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A child born in St Michael's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Bristol

Alice hadn’t expected to welcome her little girl four months early. But when little Sarah arrived on 24 December, it was the best Christmas gift she’d ever received. Sarah had a long road to recovery ahead of her, though, and Alice tells us about their journey. 

“Just a couple of days before Sarah was born, doctors told me I had pre-eclampsia, a condition that can make you really sick during pregnancy.  

By the time they told me, there wasn’t any time for it to sink in that I was really unwell and would need an emergency c-section to get Sarah out before it made her sick, too. It all happened so fast and in the blink of an eye, I went from having a perfectly healthy pregnancy to Sarah being here four months early. 

I gave birth to Sarah on the morning of 24 December, but because we were both so unwell, it wasn’t until the evening that I got to see her. 

The first time I saw her, all I could think was, ‘she’s so small.’ I had an overwhelming sense of ‘is this real’? I couldn’t process what I was seeing. 

For the first week or so, it didn’t feel real – it felt like a nightmare. She was so little and sick, and she wasn’t supposed to be here for another four months. She weighed just over 500 grams when she was born – that’s about the same as a bar of soap. 

The first thing I truly remember from our time in St Michael’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) was Sarah’s Christmas presents from Cots for Tots. One of the nurses came up to me and asked if I’d opened Sarah’s Christmas presents yet, and I just burst into tears. I felt like an awful mum – I hadn’t got her any presents for her first Christmas. But of course, I hadn’t expected Sarah’s first Christmas to be until the next year, and I couldn’t have predicted she’d arrive on Christmas Eve four months prematurely. 

But then the nurse said no, you’re not a bad mum at all – these are presents from Santa. And that’s when I realised there was a pile of gifts right there at the end of the bed. I thought, ‘who gave her all these presents? Where did they come from?’ until I saw the little card from Cots for Tots, wishing us a Happy Christmas. It meant the world to me, knowing Sarah had presents from Santa for her first Christmas. 

There were other things Cots for Tots also funded that really touched me. Getting a card on Mother’s Day ‘from’ Sarah, with her little footprints in, was so special. I wrote in our ‘My NICU Diary’ every day, and it helped so much. All the cards, everything Cots for Tots funded – I’ve kept it all in her special memories box. 

Plus, the antenatal classes held at Cots for Tots House were brilliant. It let me experience some normal pregnancy-related training that I never got. 

I ended up in hospital for about a month after giving birth to Sarah, which was really difficult, but she became my sole motivation. 

I was so focused on her that at one point I’d been sitting so still for so long, so scared to disturb her, that I actually lost all feeling in my legs.   

I often lost track of time a lot in NICU – the hours and days blurred into one because all I could focus on was Sarah getting better. 

After that, I got a bit better – I moved around more, took a trip to the cafe and started to build relationships with the NICU staff and parents around me. 

In NICU, you’re a community. I made friends with the other parents – we’d check in with each other, we’d understand when someone’s having a bad day. You get each other like no one else because you’re going through it together. They share your ups and your downs, your hopes and fears. 

I hope people out there who have been through what we did, or are going through it, know they aren’t alone. If I had one piece of advice: talk to the other NICU parents. Let them support you. 

The doctors and nurses also helped so much – they celebrated every tiny milestone, which gave us so much hope. 

Being in NICU is one of the scariest things I’ve ever been through… but the nurses and doctors that work there made it so much easier. You could tell they truly cared.

Alice, Sarah’s mum

At the start of the year, Geraint (Sarah’s dad) and I decided we wanted to do something to give back by fundraising for Cots for Tots. 

We love walking, so we settled on our challenge: we’d walk 135 miles over several weekends to match the 135 days Sarah spent in NICU. 

My mum has joined us for a lot of walks, and some friends and family have also joined in. And of course, Sarah has been with us on almost every walk, too. We love exploring new places as a family and have discovered so many new spots we love, right in our hometown of Bristol!  

My mental health has gotten better, too. I look forward to it every weekend, getting out into the fresh air and knowing every step makes a difference. 

It feels overwhelming to have already raised over £2,000. So many people have rallied behind us and supported us – our family has been amazing. Even the generosity of total strangers we’ve met on walks has been incredible.

If you aren’t into extreme challenges like me, you can still fundraise, and I’d really encourage people to give it a go.

Alice, Sarah’s mum

Sarah is doing so well now. She’s over a year old – she’s in six to nine-month clothing, and she weighs over 16 pounds now, too. 

It feels amazing, having Sarah at home now and watching her get healthier every day. When they discharged us, I was terrified. I wondered how on Earth I was supposed to look after her. I was taught how to do her oxygen, we were in and out for check-ups – but every month gets better and better.

For the first time, I know she’s going to be okay, and that feels incredible.

– Alice, Sarah’s mum

It’s been a rollercoaster, and I’ve been through every emotion, but I’m so happy now. I’m so proud of her, too – every little thing she does blows me away. I’m sure every parent feels like this, but knowing how ill she was, I’m just so proud of my little girl.”

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