Mother whose daughter was born weighing 1lb 4oz just ONE DAY after the 24 week legal abortion limit reveals she still suffers ‘horrible flashbacks’ after her traumatic birth
- Jessica Elliott, 31, from London, was terrified when her waters broke at 23 weeks
- She had been on bed rest after losing a baby at 21 weeks the previous year
- Baby Storm, born at 24 weeks, recovered after three months in intensive care
A mother has revealed her terrifying journey into motherhood after her ‘sassy little fighter’ was born just one day after the 24 week legal abortion limit, weighing just 1lb 4oz.
Jessica Elliott, 31, who lives in Lewisham, London with her sports consultant husband Kevin, 36, still suffers flashbacks following the trauma of her daughter Storm’s birth.
After suffering a devastating miscarried at 21 weeks just a year earlier, she worried history would repeat itself when her waters broke on 25 March 2018, at 23 weeks.
But her little girl clung to life for three months in Evelina London Children’s Hospital – a specialist neonatal baby unit attached to St Thomas’ Hospital in central London – and is now happy and healthy, having just celebrated her first birthday.
‘In a situation like this, all you have is hope and that can be very hard to hang on to,’ said Jessica. ‘It’s really important you can speak about how you are feeling and even now, when we have had a happy ending. I get horrible flashbacks to the trauma of it all.’
Jessica Elliott, 31, from Lewisham, London, has spoken out about her terrifying journey into motherhood after her ‘sassy little fighter’ Storm was born just one day after the 24 week legal abortion limit (pictured together)
Jessica, who runs her own dance talent agency, has decided to share her story in support of Neonatal Mental Health Awareness Week.
‘I’ll never forget that day,’ she explained. ‘I felt as if I had wet myself. I got up out of bed and the waters just gushed out.’
‘I knew we had to get to hospital, but I was really scared because I also knew that our local hospital in Lewisham was not geared up to look after babies born that early.’
She added: ‘I rang everyone I knew and my friend, Denise, told me about a friend of hers whose baby had been born at the neonatal unit at Evelina London Children’s Hospital and I knew that was where I needed to go.’
Only a year earlier, Jessica and Kevin had endured the heartache of losing a baby girl, who they called Louise, at 21 weeks.
Jessica, who runs her own dance talent agency, said she’ll ‘never forget the day’ that her baby was born so prematurely
‘The post mortem showed Louise was born early due to an infection, but when you have lost a baby with a late miscarriage, it takes the magic out of the next pregnancy,’ she explained.
‘With TV shows like The Mummy Diaries and Keeping Up With The Kardashians, pregnancy is glamourised – it’s all baby showers and celebrations – but when I fell pregnant again with Storm, I was just terrified right from the start.’
Because of Jessica’s late miscarriage, at 14 weeks pregnant she had undergone a procedure called a Shirodkar stitch, where doctors surgically sew the neck of the womb closed to try and keep the pregnancy in place until the baby is viable.
The mother is then monitored every week to check the cervix is not opening, which would trigger a premature labour.
Jessica, pictured with Storm now, knew she needed to go to the neonatal unit at Evelina London Children’s Hospital in order to get the right care
And, despite doctors telling her she could still go about her busy daily life, Jessica was so scared she put herself on strict bed rest to try and keep the baby safe.
‘The days were very, very long,’ she said. ‘Pregnancy becomes an ordeal in these circumstances, because you are just trying to reach the milestone of 24 weeks, when doctors see a baby as viable and will do everything they can to keep it alive if it is born.’
‘Then, 29 weeks is even better, because the chance of survival is so much higher.’
‘I didn’t wash my hair for weeks, because I was trying to stay still. I ran my business from a laptop on my bed and I must have watched that film, Hidden Figures, about 50 times, because that was what was in the DVD player and I didn’t want to move to change films.’
After all this effort, Jessica was devastated when her waters broke so early and the doctors at her local hospital told her the Shirodkar stitch had to be taken out straight away to avoid infection.
Only a year before Storm’s birth, Jessica and Kevin had endured the heartache of losing a baby girl, who they called Louise, at 21 weeks. Storm, pictured as a baby
They also agreed that she needed specialist neonatal care, so Jessica was sent by ambulance to the Evelina unit, which cares for more than 1,000 babies a year and has some of the best survival rates in the UK.
‘The doctors there told me they would do everything to try and keep this baby in, but also asked if I wanted them to resuscitate if they were born at 24 weeks and I said yes,’ Jessica explained.
‘We’d got to 23 weeks and four days, and a scan showed the baby was a good size for that stage.’
‘I also knew from all the reading I had done that premature girls do better than boys, and that Afro Caribbean babies do better than Caucasian. But we didn’t know the sex of the baby at this point and we still hadn’t reached 24 weeks.’
While the pregnancy never did reach that important milestone, they had come so close that when Jessica went into labour, the Thursday before Easter last year, the doctors said they would try everything they could to keep her baby alive.
Speaking about her difficult pregnancy, Jessica said: ‘With TV shows like The Mummy Diaries and Keeping Up With The Kardashians, pregnancy is glamourised – it’s all baby showers and celebrations – but when I fell pregnant again with Storm (pictured now) I was just terrified right from the start’
Because of Jessica’s late miscarriage, at 14 weeks pregnant she had undergone a procedure called a Shirodkar stitch, where doctors surgically sew the neck of the womb closed to try and keep the pregnancy in place until the baby is viable. When Storm came 16 weeks early, she had to have it removed. Pictured Storm’s first day off the ventilator
Jessica was sent by ambulance to the Evelina unit, which cares for more than 1,000 babies a year and has some of the best survival rates in the UK. Storm (pictured) stayed there for three months
Jessica told doctors they wanted to resuscitate if her baby was born prematurely. She didn’t know the gender, but knew that premature girls had better survival rates than boys and Afro-Caribbean babies had better survival rate than Caucasian babies. Pictured, Storm the first time Jessica saw her
‘It all happened so fast,’ she said. ‘There were about eight members of the neonatal team in the room. We told them the baby’s name was Storm and when she was born, she shot out into a plastic bag they use for premature babies.
