Shock read: I gave birth in a coma – how a cough left Laura Blackburn fighting for her life
Laura Blackburn, 34, couldn’t wait to meet her baby son, then a cough changed everything…
My little daughter Hollie carefully ripped open the envelope and pulled out the card. I held my breath as I saw her read it, then she looked at me with a big smile.
‘It’s a boy, Mummy,’ she said and I burst into tears.
I was pregnant with my second child and a couple of days earlier at my 20-week scan, my fiancé Allan had asked the sonographer to write down the sex of our baby on a card so we could open it at home with Hollie, then seven.
Now, hearing the wonderful news that we were expecting a little brother for Hollie, I was just so happy.
I spent the next few weeks buying tiny blue outfits and Allan and I chose the name Jack. ‘I can’t wait for my little brother to be here,’ Hollie said, dreamily.
I couldn’t wait either. I’d loved having Hollie, the birth had been textbook and I was looking forward to being a mum all over again, holding my son in my arms.
I kept busy until late February 2016 when, at 30 weeks, I developed a really annoying cough. I worked in healthcare near my home in Northampton, and managed to keep going through the week but, by the Saturday, I had a high temperature. Worried, I saw an emergency GP who prescribed antibiotics. But the next day, I started coughing up blood.
Allan rushed me to Northampton General Hospital but I was going downhill fast and began slipping in and out of consciousness. The last thing I remember is the bright lights of the hospital corridor...
I’m told things moved quickly. As I lay unconscious doctors rushed around me. ‘It looks like swine flu,’ a specialist told Allan, explaining it was a serious respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses. It could be fatal, but as tests failed to pinpoint the exact strain I had, it made treatment hard.
I knew nothing of the next terrifying hours and days, only what I’ve learnt since. I can’t begin to imagine the horror Allan felt as he watched my body being hooked up to drips, or as he was told the terrible news that our son would have to be born early. He was 10 weeks from his due date, but there was no choice. Any delay meant both our lives could be lost.
Within 48 hours, on March 2016, my condition had deteriorated. ‘We must deliver your son by emergency caesarean,’ a doctor told Allan, pushing consent forms at him.
Allan waited for news, hoping we’d both live. But when he was told the news our son had arrived, weighing 3lb 6oz, he also learnt that I’d stopped breathing on the operating table. I was fighting for life in intensive care in a drug-induced coma.
Against all odds
Despite being treated for swine flu, I developed pneumonia and blood poisoning. ‘There’s only a 5% chance she’ll survive,’ a doctor warned Allan, as he kept a vigil at my bedside.
My only hope was an ECMO heart and lung bypass life-support machine at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, but there was a waiting list. The next two weeks were touch and go and, at one point, my heart stopped beating.
An ECMO machine became free
‘Any delay meant both our lives could be lost’
‘I’ll never get over missing those first few weeks’
just in time and I was transferred. But as days went by, I suffered serious setbacks, including internal bleeding in my uterus and right leg.
Meanwhile, Jack was battling for survival in the special care baby unit. He was diagnosed with a swollen bowel needing urgent treatment.
Frantic with worry, Allan felt torn as he drove between hospitals, which were 50 miles apart, and his parents, who were caring for Hollie. Knowing that Jack would benefit from smelling my scent, he lay one of his bibs in bed with me. Then he placed it in his incubator to reassure him Mummy wasn’t too far away.
Against all odds, after three weeks,
Jack began to improve and I did too, so I was taken back to Northampton.
Finally, five weeks after falling into a coma, doctors brought me round. I remember my eyes opening, trying to focus on the blurry figures around my bed. I felt confused and frightened.
My ordeal had left me unable to move or talk, due to muscle wastage, but I could still hear. Sitting beside me, Allan reached for my hand.
‘We thought we’d lost you,’ he murmured, tearfully. He must have seen the fear in my eyes as they darted down to my stomach. ‘Jack’s been born,’ he said. Glancing down in a fog, I saw that my bump had gone. I couldn’t take it in, not even when I saw a photo of Jack.
‘He’s too weak for you to see him yet,’ he said. But Hollie visited. She stared at me, frightened. I longed to cuddle her and say everything would be all right, but my muscles were still too weak to move. And, unable to speak, I couldn’t even tell her Mummy still knew who she was, and loved her.
I felt grief stricken and it was so surreal. Not only was Hollie terrified, milestones had been stolen from me – my baby’s birth and his first weeks. How could I come to terms with that? And what if Jack didn’t bond with me?
Then a week later, a midwife came to my bed, holding a small baby. ‘Would you like to hold your son?’ she asked, softly. I held out my arms but although I’d gained some strength, I was still too weak to hold him. The midwife lay him next to me and I stared down at his little face.
He was six weeks old and adorable. That rush of love flooded my every fibre, but it was hard not being a proper mum. Would I ever recover enough to care for him?
I saw him for half an hour every day, but it wasn’t enough. And even though I regained my voice over the next few weeks, I was still disorientated and sometimes I’d forget Jack had been born at all.
Through daily physiotherapy, I began to regain muscle strength. Jack was growing stronger too and was able to spend more time in my room, away from the special care baby unit. In early May 2016, when Jack was two months old, the midwife placed him in my arms. As I felt the reassuring weight of my baby, he wriggled and stared up at me. ‘Hello, darling,’ I whispered. It wasn’t how I’d envisaged our first cuddle but it meant so much. I vowed to recover for him and Hollie.
Finally, in June, I was able to walk and Jack and I were discharged.
Stepping through the front door, I gasped. I’d been away from home for so long and finally me and my baby were here. ‘We made it, little one,’ I said, cuddling him close.
Since then, I’ve managed to get my life back. Jack’s now walking and is very chatty and loves his toy cars.
I’ve regained all my strength and even managed to run the 10km Leeds Abbey Dash, raising £3,000 for ECMO machines – they saved my life after all.
Next June, Allan and I are getting married and, even though our family has been through the toughest time, we see the wedding as our chance to give thanks we’re all still together.
Both Jack and I could have died, and while I’ll never get over missing those first weeks with him, I’m grateful to have a lifetime to make up for it.
Jack had to be born 10 weeks early, weighing just 3lb 6oz
Together at last: Allan, Hollie, Jack and Laura
I’m finally the mum I want to be