First time parents Matt and Ellen Billing, both 25, said having a premature baby opened their eyes to how precious life is.
Ellen, an early years practitioner at a nursery and Matt, a buyer for Specsavers were looking forward to the birth of their first child, due on 9 January this year. What they were not prepared for was her arrival on 1 November, last year, 10 weeks early.
Ellen was at work when she suffered a spontaneous rupture of membranes on Halloween. Matt was moments away from boarding a flight to Hong Kong for a two weeks business trip when he received a frantic call from Ellen’s sister. He raced home and got to the hospital just 45 minutes before their daughter Penny was born. Ellen said, even though Penny weighed a healthy 4lb 11oz when she was born, she looked tiny and helpless.
‘Penny didn’t cry when she was born which was heart wrenching. Matt got to look at her but I didn’t get to see her until the evening.
‘After she had gone I began to cry. In my head I kept asking myself, is she going to survive? But I couldn’t say it out loud because I wanted to stay strong for Penny and Matt.’ She said it all happened so suddenly they didn’t have time to think about it until after she was born.
‘We were so happy that our baby girl had been born but we also felt scared and a bit confused and angry as to why it had happened to us. ‘ Ellen said she found it difficult seeing other new mums come and go in a matter of days.
‘I couldn’t have got through it without the support of the neonatal nurses, I have no doubt their support kept me going. Wendy and the team were so positive, friendly and caring; really wonderful people. They are our heroes and we will be forever grateful to them for essentially saving Penny’s life.’
Ellen said, receiving their Priaulx Premature Baby Foundation baby box, along with a photo of Penny, provided a real lifeline to their newborn.
‘We weren’t able to see Penny until the evening because she had to be stabilised first. The box kept us occupied and gave us so much hope. We weren’t expecting the box, we were overwhelmed by the generosity and it made us feel really special. Having the photograph made things bearable. When your baby is born prematurely your world around you just stops and suddenly nothing matters anymore.’
She said the hardest part was not knowing how long they would be in hospital for, added together with the constant worry they’re not making progress and the heartbreak when they have a set back. But, she said, it did get easier, and every day was a step closer to going home. Penny was in hospital for six and a half weeks, but was finally allowed home on 18 December. She is now a happy, healthy 4-month-old weighing 12lb 7oz.
She said the support of the PPBF was invaluable and it had been reassuring to know so many other people had been through the same thing before us.
‘I went onto the website and read the stories of the other babies which gave us hope at such a difficult time.’
Main image with kind permission of Dani Stevens Photography