WHEN Samuel Dawes was born at just 30 weeks, mum Jo and dad Will were caught a bit unprepared.
They hadn’t even discussed names!
Thankfully, Samuel is now a healthy, happy toddler, but things could have been very different.
As Jo explains: “I had been really well throughout my pregnancy.
“I had previously suffered a bowel condition so my midwife referred me to a consultant who said there was no need to worry.
“I was looking forward to a family holiday in Cornwall. The birth of my first child, who was due in November, seemed a long way off.
“My pregnancy was very smooth and enjoyable so my autumn plan was to read up on parenthood, decorate the nursery and buy everything you need for a new baby.
“Obviously, Sam’s early arrival changed everything.”
At 29 weeks, Jo started to experience terrible pain and was admitted to hospital, where she was told that she needed major surgery.
To give Samuel’s tiny lungs the best possible chance to develop, doctors injected her with steroids for two days ahead of the operation.
“For my family, it was a hugely stressful time,” Jo says.
“No-one knew what would happen to the baby. I was in a lot of pain so they were very concerned for me, too.”
Samuel was born by Caesarean section with three surgeons present.
“He weighed just 3lbs 6oz, and was not much bigger than my hand,” Jo recalls.
“I remember coming out of anaesthetic and being told that we had a little baby boy.
“We didn’t know beforehand if we were having a boy or a girl, and hadn’t even thought about names.”
While Jo stayed in hospital for 10 days, little Samuel spent his first five weeks in hospital.
“It was actually a relief that he was in intensive care,” Jo says.
“I knew he was in the best possible hands, being cared for when I was recovering from surgery.”
Jo recalls how the kindness of the nurses made a huge difference during this difficult time.
“They wheeled me in my hospital bed up to the incubator so I could see my baby for an hour each day,” says Jo.
“I was too unwell to hold him for the first 48 hours, but the first time they laid Samuel on my chest was wonderful.
“I could feel his breathing and his heart rate calm.
“When I look back on those early days, I feel sad that I was too ill to hold him,” Jo adds.
“I never experienced the euphoria women talk of when they hold their newborn.
“I found the experience quite nerve-wracking as he was wired up to so many machines that would bleep when his temperature fell or breathing slowed.
“He was so fragile.
“The first few months at home were scary,” Jo recalls.
“I missed the team of staff on hand to care for him and felt overwhelmed by the responsibility.
“On more than one occasion, he seemed to stop breathing when we’d taken his clothes off to change him and he got too cold.
“In those early days, we were frequent visitors to our GP, who never said we were wasting his time worrying unnecessarily.”
Jo and Will were aware that the earlier a baby is born, the higher the chance of serious health complications and lifelong disabilities.
Doctors could give no predictions for Samuel, though.
“We were simply told that, at 30 weeks, you never quite know what the future is going to hold,” says Jo.
Happily, Samuel is now a thriving two-year-old and Jo, who lives near Faversham in Kent, is expecting another baby.
In January, research is set to start developing a new, simple test to identify early on in pregnancy women who are at risk of premature labour.
The new London-based study has been made possible with a grant of almost £100,000 from children’s charity Action Medical Research.
Jo says: “As the mother of a child who was born at just 30 weeks old, I’m thrilled to see Action Medical Research supporting this chronically-underfunded area of research.
“I only wish that I had been forewarned that Sam was going to be born early so I could prepare myself for the mental anguish that follows when you see your tiny baby in special care.
“I wish the researchers well and look forward to hearing about the results.”
You can read about the research Action Medical Research is funding into prematurity at www.action.org.uk