Written by Jo Barnetson

As far as I was concerned, my pregnancy was a perfectly normal, healthy pregnancy. It was our first baby and we were extremely excited at the forthcoming arrival. Little did I know how soon that arrival would be and how our world was suddenly going to turn upside down!

Almost 9 years ago, I went for a routine midwife scan at 27 weeks. She had trouble finding a heartbeat and I was told that my bump was fairly small for gestation. As it was my first child, I had nothing to compare against, so I wasn’t overly concerned at that point. I was told I needed to go up the local hospital for an ultrasound to see where the baby was laying.

I had no idea at this point what was to unfold and just how soon things would start moving.

Our baby was severely underweight

After eventually seeing a consultant and having the ultrasound, I was told the devastating news that our baby was severely underweight for gestation. All of the nutrients that were going in to feed him were flowing back out again. I had hardly any fluid around the baby and that delivery was likely to be imminent – a maximum of about a week. I was given a steroid injection that night to help mature the baby’s lungs and another one a few days later. Although I was allowed home that night, I had to go back up the hospital every day for the next 5 days to assess the baby’s growth.

On the 15 February 2010, me and my husband were called into the hospital room. We were told that they were going to have to deliver the baby the next day. It was likely for there to be complications after the birth, given the fact he was only 28 weeks gestation. Nothing prepares you for that devastating news. I was only 28 weeks pregnant and as far as I was concerned, the baby still had a lot of growing to do!

The stark reality of it was that he really wasn’t growing at all.

We were told that he would have to be taken away from us immediately following birth. He would be put on a ventilator and we wouldn’t be allowed to hold him. There was no way they could delay delivering the baby even by another day let alone a month! So I was booked in for an emergency c section the next day. I had no bags packed, nothing. My husband had to go home and grab what he thought I might need!

Due to how severely underweight our son was and the fact that the neonatal unit was only a level 2 unit (meaning at that time they would not take a baby under 1000g), the hospital had to ring around the emergency bed service to find another hospital that was a level 3 unit ready to take us. Later that afternoon, I was blue lighted up to The Homerton Hospital in London. Early that evening our son Alfie was born on 16 February 2010, weighing only 1lb 8 oz and was just 29 cm long. He even dropped his birth weight to 1lb 4 oz a few days later. He was really the weight of 24 weeks gestation!

Alfie about 1 month old in his incubator holding Jo's finger
Alfie about 1 month old

Preemie complications

He had a lot of the common complications associated with a premature birth such as apnoea, anaemia, jaundice and infections. He had a number of blood transfusions within those first few months. At one point he had to come off milk for a while and was fed liquid nutrients. They thought he might be lactose intolerant.

All throughout his stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, he was tube fed. He spent just over 100 days in hospital, half of that in London, and half back at our local hospital. We were lucky enough to room in at The Homerton in London so we could be around the corner from Alfie. My husband had 3 weeks off work but had to return to his London job after that.

Alfie battled the odds and came home off oxygen, weighing just over 4lb’s, nearly 5 months after his birth. It turns out I had Oligohydramnios which causes growth restriction in the foetus and placental abruption. This is a condition that can deprive your baby of oxygen and nutrients, causing reverse blood flow. If it wasn’t for the steroid injections I had just in time before the birth, I think it could have been a whole different story.

Alfie is now a very happy and healthy 9-year-old.

He is still quite small for his age, wears age 7 clothes and has a medical diagnosis of Global Development Delay. It just means that he is behind his peers in all areas of development and is more like a 6-year-old. He has a speech delay more than anything else but this is greatly improving every day. He is doing amazingly well at a mainstream school and has full one to one support on a daily basis there. We now also have a daughter who is 6 but luckily, I carried her to 38 weeks thank goodness! They are best pals. Alfie is our little miracle and we couldn’t be more proud of him.

Alfie 7 months old, 2 months after discharge
Alfie 7 months old, 2 months after discharge

Reassessing my priorities

When you are faced with circumstances like this and really see life on the brink, it stops you in your tracks and makes you reassess your priorities. Prior to all this happening I was a successful Event Manager, working in London arranging countless events with complex logistics in a variety of locations across the world. I have always had a fascination with weddings, planned our own in a short space of time overseas, and love project managing big event logistics.

I always knew I wanted to work for myself one day, be my own boss and have more flexibility and freedom to do the things I love and now this was even more important, so I could be there for my children when they needed me. Launching as a wedding planner has always been a big dream of mine and a natural side step for me in my event planning journey. I have recently launched Hummingbird Weddings and Events and I couldn’t be happier.

Alfie has been my inspiration behind this, he’s taught me anything is possible if you are strong enough and determined enough to fight for it. I’m doing that just now, I’m living the dream!

Where you can get in touch with Jo:

Website: www.hummingbirdweddingsandevents.co.uk
Facebook: www.facebook.com/hummingbirdweddings.events Instagram: www.instagram.com/hummingbirdweddingsandevents

Jo Barnetson, Hummingbird Weddings and Events. Photography credit Sarah Wayte Photography
Jo Barnetson, Hummingbird Weddings and Events. Photography credit Sarah Wayte Photography