Signs of early labour
Discovering that Gemma was 1.5cm dilated, and fearing that labour was beginning, doctors gave her medicines to try and slow things down. The treatment seemed effective but a few days later Gemma awoke to discover that she was 8.5cm dilated.
“No-one knew how quickly the babies were going to come, or what the outcome might be." Gemma recalls. "The consultant came in and said, ‘We’re going to deliver these babies and, if they aren’t breathing, we won’t resuscitate them’. They did not sugar coat it at all.”
Lucy and Olivia were born that night weighing just 1lb 12oz and 1lb 9oz, just 25 weeks and five days into Gemma’s pregnancy. The room was packed with people – a team of four specialist nurses for each tiny baby, two consultants and a midwife.
Thankfully both babies came out crying - but they were immediately whisked away. The following hours, days and weeks spent in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit were a rollercoaster of fear and worry. Gemma and Will knew that breathing difficulties or infection might claim their tiny, fragile daughters’ lives.
"We are really well aware that we were lucky. During our two months in NICU, five other babies died. I don’t think people realise how often if happens, babies being born at 24 or 25 weeks, and how hard it is for them to survive.”
“In the first week, they both did well. After that, one would be up and the other down.” Gemma explains. "Lucy was ventilated for one day and then supported with oxygen. She was able to breathe on her own after just one month. But Olivia stopped breathing several times and needed life-saving treatment."
When the babies were eventually allowed home, weighing 4lbs, Olivia was still on oxygen and the future was uncertain: “It was totally unclear if they would walk, talk or even smile,” Gemma says.
Although both girls are developing well, doctors cannot say if they will have learning difficulties. And for Gemma and Will, anxiety casts a deep shadow: "The impact on families of having extremely premature babies is shocking – and lasting. Even now, I worry about the risk of infection. The fear of them dying hasn’t gone." Gemma explains.