Praying for a miracle

Our baby was born fighting the odds...

Published by: Jean Jollands and Harriet Rose-Gale
Published on: 6 December 2012

My boyfriend Craig, 31, grinned at me like mad as he closed the front door behind him.
‘I spotted a gorgeous little dress at the shops today,' he smiled. ‘It'll be perfect for our new baby.'
I should have been happy but my tummy knotted with tension.
‘Let's just find out she's okay first,' I mumbled.
Although I was 20 weeks pregnant with our first baby, my scan the day before had rocked us both. One minute we were delighted to be expecting a little girl, the next, the sonographer had said there might be a problem with our baby's heart. Now, we had this tense wait for a more high-tech scan to find out what was happening. Of course, Craig was as shaken as me - I knew that this talk of dresses was his way of keeping positive. 
But, at the second scan a few days on, the sonographer's face became grave. ‘The large vein, which goes from your baby's heart to her body, is stuck to another vein,' she began. ‘I'm afraid blood is seeping into her lungs.'
I gulped. It sounded so horrible. But there was more...
‘Your baby also has a hole in her heart,' she said. This tiny little mite inside me had a piece of her heart missing.
‘The baby will be okay, won't she?' Craig pushed.
‘She'll need open heart surgery after she's born,' the sonographer replied. ‘Without it, she won't survive past 18 months.'
Reeling from the shock, my mind went back to the moment when I'd seen the positive two blue lines flash up on the pregnancy test. It had been such a surprise. When I was 18, I'd been told that I might have trouble conceiving, as I had polycystic ovaries. Now, my baby could be snatched away from me....
Snapping back to reality, I just wanted to get out of that stuffy hospital room.
Later that evening, I walked into our bedroom and spotted all my baby magazines and romper suits on the side. Tears pricked at my eyes as I scooped them up and stuffed them all to the back of a cabinet.
‘I can't bond with her,' I admitted to my mum Angela, 56, later on the phone.
‘You're just trying to protect your heart,' she soothed.
Putting on a brave face, I forced myself to work at the local nursery the next day.
But, when a little boy ran over to show me his drawing, everything suddenly came crashing down around me again. Would my baby ever do this? 
Over the next few months, I was closely monitored and scanned every two weeks. With each scan, it felt like another hurdle was crossed.
Our daughter wouldn't be able to survive the strain of labour so, a week before my due date, I was induced. Finally, Poppy-May came into the world, a 5lb 10oz bundle with dark hair. ‘Wow,' I murmured, stroking her tiny fist. ‘She's beautiful.'
‘She's here at last,' Craig whispered. We only held her for a few seconds before nurses whisked her away to another specialist hospital. We followed behind in an ambulance. Soon, we were sat by little Poppy-May's bedside...
Her cheeks flushed a healthy red. She was even able to breathe on her own.
‘I'm afraid we need to let her get worse before we can operate,' a consultant explained. ‘Unless her lungs are fully deflated, we're unable to access her heart.'
It meant we could bring her home for a few days. But I was terrified I'd miss a telltale sign that she was struggling. That first night, we checked her Moses basket every two minutes.
‘Are you sure she's breathing all right?' I kept fretting, scared that the worst might happen.
Four days later, I was cradling her in my arms when her tiny chest began jerking rapidly. We rushed her back to hospital, feeling frantic.
But doctors remained calm. We were told her lungs had deflated as expected, which meant they could now operate.
‘There's a risk she could suffer brain damage,' the consultant admitted. ‘In fact there's a 10 per cent chance she won't wake up.' 
‘But, without this op, she'll have no chance at all,' I sobbed, signing my consent.
Moments later, we carried our precious daughter into the operating theatre.
‘See you soon, sweetheart,' I promised her. I squeezed her hand until she closed her eyes. Now, all we could do was wait. The op would last nine hours.
‘We'll only call you if there's a problem,' a nurse explained to us.
‘Lets get out of here,' Craig said, his face pale.
We tried to distract ourselves by going to a nearby shopping centre. We only went to keep ourselves sane, but it felt so wrong looking at a pair of jeans as our baby battled for her life.
‘She'll make it,' Craig promised me.
Just four hours on, my mobile phone started to ring.
‘It's all gone wrong,' I gasped, trembling, to Craig.
‘Can I interest you in a new mobile phone deal?' a woman at the other end of the line asked.
‘No!' I raged, before sobbing with relief in Craig's arms.
Finally, five hours later, a nurse called to say the op was over. Rushing back, I gasped when I saw Poppy-May. She was bloated from the medication and cotton padding covered her torso. Doctors couldn't sew her chest up yet, incase she needed emergency intervention. But, most importantly, she was alive. That was what mattered to us the most.
‘Her heart was worse than we thought,' the surgeon admitted to us. ‘Without this crucial op, she would have been lucky to survive more than three months.'
‘Amazingly, the hole in her heart actually saved her,' he continued. ‘It limited the amount of blood flowing to her lungs. Otherwise, it would have been as if she was drowning.'
‘Saved her?' I mumbled, remembering the moment we'd first been told about the hole in her heart at the 20-week scan. Back then, it had seemed like another cruel blow. But now that hole had become my gorgeous little girl's saviour.
Surgeons had patched up the hole and placed a stent in her heart to correct her blood flow. The next 24 hours were critical. But the following day, Poppy-May had made so much progress she was taken off the ventilator.
A week later, we could finally bring her home.
‘Just in time for Christmas,' a nurse grinned. It was two weeks away, but I'd barely noticed what time of year it was.
When we got home, I gasped as I walked into the living room. Someone had put decorations up and there was a Christmas tree with confetti sprinkled all across the floor. ‘B-but... how?' I stumbled.
‘There's an early present for you on the tree,' Craig beamed.
I picked up a little box perched on a branch. Inside was a ring.
‘Will you marry me?' he asked, grinning.
‘Yes!' I squealed. After all we'd been through, it felt right.
Two weeks on, we celebrated our first Christmas as a family. Poppy-May was even able to wear the cute denim dress that Craig had spotted in the shop window, just hours after that terrible scan. 
Now, one year on, the three-inch scar that Poppy has from her op is the only sign of what she's been through. She still needs regular check-ups and her stent will be replaced one day, but she's a cheeky, fearless little thing. This Christmas we'll be sure to celebrate the best gift of all - the gift of Poppy-May's life.
Danielle Reid, 25, Leicester