Jenna Randall, 27, Sheffield shares her incredible story...
Santa had been. He’d left lots of cuddly toys for the little ones and yummy boxes of chocolates for the grown-ups.
But the most important thing he’d left us…
It was Christmas morning last year. Me, my partner Russell, 31, and our lads Eethyn, 7, and Marley, 5, had just arrived at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Jessop Wing of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals.
The corridors were decorated with tinsel, and the nurses were wearing elf hats. One of them was waiting for us when we arrived…
‘Santa’s been!’ she smiled.
Then, she pulled a small present wrapped in glittery paper from behind her back and placed it in our hands.
‘From us,’ she said.
As I tore open the paper, I felt tears in my eyes.
It was a framed photo of our newborn, premature baby Isabella.
‘Thank you,’ I managed.
Isabella had been born on 6 November, nine weeks early. She was tiny – just 3lb 12oz…no bigger than my hand.
We’d known it was coming. Although we hadn’t thought Isabella would be quite as premature as she was…
At my first scan, the doctor had told us the bad news.
‘I’m sorry,’ she’d said, calmly. ‘Your blood is rejecting Isabella’s blood.’
‘You what?’ I asked.
My head was spinning. I could see Russell’s was, too.
The doctor then explained that during my last pregnancy, I must have picked up a bug or infection. That bug had lain dormant in my womb until I’d fallen pregnant again…
Now it was stopping my blood and my baby’s being compatible.
‘It’s rare,’ she added. ‘You’re the first mum we’ve had with it in three years, and we deliver 8,000 babies a year.’
It meant that our baby would need a blood transfusion soon – before she was born. It would be an unbelievably complicated and painful procedure. A needle would have to be inserted through my tummy, into the umbilical cord.
Even more scary, there was a risk the procedure could make me go into labour. At that stage, the baby was too small to survive.
But… ‘We don’t have any choice,’ Russell said. ‘If we don’t take the risk, the baby won’t survive anyway.
We were terrified. Felt like the world was imploding.
Luckily, the transfusion went well.
After the procedure, I had weekly scans and appointments. Then a few weeks on, we’d needed another nail-biting transfusion.
Thankfully, this one was a success, too.
But the stress was slowly taking its toll…
I could hardly sleep at night for the worry. And although Russell was trying to stay strong, I knew he was scared, too.
Then there were the boys. They were far too young to understand what was happening. But we had to manage their expectations, just in case anything went wrong…
‘The baby in Mummy’s tummy is very poorly,’ I told them.
‘Can’t you give her some medicine to make her better?’ Eethyn asked.
‘We’re trying,’ I said, fighting back the tears.
And then, after another few weeks, when I was 30 weeks gone, the baby needed yet another transfusion.
Only this time, it didn’t go well at all…
When the needle was inserted, the baby started kicking it out.
I felt faint…and the next thing I knew, pain ripped right across my abdomen.
‘We need an emergency C,’ the doctor said.
Half an hour later, Isabella was born.
She was taken straight to Neonatal Intensive Care, and she was still there on Christmas morning, six weeks on.
But in that time, she’d come on so much. Got bigger and stronger every day. And we had hoped that by Christmas, she’d have been strong enough to come home…
‘It won’t be long now,’ the nurse said, reading my mind and squeezing my hand.
Trouble was, Isabella had desaturation, which is common in premature babies. They sometimes forget to breathe and need a special stimulant to make them breathe again.
Isabella wouldn’t be allowed home until she’d managed four days breathing normally. And she hadn’t done it yet.
We spent the rest of Christmas Day with Isabella on the ward. All of us sang her carols and took turns to give her her bottle.
‘I hope you come home soon,’ our Marley said, as he kissed her little cheeks.
That day, she was breathing normally. The next day, too.
Quietly, me and Russell started to hope…
Finally, on 29 December, we got the news we’d been praying for.
‘You can take your daughter home,’ the doctor said.
I started to cry happy tears.
At last, we could get on with being a family like any other.
For the next two days, we did nothing but enjoy being at home with our little girl, the boys’ little sister.
All the family came round to visit. There’d been a limit on how many people could come to the Neonatal Unit, so now everyone was dying for a cuddle with little Isabella.
Come New Year’s Eve, me and Russell were absolutely shattered. We didn’t have any plans. Just wanted to be at home.
At midnight, the boys were already in bed and Isabella was sleeping soundly.
But suddenly I felt it, stronger than ever before – that gift given to us by the nurses at the Neonatal Unit…
‘To 2016 and new beginnings,’ I kissed Russell as the clock struck 12.
Since then, Isabella’s been doing really well, meeting all her milestones and spending most of her time smiling at everyone she sees.
We had all the family round for her first birthday and you could tell she absolutely loved being the centre of attention.
The boys love her, too, and can’t get enough of her. Every morning, the first thing they do is go into her room to give her a kiss.
This year, Isabella will be having her first Christmas at home.
Amid all the celebrations, we’ll make sure to raise a toast to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Jessop Wing.
And we’ll be thinking of all the worried mummies and daddies spending Christmas there. I hope they know they’re in very safe hands.