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We were born tiny and early but look at us now

 

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Motherly love: Baby Phoebe Mitchell with her mum, Jessica O’Neill

Motherly love: Baby Phoebe Mitchell with her mum, Jessica O’Neill

Freddie Parkinson

Motherly love: Baby Phoebe Mitchell with her mum, Jessica O’Neill, and dad, Paul Mitchell

Motherly love: Baby Phoebe Mitchell with her mum, Jessica O’Neill, and dad, Paul Mitchell

Freddie Parkinson

Phoebe when she was born

Phoebe when she was born

Aoife as a baby with her mum

Aoife as a baby with her mum

Loving life: Aoife Burns

Loving life: Aoife Burns

Stephen Hamilton

Aoife Burns with her mother Eilish

Aoife Burns with her mother Eilish

Stephen Hamilton

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Motherly love: Baby Phoebe Mitchell with her mum, Jessica O’Neill

November 17 is World Prematurity Day, and as TinyLife gets ready to launch Premvember to raise funds to support the work they do, to one woman born 12 weeks early, and a new mum whose premature daughter has just celebrated her first birthday.

‘She was five weeks old before we were able to hold her’

Jessica O'Neill (22), a care assistant, gave birth to her daughter, Phoebe Hope, at 28 weeks in October 2016, weighing a tiny one pound six ounces. She lives in Dunmurry with her partner, Paul (24). She says:

I went for my 20-week scan and everything was fine. They did say there was a growth restriction with Phoebe, but they weren't overly concerned about it, so they were going to bring me back as normal at 30 weeks.

At 23 weeks, I woke up and had the urge to push. I phoned my mum and she came over, and when I went to the toilet, I had a show.

We went straight down to the Royal Maternity Hospital in Belfast and they checked me over and listened to the heartbeat. When I was examined, we learned that Phoebe had stopped growing at 20 weeks, so although I was coming in at almost 24 weeks, I was three weeks behind.

They kept me in hospital for five weeks for steroid injections to try and stop labour. It was just too soon.

I was so scared, I didn't know what was going on, there were so many medical terms that had to be explained to me.

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From about 23 weeks until I had Phoebe, I was monitored and scanned every day, where they checked her to make sure that the nutrition coming from me into her body was staying there.

On October 20, I went to see a senior consultant, Dr Harper, who examined the heart, weight, blood flow and the fluid around Phoebe.

She was always so chatty and happy, but that day, she was really concentrating. She told us that if there was a nursery bed in ICU, they would be delivering me that day.

My daughter was delivered by emergency section, which was awful. When I used to watch Holby City, I thought it was dramatised for TV, but that's what it was like.

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Motherly love: Baby Phoebe Mitchell with her mum, Jessica O’Neill, and dad, Paul Mitchell

Motherly love: Baby Phoebe Mitchell with her mum, Jessica O’Neill, and dad, Paul Mitchell

Freddie Parkinson

Motherly love: Baby Phoebe Mitchell with her mum, Jessica O’Neill, and dad, Paul Mitchell

 

I thought I was going to faint when I went into the room, and they told me I wouldn't really get to spend any time with her once she was born, as they had to rush her up to neonatal ICU.

Everyone else gets to hold their baby, so it was tough, and I didn't see her for two days after she was born.

Paul went up and took some photos. I struggled to take it all in that I was a mum and had a baby who was born nearly 12 weeks early.

When I did eventually see her, I fell in love. She was so small and fragile, and I had so many questions that I was asking the nurses.

She needed help breathing, and some resuscitation, and she was only one pound six ounces when she was born, so a lot smaller than we expected.

When she was inside me, she was getting the nutrition she needed, but after she was born, it was a different story, and I had to hand express my milk for six weeks.

When she was about five weeks, we were able to hold her for the first time. Up until then, I'd been able to hold her wee hand, read books and sing to her.

Although her weight was so little, she doesn't have any heart or lung conditions, so we were lucky. While in ICU, though, she battled the bowel inflammation Necrotising Enterocolitis three times.

Phoebe was originally due on the January 7, and we eventually brought home on February 24.

It was lovely to have her home, but it was also very anxious and scary, as she had been on a heart monitor with her stats carefully recorded for almost five months. Taking all that away from her and managing it ourselves was frightening.

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Phoebe when she was born

Phoebe when she was born

Phoebe when she was born

 

We were on our own, but by that stage, we were more than prepared because we had been in hospital for so long.

Life is brilliant, I love her so much and she is spoilt rotten!

She does have a bad immune system and picks up everything going, and just last week, we were in hospital for three days as she contracted foot and mouth.

