Joanne James, 33, lives in Wiltshire with her husband John and their daughter Luna, six months. Joanne popped in to hospital for a routine check at 29 weeks pregnant – and ended up having a C-section...
What happened when you were 29 weeks pregnant?
I went to the hospital as I was concerned about some fluid leaking and thought it would be better to get checked out. I didn't really think there was anything wrong and just called in after work, telling John to meet me there.
When did you start to realise something was very wrong?
At the hospital, the midwife checked me over and started monitoring the baby's heart rate. It all felt fairly routine. But then, when she was out of the room, John noticed the monitor dipping, and told her when she came back in. It had dipped to 40bpm for a period of time, which is really low. Alarm bells started to ring when we were moved to the delivery suite...
What happened then?
It all happened so fast – suddenly the room started filling with people. An obstetrician arrived and started asking me questions about my birth plan. I felt like saying, 'I'm only 29 weeks!'.
After establishing that I wasn't in any stage of labour, he explained that because of the heart rate fluctuations, either I was going to be monitored overnight or they were going to deliver my baby ASAP. He was going to speak to the consultant and come back with a decision. That's when I got really scared – I started to shake and just couldn't stop.
When did you realise that your baby was going to be born that day?
The obstetrician came back and explained that, as they were not sure why the baby's heart rate was going down, that they were going to deliver now, by C-section. We were so shocked. That's when I realised it was actually happening – this was the day that I would meet my baby. And I'd just popped into to the hospital on the way home from work...
The team started putting drips and needles in me, as well as an injection into my thigh to help the baby's lungs work better. We asked if we could have a few minutes to phone our families, and they let us. Everyone was as gob-smacked as us.
What happened when you went to theatre?
I was still on the phone to my mum and dad as I was being wheeled down! When we got there John was taken off to get scrubbed up. The anaesthetist, who was really reassuring, set up the spinal block. I started to notice I couldn't feel anything in my legs so they got my to lie down on the bed. I could see so many people in the room and just couldn't believe this was happening.
How was the C-section itself?
As soon as I couldn't feel anything in my lower half, they started. John sat with me throughout, holding my hand. It was a weird feeling, a tugging sensation but not unpleasant. It took just three minutes to cut me open and deliver my baby, a girl called Luna.
But I couldn't see her straightaway as she was premature. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) staff were ready and waiting with an incubator, and she was taken over and put into a plastic bag to be kept warm and was given oxygen as she wasn't breathing properly.
How did you feel?
Overwhelmed. John was taking pictures for me and telling me what she looked like and that he had heard her cry. I was being stitched up so couldn't see what was going on. I got a little panicky at one point, thinking that I couldn't breathe but again the anaesthetist calmed me and talked to me, letting me know the surgeon wouldn't be long. By this point Luna had been rushed off to NICU. I hadn't even held her.
What happened after the C-section?
After surgery, I went into the recovery room. The neonatal paediatrician came in to see me and explained what was happening with Luna over in NICU and how she was doing. He said that her weight was good at birth (2lb 12oz), and there were no initial problems. She was on a ventilator but this was quite normal due to being early: her lungs needed extra help as they were not fully developed yet. I asked him what her chances of surviving were – he replied 'good'. Relief washed over me.
When did you get to see her?
I was told I couldn't see her until the next day, but that I could phone the NICU unit whenever I wanted for an update. I was wheeled down to the maternity ward to sleep – it was midnight by then.
The next day my epidural had worn off and John wheeled me down in a wheelchair to NICU.
Nothing prepares you for seeing your baby in an incubator all wired up with tubes, but I was so happy to just be able to look at her at last.
How long did she stay in hospital for?
About six weeks. Once I was discharged, we visited the NICU every day, We took each day at a time, always feeling encouraged when another day passed. Luckily nothing too serious developed with Luna; she did have an open duct in her heart and a little brain bleed but we were told these two things were normal at her gestation.
The doctors were really happy with her progress and at what would would have been 35 weeks, weighing just over 5lbs, we were told she was strong enough to go home. We were overjoyed.
Looking at Luna now, how do you feel?
We still can't believe that Luna arrived so early. We never really found out why she had a low heart rate but luckily for us she is a little fighter! You would never know how early she was born to look at her now.
We'd like to have a brother or sister for Luna – hopefully nothing like this would happen again, but I suppose we'd be more prepared if it did.