We left for London with a six month old baby, and by mid-2011, we had been blessed with two more children and had a fourth on the way. In June 2011 I was sitting atop L’Alpe d’Huez in France a couple of days before undertaking the gruelling Marmotte cycling race, when my wife Vanessa called to tell me that her waters had broken (at c.25 weeks) and that she was sitting in hospital. I immediately took the most expensive cab fare of my life back to Lyon airport to await the first flight back into London the next morning. Fortunately, Vanessa was in good hands at University College Hospital in Central London, and our little baby had decided to stay inside, which allowed for a few steroid injections to work their magic.
It didn’t last, however, and two weeks later little Alistair popped out at exactly 27 weeks gestation, weighing 890g. As he was rushed off to the NICU without us laying a finger on him, we reflected on how that alien-like creature could possibly survive, let alone grow into a “normal” child. As we recovered, we worked through the many risks that come with such a premmie and what it could mean for him and for us. A difficult time.
We don’t really remember much about the first few days, other than the huge numbers of wires and tubes that were attached to our tiny little man, the endless beeping of the many high-tech machines that were keeping our man alive, the tenderness of the nurses who attended to him and the great joy that having a special little brother brought to our three other children. We do remember becoming very good at washing our hands, and that suddenly spending countless hours in a NICU seemed completely normal. Vanessa excelled at expressing litres of milk for our man and Alistair fought hard. After a particularly rough time after three weeks, we started to become confident he might be OK, and not that long thereafter, he’d been transferred from the UCH into a NICU closer to our home (at the Whittington Hospital in North London). He kept growing, and Vanessa continued her vigil at his bedside every day, eventually donating many litres of the left-over breastmilk to the MilkBank.
And before we knew it, there was unforgettable and emotional day when we brought Alistair home. And apart from a week in hospital over Christmas 2011 due to bronchiolitis, our little man has had a very healthy three years since. From what we can gather, he is in perfect health. I still get emotional when I hear about premmies, or when I see a parent tenderly caring for a child with special needs, because I now truly realise how fragile life is and how fortunate we are to emerge from our experience with a healthy child. We know that the outcome was and is beyond our control, and that things could easily have turned out differently without the intervention of modern medicine and its practitioners. So as in the UK, we’re delighted to support the units that help keep these little ones alive and get them ready to live in a world outside the NICU.
I have attached a photo of Alistair soon after birth, and of him playing in our backyard in London last year with his brothers and sister. Miracles can happen, and we are fortunate people.