Elsie Rose was born at 11.22 am on the 24th October 2014. She was small- although not as small as the doctors had feared- and she was beautiful. Our much wanted and much loved fourth baby was perfect. Ten fingers, ten toes. Perfect. She was weighed, she was wrapped and she was placed into my arms for a cuddle I’d barely dared to hope would happen.
My fourth and final pregnancy was never supposed to be a smooth ride. I was 37, I was ‘high risk’ thanks to three previous caesarean births (two of which had been emergencies) and I had a history of producing small babies that meant regular growth scans were booked in as a matter of urgency. But we got through it all. We attended weekly, then twice-weekly growth and doppler scans. We changed our birth plans, we prepared for an early delivery and we came to terms with a possible stay in special care. We knew that this baby was going to put us through it all in the lead up to her birth, but we also knew we’d get through it somehow. And we did. She did.
The doctors were never really able to explain things to us very well. Elsie was classed as IUGR- Intrauterine Growth Restriction- but we didn’t really know why, and we were told to expect delivery at 34 weeks. We actually made it to 37 weeks, despite several episodes of reduced movements, another emergency caesarean scare, many scans and many, many more sleepless nights.
The steroids they gave me strengthened her lungs, gave her an extra chance at survival. The hats, cardigans and blankets they found kept her out of special care and the determination she still shows today brought us home so much more quickly than anyone ever expected. And despite feeling rushed, despite the shock of her finally being here, in my arms, despite her tiny yet surprisingly ‘robust’ size, the relief at having her home was amazing. Yet daunting. Frightening. So very, very frightening.
We were discharged before Elsie had managed a feed, sent on our way with a confident ‘this is baby number four, you know what you’re doing!’ We spent our first night downstairs, together in the darkness and I simply watched her, terrified to be alone with her yet not wanting her out of my sight for a moment.
By the morning I was distraught at how little she’d fed and I knew something was wrong. Instead of thriving beside me, she was unable to open her eyes and unable to cry. I didn’t know what I was doing after all.
By day three Elsie had lost too much weight on her already tiny frame and the doctors at the hospital gave us 48 hours to turn it around before she would be admitted for tube feeding. They were concerned that her fontanelle was sunken and her lips were dry. Her skin took on a grey tone and her body was limp… she was literally fading before our eyes.
We were told to syringe feed her every hour- and amazingly we avoided being re-admitted. She was starting to respond, starting to open her eyes a little. On day seven, she cried. She cried! Her beautiful cry punched the air and reminded us she was here. She was here, and she was fighting, at last.
Over the following weeks we continued to struggle during every single feed. Elsie would feed for a few seconds, then fall off the breast over and over again. She would squirm and cry and pull her legs up, her face distorted in frustration and pain. Her shoulders were constantly hunched up around her ears and she was stiff, tense and untrusting. She was eventually diagnosed with a severe tongue tie which was rectified at 10 weeks old, and finally we were able to work on establishing breastfeeding.
Some weeks later, Elsie was further diagnosed with severe reflux and a probable cow’s milk protein allergy. Our specialist told us that she was also struggling to breathe properly and we were given an inhaler plus other medication to help her airways. We were also told her oesophagus was literally being burnt due to the reflux, given yet more medication, and told that she may need exploratory surgery somewhere down the line… It all seemed so much for such a tiny girl.
Yet through it all, Elsie was growing. Aged 4 months she rolled over for the first time. At 7 months, she learnt to sit up. By 13 months she was taking her first steps.
She was Elsie Rose. Strong- so strong- determined and brave. She dealt with it all- the pain, the discomfort, the medication- with such a strong and steely determination, and if you met her today you’d never, ever guess she’d had such a rocky beginning. From that tiny, tiny, little baby with the grey skin and the always-closed eyes… to the fun loving, cheeky little lady she is today. She’s feisty. She’s a fighter. No longer the smallest, no longer the most frail and always the biggest inspiration to us all.