Fourteen Weeks Early

Annabelle Braddock is Jade and Jeremy’s fourth child, who arrived fourteen weeks early in June 2014 as mum and dad’s fourth neonatal baby. Yep, you read that right, their fourth baby to be delivered early, and their fourth stay in the weird world of NICU!

Jade generously shares the story of the Braddock clan’s newest member, from the time she fit into the palm of their hand to the superhero they see now.  

In June 2014 I walked out of my home, little did I know I wouldn’t be going back for over a month. I was 25 weeks pregnant and popped into hospital experiencing pain.

Within two hours of arriving at Palmerston North Hospital, I was on my way to Wellington Hospital via air ambulance. My husband, Jeremy, quickly arranged for family to look after our other children and drive down to Wellington to be with me.

It was scary, insanely scary. Physically, I was a wreck. I spent three days in the delivery suite where I was pumped full of medication to help mature my baby’s lungs and protect her brain. Then on 25 June 2014, my waters broke and the decision was made to deliver. No words can describe the fear I felt that day. Fear for my baby and fear for a repeat of my prior delivery.

I remember hearing her cry as she entered the world, it was the most amazing experience and tears of relief filled my eyes. Right away I knew she was a fighter. I didn’t get to see Annabelle in the delivery room and I told my hubby to go with her to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

I lay on the theatre table feeling robbed. I should still be pregnant and my baby should still be safe and cosy and warm inside me. Not in another room going through hell.

As soon as I was allowed, I was taken to NICU. It was all too familiar, I was taken to the SAME room my last baby was in the day she was born. Wheeled to the SAME incubator space. Then, the SAME nurse who spent the first 24 hours with Amelia (my third child) was now saving my Annabelle. I couldn’t have been more relieved to see her there caring for Annabelle!!! Thank you Claire Hill!!!

Annabelle was tiny… struggling... precious... it was hard to look at her and know how to feel. She was ventilated for a few hours then switched to CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). I couldn't see her hair colour but guessed it would be blonde like my other babies. I was watching her breathing and was suddenly overcome with emotion so I sat with my hand in the incubator trying to get a little bit of skin contact with my baby who was covered in tubes.

As a family we decided not to be robbed of the excitement of having a new family member. We were in celebration mode. The Braddock clan was now SIX and I went back to the room to start my three hourly expressing, it made me feel like I was looking after her.

I woke up the next day to my husband calling, our seven-year-old had the chicken pox! So he and the kids quickly got their infectious bodies back to Palmerston North. Here I was now alone at Ronald McDonald House with Annabelle in the NICU.

During my stay I received a gift from my four-year-old who had painted me a picture. When asked what the painting was she said “this is a mummy snail, a daddy snail, and a baby snail. They love each other and stick together when stuff happens. Just like my family”. Through the eyes of a four-year-old – just beautiful. She somehow gave me the strength to keep on keeping on that day.

Annabelle sunbathed for a few days due to jaundice. Under those blue lights with goggles on, she was so darn cute. Even with the tubes and the wires. She took my breath away. On day three I was able to hold Annabelle for the first time. Not outside her incubator, but I lifted her little body up while the nurse changed her bedding. I was in awe, a tangled handful of limbs and machinery in front of me. I cried, so overwhelmed, suddenly realising how fragile she was.

Then the nurse told me they would be removing her CPAP snorkel so they could clean her head. I held my camera up and sighed in awe as I saw her tiny face. She was perfect and tears filled my eyes again. Then HANG ON. Is that GINGER HAIR? It was the best news yet, I knew it meant she would be feisty.

Annabelle didn’t tolerate her feeds very well. She would go from 1ml four-hourly and make her way to 6 ml then begin vomiting her feeds and we would end up at square one. It was so hard watching her go backward. She also had a PDA (congenital heart defect) which didn’t help her weight gain issue and she was forever having heart scans to see if the hole in her heart had closed.

She got up to 14 ml feeds and things were going quite smoothly. She was soon allowed a dummy and I loved giving it to her and patting her little bottom. Our bond was slowly forming and I felt like I was her Mum and I knew how to comfort her.

Annabelle suffered pressure injuries from her breathing equipment. Even though this wasn't life-threatening, it was hard for us to deal with as she was in so much pain and we couldn’t pick her up. We just had to sit there looking at her, wishing we could make her comfortable. She took about two weeks to recover and even now still has a slight scar in her nostril from the injury that no one else would ever notice.

Time ticked on and I remember saying to Jeremy one day “we have been here so long it feels normal”. The Ronald McDonald House felt homely, the café staff at the hospital knew my name and how I had my coffee. I had a routine.

The time in hospital became easier as we became more familiar with everything around us. My other kids loved after school care and quickly adapted to the new routine of school, after-school care and Dad cooking and tucking them in then seeing Mum and Annabelle on the weekends.

Then it happened, the day I will never forget.  The nurse said to me “so we will be looking at moving Annabelle soon, there isn’t anything we can do for her here that Palmerston North Hospital can’t do”. My baby would be in Palmerston North soon! We lived five minutes from the hospital so I leaped around the NICU like a crazy person. Hugging the other mums who celebrated with me. Life was about to get a whole lot easier.

We said goodbye to our friends and the team at Wellington NICU and transferred to Palmerston North where Annabelle spent another 6 weeks being cared for by the team at SCBU (special care baby unit) in Palmerston North.

I had a goal in mind, our family was invited to a friend's ‘superhero’ party and I desperately wanted to be able to go as a family which meant taking Annabelle. I even had our costumes sorted.

Thankfully, she continued to thrive and we finally brought her home in October, 4 months after she arrived early. Life was more stable and we even managed to take her to the party, all 6 of the Braddock clan rocking the Avengers!

Braddock Clan.jpg

Words by mum Jade

This link below takes you to the lovely heartwarming and emotional video that Annabelle’s sister Alyssa made about Annabelle’s journey for the digi awards in Manawatu:

The Neonatal Trust are often an unseen hand working tirelessly to make the neonatal experience that little bit easier for families. That might be through access to support material for worried mums and dads, a community to connect with, or helping provide neonatal units with the important equipment to help ease their journey. We’d love you to learn more about them and support them with a regular donation!