The backbone of our journey with the boys has been the unrelenting, endlessly loving and caring support. We had people we didn’t know across the other side of the world telling us they were praying for Alfie just after he was born. After letting people know on facebook that he was born ‘Team Alfie’ quickly formed as we posted updates to let people know how he was doing. I had dozens and dozens of loving comments on my posts to read through as I sat day after day by his incubator not knowing if my child would make it through the next hour. I got beautiful cards from my colleagues and students at school. My lovely boss sent us a congratulations card and balloon to the hospital when he was born – something that really touched us as we had not been able to look at the event as a celebration until we read the words congratulations on the balloon that came floating out of its bag. I heard from long lost friends from school, college, ex partners all sending their love and positive thoughts.
Just after Alfie was born in Bath I phoned my brother and my parents. Mum said they were on their way to Bath which I thought was odd – the situation had not sunk in yet for me. I thought why go to all the effort of driving up to Bath at this time of night? I was strangely calm right after the delivery and through out that first night. One nurse told me it was the hormones and that over the next few days it would all sink in. That night my mum, my step-dad, my dad, my step-mum, Tom’s mum and brother all came to see us and support us at the hospital. I remember being in a complete daze watching tiny Alfie in the incubator from my wheelchair with Tom and his mum and brother. A doctor came over and asked who the father was and I pointed to Tom’s brother! They do look crazily alike but his poor brother laughed and denied all knowledge. Another weird moment was after everyone left we were sitting in the parents waiting area and I found a book – ‘Farmer Giles of Ham’ I got excited and had the idea of stealing the book to give to my dad as I thought he would appreciate it as his surname is Giles and he is pretty much a farmer. How weirdly the mind works during trauma. My dear Grandpa who had lived near Bath had died in the very hospital Alfie was born outside of just months before. In my crazy state I then became convinced that Alfie was a reincarnation of Grandpa and I told every nurse and doctor that would listen to me. I miss my grandpa terribly and I do see him in Alfie when he has a certain cheeky glint in his eyes.
We were told that Bath couldn’t keep Alfie as they only take babies born from 28 weeks onwards so they spent the night trying to find a bed in either Bristol or Plymouth. A bed came up in Bristol and the amazing transport team worked through the night to get him ready for the ambulance trip. My mum and step-dad gave me my step-sisters address and suggested we stay with her and her husband and son in Bristol. I didn’t really digest this and thought that we wouldn’t need to but took it anyway. I have 3 lovely step-sisters and for what ever reason we didn’t normally see much of each other or were that close. Mainly just because as adults we were now living in different places and doing our own thing. We would see each other at christmases etc which was always lovely. Once Alfie was in the ambulance we got into a taxi and arrived at the hospital in Bristol in the early morning. We still had not slept and we found it really scary adjusting to a new place, team of doctors and nurses. We sat in the tiny parents sitting room for a few hours whilst the team transferred all the tiny wires and machines from the travel incubator to the new one. I vaguely remember coming round to a dad sitting opposite us asking if there was anything we wanted from co – op as he was going. A mundane and caring question which we both struggled to find the words to answer. Once we were able to go in and see Alfie and ask a ton of questions, the consultant took one look at us and said its up to us to look after ourselves now and that their job was to try and keep our boy alive. We were told it was highly unlikely he would survive and that if he did he would probably have severe brain damage and not have a good quality of life. They told us it was a case of watching hour by hour and if he made it to day 2 his survival chances would increase a little and if he made it to a week then the chances would go up again. With all this information and the lack of sleep we suddenly realised that we should rest and I remembered I had my Step-sisters phone number.
I think I text to ask if my step-sister – Sarnia, could pick us up from the hospital – we had no car as we had taken the train to Bath. Tom’s brother had also driven to the bed and breakfast we had booked into the previous day for our holiday to pick up our belongings for us. Over the next few weeks we lived with Sarnia, Ross and Aidan. We had their spare bedroom, we ate delicious food together, relaxed on their sofa and laughed and laughed and laughed. Every day spent at the hospital was dark and scary and unknown and in the evenings we came home to joy and warmth and love and laughter. That time was so precious to us and it brought us all much closer than we had ever been. Alfie has a way of doing that within our family. During our time in Bristol we were lucky enough to make friends with some parents who also had their little boy on the ward with Alfie. We bonded instantly and they also like us, went on to have a second premature baby a couple of years later. I love them very much and we have shared many a teary conversation or phone call together.
Luckily my amazing aunty, uncle and cousins also lived in Bristol and we were able to stay with them too. Being around my gorgeous cousin’s, one of whom was about 2 at the time was really lovely and feeling the warmth and love from my aunty and uncle was the medicine we needed. We had a steady influx of visitors every day, at one point my mum even suggested she should take on the role of our visitor bookings manager! It was so so touching that all our friends from far and wide were coming to give us all their love and support along with boxes of goodies, survival parcels, endless chocolate supplies. At one point the man on security put his head in his hands looking exasperated at me and said he had never known any family to have so many different visitors all the time. After the first week my mum and dad visited together and my mum had made a one week old birthday cake for Alfie as it was so significant that he had survived this long. We sat in the hospital cafe and mum put up bunting and cards and lit a candle and blew bubbles. It was nuts but it was perfect. Seeing my divorced parents bond over Alfie and visit us together on several occasions was very special and I thank them wholeheartedly for this. Emails and messages continued to flood in. My brother drove my crappy little car up to Bristol for us. Having my siblings around was a real blessing. Feeling closer to both my step parents through out the experience was healing too. Toms brother and his lovely wife went and did a massive clothes shop for us, bringing us the very much needed things such as pants and toothbrushes and general clothes. My eldest step-sister knitted the most beautiful blankets and hats for Alfie. My sister in law helped me look for houses to rent for when we were going to finally get transferred back to Devon as we had to terminate our tenancy where we were living previously, my landlord gave me a whole months rent free whilst my stuff was there and we were up in Bristol. My brother and sister in law helped to move us out and stored all my things in their house until we found a home. When we were transferred to Exeter my Sister in law’s mum let us sleep in her spare room. When we found a house a team of family arrived with cleaning materials and helped to move us in. My gorgeous niece and nephews sent pictures and made cards and were desperate to meet their cousin but no children were allowed on the ward.
Lastly when we finally made the decision to try for another baby – one which took a very long time to come to and lots of careful research, our friends and family greeted us with love and support. There was no judgement. We had been told we would have a 15 to 30% chance of having another prem baby but the consultants gave us encouragement and said we would very probably be ok. Again as with Alfie’s arrival we had the care of our loved ones all around us when Rohan decided to come along early too. Transport to and from the hospital, cleaning, friends bought around beautiful home cooked meals. I am eternally grateful and feel so so lucky for the ongoing strength, love and courage we have received from all around us on our journey. As I write this I am acutely aware of the brave mums I met on the various wards who for what ever reason did not have their friends or family around them and with everything they went through it doesn’t bear thinking about what they must have felt in those darkest of moments. There was however an overwhelming sense of community amongst us. Tom called it the Blitz spirit and even though when we finally got discharged home months and months later – we were obviously very glad to be home, much like an ex battery farmed chicken who is released but then tries to get back in the cage because its all its known, I found myself wanting to be living back on the ward, surrounded by my community of mums and dads going through the same thing together.