Dawn, 36, who works in finance and musician John, 34, were expecting their first child in early 2014, but son Jack Alfred had other ideas, and was born at 28 weeks, on 12 November 2013.
‘I was due to fly to Berlin for work so I booked a midwife appointment the day before to check I was ok to fly. At that appointment I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia,’ said Dawn.
While they had hoped Dawn could hang on for a further five weeks, Jack was born just four days later by c-section when her condition worsened and Jack got into distress. He weighed a tiny 2.1lb at birth and was in the neonatal unit for 14 weeks in total, including five weeks in Southampton.
‘We were both in total shock but we look back now and realise we were also totally naive. I know others who have had early babies but nothing like as early as Jack. I was concerned that we had nothing ready for Jack at home when I had him, we didn’t have a cot or any clothes for him yet – I really didn’t appreciate that I wouldn’t be taking him home for a long time,’ said Dawn.
Jack was very poorly when he was born and couldn’t breathe for himself. He had to be intubated and stayed on the ventilator for three weeks and continued to have oxygen support for another 10 weeks after that. Jack also had complications with his heart, blood and brain and, at two-weeks-old, he picked up sepsis.
‘At the start of our journey every new day seemed to bring more bad news and it was incredibly hard adjusting to a world of medical terminology and such an alien environment, not to mention managing my own illness, recovering from major surgery and trying to pump milk around the clock.’
‘It made us feel incredibly helpless, we were Jack’s parents but we couldn’t do anything for him. We knew our touch could actually distress him further and that was heartbreaking. I also worried constantly that, as a mother, I wouldn’t bond properly with Jack and he would think the nurses were his mums.’
She said the staff in both Guernsey and Southampton were amazing and talked them through each step, getting them involved in Jack’s care as much as they could. In Southampton they even received a certificate to say they could tube feed Jack without supervision.
‘We slowly learnt the ways of the neonatal unit and became more empowered as we learnt the medical stuff we needed to know. We also got to know all the wonderful staff really well.’
Dawn said the additional equipment that the Priaulx Premature Baby Foundation provided the neonatal unit with was a huge help, but what really made a difference was being able to stay in the Southampton flat for four weeks.
‘The first week we were in Southampton we stayed in NHS accommodation which we had to pay for. Whilst it was fit for purpose it was a good walk from the hospital and was very basic, with shared facilities and no shower. When we found out we could move into the PBBF flat we were so happy. The flat is wonderful, a cliche but it’s a home away from home.
‘The flat is right next to the hospital which meant we could come and go from the hospital as we pleased – sometimes even very late at night when things were much quieter on the unit – plus it meant I could run back to the flat and pump milk in comfort before returning it back to the unit. Psychologically it also made a HUGE difference to know that you are sleeping only a stones throw away from your baby and could be by his side within two minutes.
‘We spent Christmas in Southampton and we even managed to cook ourselves a mini Christmas lunch as the flat is so well equipped.’
The PPBF also provided them with a mobile phone that would take a UK sim so they didn’t have a huge mobile bill to come home to. Dawn said that, at one point, John had to return to Guernsey for a couple of days but she felt safe and happy in the flat.
‘I don’t think I’m doing justice to how much it helped. It really, really made a massive difference.’