Fionnuala desperately wanted to be a mum but, after a string of devastating miscarriages, her dream looked like it was about to come true. Then she went into early labour. Doctors warned Fionnuala that her baby had zero chance of survival but a special song between mother and baby brought tiny Meabh back from the brink. Fionnuala McArdle, 29, from Belfast shares her story...
Holding my phone to my bump, I hit play. The music started and I sang along. ‘Little Peter Rabbit had a fly upon his nose…’ Before Peter had flipped and flopped the fly away, my baby was kicking along! I grinned to myself.
Before falling pregnant this time, I’d had three miscarriages. Each had devastated me. I’d been so nervous this time. But after all went well the 12-week scan, I was full of hope. I learned I was having a girl and chose the name Meabh – meaning ‘she who brings joy’.
I’d split with Meabh’s dad. But my mum, Mairaid, 63, and dad, Joseph, 62, were excited to grandparents. And I’d three sisters, including Naoimh, 22, who was also expecting – she was due five weeks before me. And even when I was on my own, I couldn’t be lonely. I had my baby. That’s when I’d play her nursery rhymes on my phone. I loved to feel her kick along, telling me everything was going to be ok.
Around 20 weeks, I’d started to leak a bit of fluid.
‘Get checked out love,’ Mum said.
I wasn’t worried. I felt healthy, Meabh was active. But when I went in to Royal Victoria Hospital for a checkup two weeks on I mentioned it to the midwife.
‘A lot of pregnant ladies experience incontinence…’ she said as she began to examine me. I caught the eye of my sister Sinead, 31, who’d come with me. We both got the giggles.
Next thing, the laughter stopped. ‘What did you say?’ Sinead asked, and the midwife repeated what we’d missed. ‘You’re 2cm dilated,’ she said.
Panic! Meabh was just 22 weeks, too small.
‘Do something!’ I pleaded.
The midwife went to get a consultant to see whether a stitch could be done to hold my cervix closed. She returned shaking her head.
‘You’re too far along,’ she said. Meabh could arrive at any time.
The doctor explained to me that at 22 weeks, my baby wasn’t viable. ‘We need to get you to 24 weeks,’ I was told. ‘Or you will lose your baby.’
‘That’s not happening,’ I sobbed. It couldn’t.
I was given steroids to strengthen Meabh’s lungs and put on bed rest. The medics all tried to manage my expectations. ‘Your baby’s chance of survival is 0-1 per cent,’ one explained. But as he said that, Meabh was kicking away as usual.
It was a sign. ‘My baby is going to be fine,’ I replied.
Every fibre of my being told me it was true. And, as I spent the next few days on bed rest, despite what doctors told me, I didn’t stop thinking the best.
‘She’s not going to die,’ I said. I was Meabh’s mummy. If I didn’t have faith in her, who else would?
I managed another week and three days of pregnancy before going into full labour. Amid the chaos of the delivery suite, a doctor again tried to tell me how bad things were. I’d developed an infection.
‘Your daughter won’t survive,’ he said. I was told that there was no hope. Her chances of survival were zero.
I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t.
‘I’m bringing my daughter home,’ I said. I had a traumatic four-hour labour. Mum looked like she’d collapse. Sinead was in tears. But I kept believing.
On 9 October 2015, at 12.36am, Meabh was born. Breach, she came feet first, didn’t make a sound. ‘Would you like to hold her?’ I was asked by a midwife. More than anything. But if I did, she’d slip away in my arms.
‘No, please save her!’ I cried.
Suddenly doctors, nurses and specialists were crowding round Meabh, hooking her up to a ventilator before she was whisked away to Special Care.
‘Keep fighting,’ I willed. But I knew she would.
It was five long hours before I was allowed down to see Meabh. She was beautiful. Perfectly formed, right down to her little fingernails. She was tiny – just a smidge over 1lb – and bruised from head to toe from her difficult delivery. And so still…a machine breathing for her.
But alive – against all odds.
The room was silent but for the hum of the machines. And with a lump in my throat I started to sing our song.
‘Little Peter Rabbit had a fly upon his nose…’
Hearing that, Meabh sprang to life. Her hands waved, her toes wriggled.
‘She can hear me!’ I said to Mum and Sinead, laughing and crying at once. ‘She’s telling me she’s not giving up.’
After that, the Neonatal unit was often filled with the sound of me singing. Or reading stories or chatting away. Meabh always responded to my voice. Those were the happy moments in the coming months, which were full of challenges.
Meabh had surgery to fix a hole in her heart, plus ops on her windpipe and her eyes. She battled septicaemia and infections. She not only bounced back each time, she got stronger. Finally, after five and a half months in hospital, Meabh came home, weighing 12lb 7oz.
Waiting for her were so many cuddles from her granny and grandad and her besotted aunts. She met her new cousin, Naoimh’s baby Rohan, who was born 12 weeks after she was.
Now she’s coming up for 10 months – finally wearing all the newborn clothes I bought for her while I was pregnant! She’s on oxygen and is tube fed but she’s still knocking everyone’s socks off with her development.
Meabh is giggly and feisty. She still loves nursery rhymes and I still sing her Little Peter Rabbit. When I do, I think of her in that incubator. So fragile but so strong. Doctors told me there was no hope for Meabh, that I needed a miracle. Now I look at my precious daughter and know that’s exactly what I got.