The hospital is really happy with her, even though she's small.

They said that even if she did go the full term, she would still have been very petite.

Tiny Life were amazing, and helped me with a breast pump, which was fantastic, letting us hold on to it until we didn't need it anymore.

They visited once a week and left tiny blankets and cardigans, which was lovely and it also helped with my loneliness, as Paul was still working.

I was there alone all day and when they came to chat, even if it was only for five minutes, it changed my whole mood.

They were so positive about Phoebe's progress and boosted our confidence and took away all the negativity that we felt."

'My daddy became a blood donor because I was given so many transfusions'

Aoife Burns (24) a freelance  digital marketing consultant, from Warrenpoint in Co Down, was born in Craigavon Area Hospital at 28 weeks to parents Mark and Eilish, weighing just 2lb 10oz. She says:

I was born on October 16, 1993 at Craigavon Area Hospital, but wasn't due until January 6, 1994, so I was born in the wrong year, never mind the wrong month.

My mum says it was a really worrying time because one minute I was in Craigavon, then taken to the Royal Maternity Hospital and then Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry after that.

I was initially cared for in the neo-natal unit in Craigavon Area Hospital as I needed specialist medical care and one-to-one nursing care. As a premature baby, I had a lot of medical problems; my lungs were not mature and I had breathing difficulties.

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Aoife as a baby with her mum

Aoife as a baby with her mum

Aoife as a baby with her mum

 

I was provided with the best quality medical care in these early days and my parents were extremely grateful that this standard of care was available in Northern Ireland

Several times I was given blood transfusions and they didn't know what was going to happen.

My daddy became a blood donor because I had been given so many blood transfusions throughout my stay in hospital, and I recognise now just how much that was needed at the time.

Initially I was cared for in a heated incubator in a quiet, calm environment where soft music was played to me. Gradually I was well enough to move to a cot when I was 47 days old.

I began my life being tube-fed very small amounts of milk and gradually progressed to being bottle-fed at 35 days old, when I weighed 3lb 4oz. In time, I progressed to being fed every three hours.

The photos of me in hospital show that I wore little hats and cardigans over my babygro which helped me to be warm and snug in the incubator due to my small size.

I realise these were handmade and donated and I really appreciate how thoughtful others are in taking the time to crochet and knit hats and cardigans for premature babies.

I was 5lb 14oz when I came home and mummy and daddy thought I was really big, even though everyone else thought I was really small, as no-one had been allowed to see me until I left hospital, so I had no visitors until I came home.

I was in hospital for 101 days before I eventually got home. My parents had to monitor my breathing, what temperature our house was at - everything had to be controlled to make sure I was going to be okay.

My development was closely monitored throughout my pre-school years and when going to Puzzles playgroup and the reception class in Star of the Sea primary school in Warrenpoint. I was as big as everyone else starting primary school. I believe I was fortunate that I got the care I needed at the time

I was visiting my consultant right up until the age of 14, so he had been monitoring my progress for that entire time.

Whenever I was in hospital I was always kept in a quiet environment with music playing. Even now I like to be in quiet spaces, and if there's too much noise, I struggle with it.

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Loving life: Aoife Burns

Loving life: Aoife Burns

Stephen Hamilton

Loving life: Aoife Burns

 

As a premature baby, I was eating small amounts every three hours, and I still find myself doing that - it has stayed with me.

In terms of TinyLife, the charity wasn't around when I was a baby, but I know that the support works if it's given at the right time.

I try and do a lot of fundraising for the charity, because I know it helps people who were in the same situation as my family was.

I completed a 'Hell and Back' mud run 12K in June, and raised almost £500.

I try to take part in the events they organise, like colour runs, and I'll be in Strictly Come Dancing in the new year.

There's no lasting impact on my health, although up until 10 years ago I had a heart murmur, which is why I was being monitored right up until then.

Apart from that I'm in good health and enjoying life."

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Aoife Burns with her mother Eilish

Aoife Burns with her mother Eilish

Stephen Hamilton

Aoife Burns with her mother Eilish

 

Charity's link-up to boost vital funding

TinyLife has agreed an innovative partnership with specialist skincare brand Elave Baby in a bid to boost much-needed funding.

The charity, which provides support for up to 1,800 premature babies born every year, will receive £1 from every special limited edition Elave Baby Gift.

The limited edition Elave Baby Essentials Pack, with a special offer price of £17.95 (usual rrp £25), will be sold through TinyLife facebook, the Elave online shop and Amazon UK, with £1 from each pack sold going directly to TinyLife's coffers.

For more information, go to tinylife.org.uk or phone 028 9081 5050.


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