Rheagan is our sixth child. To be perfectly honest our last four pregnancies were really hard on both my body and our family. I had discovered while we were trying for a third child that I carried a genetic disorder that had caused me to have recurrent miscarriages which obviously added lots of stress to each pregnancy and I also became insulin dependent gestational diabetic and had worrying thyroid problems throughout my pregnancies, which meant lots of hospital stays and with each pregnancy the health problems became worse and caused problems earlier each time.
I found out that Rheagan was very likely to have Down’s Syndrome after we went to our 12-week dating scan and then we had a non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT), which gave us a stronger probability that she had it. From that point on we had a lot more monitoring as she had also has a heart condition. I started having contractions at 27 weeks and had to go into hospital for steroid injections to protect her lungs in case she was born very prematurely. From that point I was in and out of the hospital constantly and at 32/33 weeks I was admitted to hospital on bed rest and stayed until she was born about a month later, as Rheagan kept getting in very awkward breech positions as I was carrying excess waters. The maternity ward became my home and the amazing midwives, maternity support workers and feeding team at my local hospital were absolutely amazing in keeping us safe and comfortable. I saw many lovely mums to be come and go from the ward and the midwives were so amazing at reassuring me that Rheagan would be okay. There were a few times that the contractions got too strong and the emergency buzzer was pushed and lots of doctors and midwives would rush in prepping to rush to theatre and then the doctors would manage to get everything under control again and Rheagan got the chance to grow a little bit more. Eventually it was decided that Rheagan would be safer coming out than staying in as my blood sugars were getting less and less under control with insulin, so my husband came into hospital and Rheagan was delivered by semi-elective section that evening.
It was very quiet in the operating theatre as she was delivered, and I could tell that everyone was quite apprehensive as to how she would cope. They took her over to the resuscitaire and she started crying and kicking around and looked a lovely healthy colour. The relief in the room was palpable and I cried my eyes out – the last couple of months stress just melted away in a moment. She stayed on the post natal ward for the first 8 days with me just for observations as we found she had a more serious heart condition than was first picked up antenatally on scans.
Just a week after getting home we started having regular hospital admissions for various things and our local children’s ward unfortunately became a second home for the two of us – but yet again the wonderful NHS staff looked after Rheagan in the most amazing way and were always so reassuring. Heart surgery at three and a half months was so hard – there really is nothing as challenging as passing your tiny child over to surgeons in the knowledge that they may not be bringing her back from that theatre alive. Her surgery was a complete success, everything went smoothly with regards to her heart, although she was left with a slight breathing problem that was solved a month or so later in another operation.
The time that we were in and out of hospital was so hard on us as a family, my husband had just started working on a new business and had five other children at home to care for and ferry around to schools and extracurricular clubs. My dad and my husband’s parents have been amazing at helping us with childcare and just the general practicalities of trying to juggle such a busy household. They would all come and pop in to see us in the hospital when they could, but FaceTime has been our absolute lifeline in trying to maintain some daily communication. Rheagan at a very young age realised that her funny, energetic siblings were on the screen and still now she gets really excited to communicate with friends and family online.
The Covid-19 restrictions brought in by the government have been a real double-edged sword for our family. We were informed that Rheagan would be vulnerable at the beginning of the epidemic and so made the hard decision to pull our children out of school before lockdown started, we placed a lot more restrictions on our family than many other families have done. It has been a really hard time especially for our two teenagers who have seen many of their friends have a lot more freedom in the last couple of months than they have been able to enjoy – at an age where independence and fairness is so hard fought for. I believe deep down they understand that it is for their sister‘s safety, as they know she has been very poorly in paediatric intensive care from viral illnesses in the past, however teenagers do naturally live in a very self-centred world and constantly compare themselves and what they are doing to their peers. Despite lots of disagreements they have generally both been very understanding and supportive of our family decisions.
So, the best thing about lockdown – is lots of family time – we built a garden fort and temporary skateboard ramp in our garden to be enjoyed by the children over the summer, lots of fun has been had in our new hot-tub that was bought at the beginning and most of all – Rheagan has been really, really healthy! We had one operation for a feeding tube during the epidemic and we have had a couple of admissions to hospital, but nowhere near the amount of admissions we were having before the beginning of the year. I’m not sure if it is because we haven’t been around anyone outside of our family to pick up germs or whether she is just getting older – I hope it is the latter!
Lockdown has allowed us to slow down and appreciate one another – we can enjoy family time, without feeling that we are constantly rushing from one activity to another. Rheagan has taught us that we should enjoy every little milestone and achievement that all of our children gain as the rush and bustle of life before her sometimes clouded those moments.