‘The doctors rushed her to a table in the room to start the treatment to support her breathing and I remember asking, “Is it a boy or girl?” But nobody answered, because that wasn’t the important thing right then.’
‘I thought, “If there is a God in heaven, this baby will be okay.” Then I was told she had not been born in a good condition.’
‘I still hadn’t seen my baby when she was whisked away to the neonatal ward. The whole thing was hell on earth to go through.’
Storm was born on March 29 2018, weighing just 1lb 4oz, and for the next three months, her life hung in the balance.
When Jessica went into labour, which lasted 12 hours, at 23 weeks – the Thursday before Easter last year – doctors said they would try everything they could to keep her baby alive
Storm, now one, was born on March 29, 2018, weighing just 1lb 4oz and for the next three months, her life hung in the balance as she had 15 blood transfusions and lived in intensive care. Pictured, Jessica and Storm together
During that time, she had 15 blood transfusions and even when she was well enough to leave intensive care, she was still not ready to go home, so spent another two months at the couple’s local hospital in Lewisham.
‘I was just so grateful that she was still alive and was in the best hands, but I was terrified all the time, because it felt like we took one step forwards and two back,’ said Jessica.
‘The first couple of weeks at the neonatal unit were okay, but only because ignorance is bliss. We had no idea what we would all be going through to get Storm well enough to come home.
She continued: ‘The doctors and nursing staff were brilliant and gave us the information we needed, but they also looked at me in a certain way and made sure I understood it was early days and still touch and go.’
Storm, who Jessica described as ‘sassy’ is now happy and health, having just celebrated her first birthday
Speaking of her experience, Jessica said: ‘The first couple of weeks at the neonatal unit were okay, but only because ignorance is bliss. We had no idea what we would all be going through to get Storm well enough to come home.’ Pictured, Storm at 100 days old
For 119 days in total, devoted mother Jessica travelled back and forth between their home and the baby unit, visiting her daughter. Above, Jessica giving Storm her first bottle
As Storm was born so premature, her lungs were underdeveloped, requiring her to be on a ventilator for five weeks, along with a hole in the heart needing a PDA ligation operation at 28 weeks
‘I had already got the chaplain to give Storm a blessing and the first time we had to go home and leave her there, when she was three days old, I cried all the way.’
For 119 days in total, the devoted mother travelled back and forth between their home and the baby unit, visiting her daughter.
Because she was born so premature, her lungs were underdeveloped, requiring her to be on a ventilator for five weeks, along with a hole in the heart needing a PDA ligation operation at 28 weeks.
On one of those days, Jessica heard the devastating news that two other premature babies being cared for at the unit, and whose parents she had grown close to, had died.
‘I’m the kind of person who usually keeps my feelings to myself and you would never know there was anything wrong with me,’ she said. ‘But when I heard that news, I was having trouble expressing milk for Storm and suddenly, it all felt like too much. I was sitting by the incubator and I couldn’t stop crying.’
While Storm (above), now one, was in the hospital recovering, two of the other premature babies passed away, leading Jessica to break down in tears
Fortunately, at 19 weeks Storm was allowed home and she celebrated her first birthday last month. Pictured in hospital when she was born
The staff spotted Jessica’s distress and suggested she had a session with Dr Rebeccca Chilvers, the lead clinical psychologist based full-time at the Evelina.
For Jessica, being able to talk openly about her feelings of terror and anxiety over Storm’s chances of survival was a godsend.
‘I was able to talk freely and openly to Rebecca,’ she explained. ‘It was like a safe space where I could voice all my fears without upsetting or worrying Kevin or my mum, who were both going through this too.’
Fortunately, at 19 weeks Storm was allowed home and, now healthy and happy, she celebrated her first birthday last month.
‘She is the best,’ said Jessica. ‘She’s really sassy and knows what she wants, and we already know she’s a little fighter.’
Gushing over her baby daughter, Jessica said: ‘She is the best. She’s really sassy and knows what she wants, and we already know she’s a little fighter’
Jessica added the trauma of carrying Storm (pictured in hospital) was too difficult and she does not want to carry another child
But for Jessica, the trauma of the whole experience is never far from the surface and she does not want to add to her family with another child.
‘They say never say never, but the truth for me is no, never again,’ she said. ‘There are other options like adoption and surrogacy but for me. I am so grateful to have Storm and that’s enough, so the truth is I won’t go through all that again.’
Meanwhile, Dr Chilvers is keen to raise awareness of the true extent of trauma experienced by mums like Jessica, whose journey into parenthood is so difficult.
She commented: ‘Having a baby admitted to the neonatal unit has a huge impact on the whole family and it’s vitally important they get psychological support to reduce both the immediate and the longer-term impact on their mental health and emotional wellbeing.’
‘Parents in this situation cannot wait weeks for a referral so being based in the Evelina unit means I can support them immediately, and they don’t have to be separated from their baby.’
- Evelina London is celebrating its 150th birthday. For more information visit www.evelinalondon.nhs.uk/150
Jessica would consider other options if she was keen to expand her family – including adoption and surrogacy. She said: ‘I am so grateful to have Storm (pictured) and that’s enough, so the truth is I won’t go through all that again’
Dr Rebeccca Chilvers, the lead clinical psychologist based full-time at the Evelina, added that having a baby in the neonatal unit has ‘a huge impact’ on the whole family and its important to get psychological support. Pictured, Storm at three days old
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