Liza is sharing her experience as part the Big Give Christmas Challenge, through which Wellbeing of Women is raising funds for preterm birth research. All money raised will go towards helping families such as Liza, Thomas, George and Isabella.
Watching my son, George, giggling while my six-year-old daughter, Isabella, tickles him, I feel a rush of love and pride. George is now four years old and we’re about to celebrate Christmas.
My partner Thomas and I have more reasons to celebrate than most. Both our children were born prematurely, and they are our little miracles.
I wasn’t sure if I would ever get pregnant. After three years of cervical cancer treatment in 2009, doctors didn’t know if my body could cope with a baby.
Thomas had had mumps as a child and had been warned of the risk of infertility. We were both keen to have children, so we were thrilled when it happened quickly.
To begin with, everything went smoothly. But at 28 weeks, my waters broke. A challenging start, I was admitted to hospital and given injections to mature my baby’s lungs.
I remember sitting with Thomas as the medical team explained that our baby could have serious complications, breathing difficulties or even brain damage.
There was so much to take in, and my head was spinning. All I wanted was for our daughter to be okay. It was the most scared I’ve ever been.
Isabella Rose was born by emergency Caesarean at 28 weeks old. She weighed just 2lb 6oz and fitted in the palm of my hand. I was desperate to hold her but she was immediately whisked away to the neonatal ward, where she was put on a ventilator to keep her alive.
Recovering over 14 hours, I kept thinking about the women in the maternity ward next door – their healthy newborn babies by their side. Meanwhile, my little girl was fighting for her life. After seven weeks, we took Isabella home.
It was a joy to feel like a normal family again, but Isabella was still on oxygen, so our relief was tinged with worry.
In hospital, I’d grown used to the reassuring beeps of her heart rate monitor. Now I was reliant on my instincts. For the first few months of her life, I slept with my hand on her chest. I just wanted to know she was breathing.
At nine months old, Isabella was taken off her oxygen. At 15 months, she was discharged completely. Now at six, she has no complications, and you would never know she was premature. She’s a real character – smiley, communicative and full of energy.
For a long time, I was adamant I didn’t want any more children. Isabella’s birth had taken its toll on me emotionally, and I was diagnosed with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Surgeons thought an infection had brought on my early labour, and assured me there was no medical reason why it would happen again. Thomas was desperate for another child, but I simply couldn’t face it.
Then, very gradually, something shifted. Thomas and I both have large families, and I began to think about the fun I’d had with my three sisters.
I told Thomas I didn’t want Isabella to grow up without a playmate, and he was ecstatic. In August 2016, I discovered I was pregnant again. This time, I was monitored even more closely. I was told to avoid physical activity – tricky for my job as a PE teacher.
By Christmas, my cervix had shrunk to a dangerous level and I was put on bed rest. Every week, I’d pack a bag and go to the hospital for a check-up. On several occasions, I was admitted, but each time told to go home and rest. Lying on the sofa on Christmas Day, I was consumed by anxiety. All the worry, fear and trauma returned.
George Lennon was born on 15 February 2017, again by emergency Caesarean. At 4lb, he was bigger than Isabella, and to begin with, he did really well.
Yet at 12 hours old, he started to have breathing difficulties and was ventilated for five agonising days. George came home on oxygen after four weeks. Now four years old, he’s very happy and much more robust.
Isabella is constantly cuddling him, and loves being ‘Mummy’s big girl helper’. It’s amazing how far we’ve come. Celebrating with both our families and two healthy, happy children is a Christmas wish come true.
I would like to thank my incredible medical teams for delivering Isabella and George and giving them the best possible care during their first few days, weeks and months. It is so important that we continue to fund research that improves and changes the lives of preterm babies and their families.
Wellbeing of Women is currently funding four projects studying preterm birth, looking at the causes and prevention, as well as treatments to avoid long-term disability in premature babies. For more information, read our news story here.
Pictured: Liza and her family