Couples heartfelt thanks to the neonatal intensive care unit which needs to raise £120,000 to refurbish four flats for sick babies’ families
For most mothers, cradling their newborn just minutes after birth is a life-changing experience filled with joy.
But Sheffield mum Jennie Wood had to peer at her baby Pippa through a misty incubator for eight weeks before she could finally hold her daughter for the first time.
She said: “It was eight long weeks of anguish. Where was the magical birth, the wave of love on that first skin-to-skin cuddle, the endorphins, the joy, the celebrating?”
Pippa, who was born more than three months early, weighed just one pound four ounces.
Jennie, speaking about her experiences to mark today’s World Prematurity Day, said: “The first time I saw her in her incubator, tiny and tucked up with tubes and wires, it wasn’t real.
“It wasn’t the amazing feelings of love and joy that it was supposed to be. She was so frail, so poorly, so alien looking, but fighting for every breath.”
The stay-at-home mum, from Norton, Sheffield, was told there was no chance her daughter could survive. She said: “Imagine the pain of knowing your child might die and you hadn’t even managed to hug them and kiss them and hold them tight and whisper how much you loved them.”
After 17 weeks of pregnancy, Jennie experienced what is commonly known as her water breaking. Preterm premature rupture of membranes, or PPROM, is a condition where the amniotic sac breaks before the foetus is 37 weeks old.
Further complications led to an emergency caesarean section in order to save Jennie’s life. As a result, Pippa was born prematurely with chronic lung disease, adrenal deficiency, jaundice and retinopathy of prematurity, a condition that occurs when the blood vessels behind the eyes have not completely formed.
The baby spent nearly six months in the Jessop Wing Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital and received a total of 17 blood transfusions, nearly 50 x-rays and scans, 10 eye exams and laser eye surgery.
Jennie stood by her baby’s side and willed her on, even when Pippa had to have her heart restarted several times. She said: “It was such an emotional roller coaster. Every day her life was in the balance as the amazing team fought to save her, over and over.”
Things were far from how she imagined. When Jennie learned she was pregnant in 2010, she envisioned herself as a glowing mum-to-be.
She said: “My friends got pregnant, had healthy babies and came straight home from hospital. I was sure I would be someone who carried on doing everything normally, working and enjoying being pregnant.
“I knew nothing about premature babies – I hadn’t even seen one on the television!”
The 38-year-old mum recalled one wintry day when Sheffield came to a standstill while Pippa was still in hospital. Staff members walked to work in the snow and stayed the night when they could not get home.
Jennie said they went the extra mile to take care of her and her daughter, and offered ‘amazing support’ for years after Pippa made it home.
Pippa, who attends the Mundella Primary School in Norton Lees, Sheffield, is now a very small, very bubbly five-year-old with ‘a great imagination and a very cheeky giggle’.
Jennie credits the staff at the Jessop Wing for saving her daughter’s life and is expressing her gratitude by raising money for the Sheffield Hospitals Charity.
She said: “Before we had Pippa I didn’t know the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit existed in Sheffield. Now I think everyone should know how amazing it is.”
The charity has launched an appeal to raise £120,000 to refurbish four flats for family members with critically ill and premature babies being treated in the Jessop Wing Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Each year, around 700 premature and sick babies are admitted to the wing, so the flats will provide a space for parents to relax, spend time with their other children, and prepare for the exhausting ordeal ahead.
“We wouldn’t be here today without the wonderful Jessop wing”
Stephanie and Steven Chadwick, the parents of premature twins, have already helped raise more than £4,000 with the help of their friends.
The family, who live about 115 miles away in Chelveston, Northhamptonshire, were admitted to the Jessop Wing as their babies were about four months premature.
Stephanie, a 33-year-old teacher, said: “We had to travel such a long way from home, but that wasn’t a concern as we knew the babies needed help.
“Fortunately, we were able to stay in the parents’ rooms. Without this we don’t know what we would have done.”
Youth worker Steven, 36, added; “Without the wonderful work of the Jessop Wing, Jack and Emily wouldn’t be here today and we wanted to do something to say thank you for everything they did for the twins and for us!”
Sheffield will be marking World Prematurity Day today with a gathering in the city centre. Barker’s Pool and the Peace Garden will be lit with purple light along with international landmarks from the Trevi Fountain to the Niagara Falls. Julie Bathie, a senior sister at the Sheffield Teaching Hospital who planned the event in Sheffield, said the gathering ‘allows family and friends to get together to celebrate babies who literally battle through those early years’.
Approximately one in 10 babies born worldwide are premature, a leading cause of death in infants younger than five.
The event will kick off at the Peace Garden on Tuesday at 4pm.
* To donate to the appeal, visit Sheffield Hospital Charity or call 0114 271 1351