Florie Coquelin was born six weeks premature. ‘Nothing is as brutal as seeing a little girl in an incubator.’; says her father, James. When Nikie and James Coquelin had to face the traumatic early delivery of their third daughter, Florie, the support provided by the Priaulx Foundation ‘was absolutely fantastic’.
With busy working lives and two small girls (Elvie & Effie) the couple had happily factored in the arrival of a third child, but the pregnancy, birth and following weeks were a period of worry, pain and uncertainty.
The smiley 6 year old who was cheering on her Dad’s friend Simon Johns in his 24-hour indoor row Record Breaking Challenge and even had a go rowing herself, is a far cry from the ventilated, tube-fed scrap of life who had to be delivered early. ‘I realise that in prem terms, Florie’s birth six weeks before her due date was nothing like as bad as some parents have to deal with, but for us it was such a shock and no one could reassure us that she would be all right.
There were various complications. Having support from the PPBF and being confident about the medical and nursing teams made it all just about bearable,’ said Nikie.
She explained that her 16-week scan showed a problem with the placenta being badly positioned. ‘At that stage there was some hope that it would develop OK but, as the pregnancy went on, it got worse.’ Nikie spent regular chunks of time in hospital after experiencing bleeds and it became clear that her third daughter was going to have to make an early appearance in the world. ‘We kept thinking that if we could get to 32 weeks it would be a relief, because of the rate of lung development. From 28 weeks I had steroid injections to try to help her lungs to mature but three weeks later I started having contractions and heavy loss.’
Nikie can now see a pattern of being admitted to hospital at weekends after doing too much physically with her little ones on Fridays, when she had them at home and did not go to work. ‘I was doing a lot of lifting with them, which you just can’t avoid, but it must have put pressure on my body.’
The couple were still in shock about the complications and risks to Florie before birth because the other pregnancies had been practically textbook. ‘When the low placenta was first diagnosed I didn’t realise how serious it could be. That sort of sank in as the pregnancy went on and the health team were checking me regularly and talking about trying to keep her in the womb for as long as possible.’
Her pregnancy progressed to 34 weeks but, once contractions and the heavy loss started – technically known as a catastrophic haemorrhage – she was rushed into surgery. ‘It was terrifying. It all happened so quickly that James could not get there in time to see Florie delivered. Within 30 minutes the crash team had whisked me in, and although he was only a few miles away at our house at Vazon, [by the time he arrived] she had already been born by C-section.’ Nikie was in pain and her tiny daughter was taken off to receive specialist care. When James arrived, far from the idyllic picture of previous births, he was faced with a wife coming round from anaesthetic, in pain and the knowledge that their daughter was being treated for lung problems. ‘We found out later that it was several minutes before they could get her to breathe and she needed assistance for a few weeks.’ The prognosis for Florie was optimistic but her lungs continued to cause concern. ‘They had not developed enough so she had to be fully ventilated.’ As with any prem baby, the next few hours and days proved crucial.
Another potentially serious complication was found when Florie was X-rayed and it was discovered that some of her bowel tissue was dying. ‘Luckily she had not started having milk so the bowel was treated and it was a case of completely nil by mouth.’ Nikie and James could not hold their baby and ‘she was linked up to so many tubes and so much equipment’. The couple had confidence in the team treating her but ‘were worried sick’, with James also juggling looking after the girls. ‘Thank goodness for our families because they were amazing,’ said Nikie.
Receiving a beautiful box of gifts from the foundation was a highlight in a fairly grim time. ‘It had been put together so thoughtfully. There were lovely prem baby clothes, a little hat and some nice gifts for me and James. It really cheered us up and was very practical because I didn’t have anything that would have fitted her.’ Nikie has turned the box into Florie’s keepsake one, with all sorts of special mementos in it.
‘The situation really made me think about what families must go through when their baby needs to go away to Southampton. 'I was so grateful that Florie could be treated here, but her bowel and lung problems could have led to her needing treatment there. 'Just thinking about the worry and the arrangements with the other children makes me aware how difficult it must be for people. The foundation’s work is really invaluable because having somewhere to stay together in a PPBF flat right next door to Southampton Hospital must make all the difference,’ she said.
The couple also valued the chats and support given by Jo and the team. James went on to raise funds for the foundation through a sponsored row because he was so grateful for their support and the work they do. Sweet Florie has also raised money herself recently by doing a sponsored hair chop which raised almost £500 to provide new PPBF baby boxes for families on the neonatal unit.
Having celebrated her 6th birthday recently, Florie has grown into an incredibly healthy, strong and confident little girl. Nikie concludes; ‘We will continue to support the PPBF having seen the invaluable support given to friends who have had to travel to Southampton for prem babies and sick and have had the use of the flats. It is so important to have somewhere you can call home whilst away from family and just takes away the added stress of traveling to and from the hospital in such uncertain and worrying times.’