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…

Woman's Own - - Woman’s Own Welcome -

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.

First cud­dle

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

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