospital, sat with her, held her, learned to feed and care for her, all the time navigating wires and tubes and trying to create some sense of a new normal from the situation we found ourselves in.

Our entire focus was her and getting her home. Finally after many setbacks and a lot of tears that day came in early March; we were over the moon.

Premature babies often have respiratory problems as a result of being born before their lungs have a chance to develop fully. In our case the delivery was such an emergency that there wasn’t time for the full course of steroids usually given to mothers who deliver early to help the baby’s lungs to grow. Breathing was always an issue for our little one, we were delighted and surprised that she made it home without on-going oxygen support but she does have chronic lung disease and a heart problem that may need further treatment. As a result she is a vulnerable little baby and even before Covid-19 took such a hold on us all we were being advised to introduce her to family and friends slowly and be very aware of infections and germs. It seems we all live in that world now.

So we are spending the lockdown with our baby, getting to know her, learning how to grow her, and settling into life as a family of three (plus the cat). She is home and we could not be more grateful, but after such a tough start in her life this is another challenging period for us.

We are isolating as much as possible, if we get sick then so will she so we are taking every precaution we can while trying to look after our own well-being. Friends are shopping for us and collecting prescriptions (premature babies come home on a lot of medication, I have a small pharmacy in my kitchen) and we are very careful about where and when we go outside. But we are going out for walks with her and we have a renewed appreciation for Cardiff’s beautiful open spaces, I feel like I see them differently now like coming at something from a different angle and not just because I’m pushing a pram. I find striking the balance between keeping her safe and making sure she, and we, get to go outside very tough. I worry about taking her out and I worry when we go out alone to exercise that we may be putting her at risk but I also worry about not taking her out enough, I believe she needs the fresh air and open spaces and I know we certainly do.

We miss our family terribly and feel so sad for our baby’s grandmothers who are desperate to be with her. A night of babysitting wouldn’t go a miss either. Fortunately they both came to see her and managed a cuddle before the lockdown was announced but since then it has been video calls only. A family of small faces on a screen and an even longer wait for her aunties and uncles to hold her. She is six months old now and has only been held by Mummy, Daddy, Granny, Nanna and the incredible nurses and doctors who cared for her. I have a lot of anxiety – standard new parent stuff I’m assured but also the worry of vulnerable baby and concerns about her development in this period. I reassure myself that she won’t remember it and that for everything she is missing she is gaining a lot of time with Mummy and Daddy and our undivided attention.

We are fortunate to both be off work at the moment thanks to shared parental leave, the first half of my maternity leave was spent at the hospital and now the second half is being spent in lockdown. The memories we make from this period are not the ones I might have imagined for us but we will treasure them nonetheless. Her first smile and laugh, taking her into our tiny garden, attempting to bath her while our crazy cat tries to join in, our new routines, our new baby language, our new outlook on life, our new life.

Sometimes it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I’m so excited for people to be able to meet her and to take her out and about but I know it may be quite some time yet and that feels frustrating and sad. But then I remember those 131 days in the NICU, the hardest days of my life but also the most humbling. There are babies in there now whose parents can only visit one at a time or in some cases can’t see them at all. There are nurses and doctors who aren’t seeing their own loved ones so they can look after ours. There are families who don’t get to bring their babies home at all and have to say the saddest of goodbyes. The resilience, compassion, kindness and strength I saw during that time gives me hope. Those 131 days were relentless and bleak but also sometimes full of unexpected joy and laughter, they were dark and tough but also taught me so much. These days can and will do the same for many of us I’m sure. And now, now we’re home they feel almost like a dream, like a short albeit hugely significant chapter in a really long and hopefully exciting story. Like those 131 days these lockdown days will eventually pass, so despite my frustrations and anxieties and sadness I look at my little baby smiling and frantically kicking her legs on the carpet below and I know it’ll all be alright.

Follow Michelle on Twitter @micheymathers

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