A Heart as Strong as a Lion: Kathleen’s Story

To commemorate Mother’s Day 2018, Kathleen Brooks writes about her daughter’s unexpected preterm arrival.

My story begins on 26 November 2017 when I was 22 weeks pregnant. I was driving my son to a birthday party when I noticed I was leaking water, not much, but enough to ditch the party and head to the nearest hospital. I expect it will all be fine and I’m wasting everyone’s time. After I’m examined, the doctor returns with her senior colleague (never a good sign). My waters had broken and it was likely I’d go in to labour within 48 hours and that the baby wouldn’t survive. It was all explained so quickly, we could barely take it in. I just had a 20-week scan that showed everything was normal. How could things change so dramatically in two weeks?

“It was all explained so quickly, we could barely take it in. How could things change so dramatically in two weeks?”

I decide to go to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where I’m registered to give birth to our much longed-for second baby. The obstetrician explains I had experienced a pre-prom, or premature rupture of membranes, apparently it occurs in 1% of all pregnancies. Luckily, there was still a lot of water around the baby and my infection markers were negligible. A bit of good news! However, the risks were considerable: we were both now susceptible to infections, which could put both of our lives in danger. We were also given the option of a termination. The decision was a no-brainer; I felt strongly that we continue with the pregnancy for as long as there was water for the baby’s lungs to develop, and as long as I didn’t develop an infection.

And so began my odyssey of bed rest. My incredible parents took over the daily care of our son, while I got used to a new routine of staying in bed a lot. Christmas and New Year pass, and I am grateful to still be pregnant.

The birth

Six weeks of bed rest and many hospital visits later, I reach 28 weeks. My husband Barry and I tick another week off the countdown to 34 weeks, I’m half way there! But fate has other ideas, I start bleeding and we rush to the hospital where I’m admitted again. My pulse is dangerously high, the baby’s heart rate is high and it’s decided I need an emergency Caesarean section. Rather than panic, the adrenalin keeps us going, and there are even moments of humour and excitement. We’ve been told survival rates are excellent for 28-weekers.

Our daughter arrived at 11.26pm on Sunday 7 January 2018. I can hear her cry, it’s a faint sound like a kitten, but she’s breathing and kicking. Barry tells me they need to intubate her and the neonatal doctor is happy with her weight of 1.320kg. She is quickly wheeled out to the neonatal unit and I’m taken to recovery. I tell myself everything will be fine. Barry comes back to see me and says she is doing OK. We take in what has just happened. Our precious daughter is three months early but she is here and the relief is immense.

Intensive care

The ITU neonatal consultant returns with the news we’ve been dreading – our daughter is very sick. She hasn’t reacted well to the surfactant (a liquid that is given to premature babies to expand their lungs) and they can’t stabilise her. I have to get to her as soon as I can.

My midwife takes control of the situation. I can’t walk or feel my legs but she puts me in a wheel chair and takes me to her. She is an angel, in my hour of need she is there to provide everything. I never caught her name but I will be forever grateful for her reassurance and compassion.

“After catching our breath, we decide to name her. We choose Cordelia, meaning heart of a lion.”

The medical team explain that our daughter needs the support of an oscillator, a fierce-looking machine that is physically shaking my baby to keep her alive. This is the last chance saloon for premature babies, but it’s the only solution to open her lungs and get the oxygen she so desperately needs. Even though things had improved, she was still extremely ill.

After catching our breath, we decide to name her. We choose Cordelia, meaning ‘heart of a lion’ in French. It seemed so appropriate for our brave little fighter.

life in the NICU

Cordelia’s journey had only just begun. She’s still very premature and will need months of care in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

While some 28-week babies respond well in the NICU, Cordelia’s progress was up and down. In the first four weeks of her life, she had to endure a chest drain due to a pneumothorax; countless rounds of antibiotics; gut infections; jaundice; suspected chronic lung disease, and an open heart duct that is common with babies born at her gestation. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Our rollercoaster journey is on-going, Cordelia is getting stronger by the day and we hope to bring her home very soon.

“If we can stop this from happening to future babies and families, let’s do it together by supporting Borne.”

I discovered Borne during our time at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. It was a life-saver for me to know that research is being done into why preterm birth happens and how it might be prevented. I don’t want any baby to go through the pain and suffering Cordelia has had to go through. If we can stop this from happening to future babies and families, let’s do it together by supporting Borne.

74 days after being born too soon, Cordelia was able to come home for the first time.

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