I recently went to the NICU at St Michaels Hospital to meet and photograph a lovely mother, Rachel and her little warrior son, Sion.
Rachel's pregnancy started free of complications, which she was grateful for. Sion was monitored for growth after Rachel's partner, Rhodri, tested positive for the Zika virus - a virus passed on by mosquitoes in some parts of the world. He caught it when he was working to support the hurricane relief in the Caribbean as a corporal in the marines. Sion's growth seemed to be doing well, so there wasn't much to worry about.
At 32 weeks, the family had a scare when Rachel came home from work early, feeling very unwell. When she called in, she was advised to come into the hospital. She felt that this was over the top and unnecessary, but came in anyway. She was told that her temperature was high but there were no major complications.
Sion's heart-rate dropped and continued to do so, so Rachel was put on a drip, which she hated. She continued to feel unwell and eventually was sick. Rhodri just about managed to get the bowl to her in time! They were told that if Sion's heart-rate dropped once more, they would have a C-Section that night. Rachel had never felt more anxious in her life. Fortunately, Sion's heart-rate remained the same throughout that night.
The next day was much less eventful. By evening, Rachel was finally allowed to eat again and Rhodri bought her nandos which were, in her words, 'the best thing ever'!
Rachel had to have an amniocentesis to ensure the infection hadn't spread to the womb. She had to see the needle next to her baby in the scan. It was terrifying. Luckily, it came back negative,
For four days, Rachel continued to be monitored. Rhodri was told to come and pick Rachel up under the assumption she would be discharged. Instead, Sion's head had engaged and they were told he would be coming! Rachel said she'd 'never forget the look on his face'. She was then induced, and describes using the 'daisy breathing' technique to help her with the pain.
She found her waters breaking very uncomfortable. Shortly afterwards, Sion's heart-rate dropped again. They decided to have a C-Section. The experience was, as Rachel described, 'bizzarre'. Her arms were shaking very fast. Suddenly, Sion was there and he cried.
Sion was born at 33+4 weeks and he weighed 4lbs 15oz. Rachel was allowed a quick cuddle and then he was taken to an incubator. She didn't get to have skin to skin, which made her feel disappointed. Alongside the irreplaceable support of Rhodri, her mum had been with her during labour, which had been amazing as she 'felt she could be more vulnerable with [her] mum'.
Sion needed steroids and help breathing at birth. He also had 3 lumber punctures, caffeine and lots of antibiotics. He was very poorly with sepsis and viral meningitis. Sion was in NICU for the first three and a half weeks before they moved to the transitional ward for 3 days. Rachel hated the transitional ward and just wanted, understandably, to take her baby home!
The biggest challenged Rachel had was the separation at birth. She missed her 'bump' and having her baby close to her. Seeing Sion poorly was disheartening and being discharged without him was completely heartbreaking for Rachel. She cried all night, but woke up excited at the thought of seeing him again. Even weeks later, Rachel still hates the thought of it.
One of the happiest moments for Rachel was when Sion came off CPAP, as she could finally see his face and his hair properly. The day he was rid of all his wires made Rachel so happy. Of course, bringing Sion home, made Rachel feel even happier.
In the hospital, the staff, both at the delivery suit and in NICU, were amazing. Rachel's nurses were incredible with Sion and she will always be grateful to them. Rhodri, Rachel's mum, sister, family and friends, as well as Rhodri’s family were her rocks. Since being home, they have been so supportive, she feels she couldn't have done it without them.
Rachel wanted to add a few words:
"Ask so many questions and don’t worry if you’re being an overbearing and over anxious Mum! They are the experts and before you know it you’ll be home and on your own and that is very daunting when they’re so small. Get as much help as you can whilst they’re in there to help prepare when you go home!
I am so grateful to my partner family friends and the staff at St. Michael’s for looking after me and my baby. We are very lucky to have had such great care and continue to have such great care from the people around us. Thank you Clare for the beautiful photographs. It’s a lovely thing you do for poorly babies and their families! Thank you xxx"
I recently met with a mum, Sarah and grandma, Margaret of a lovely boy who started off his journey, like my Jessica, a little bit earlier than expected. After their experience, they felt compelled to raise money to help support Southmead NICU in any way they could. They currently run Little Tiddlers Market events, which brings small businesses and families together for afternoons of fun! Today, I'm going to tell you a bit about their time in NICU, a review of their market as both a mother and a small business owner and some information at the end on event dates, deals, and how you can help.
The market itself is held at Iron Acton Parish hall. It consists of a variety of different stalls, including Usborne Books, Younique, Linelife, Bouncy Castles, Partylite, Forever Living, Avon and of course, Clare Shapcott Photography. Each event also tends to have an array of independent creative businesses. I have seen handmade cards, florists, handmade jewelry and a variety of beautiful crafts. There is always a happy vibe between stall holders, and Sarah helps to make sure of this by only booking one of each type of stall so that there is no competition. This has the added benefit of giving an amazing variety of products to choose from!
On entering the market there is an entry fee of only £1. There is also a chance to play games such as Lucky Dip, Hook a Bag, Name The Teddy, Guess the Sweets, Guess the Hamper and Tombola. All of these games' profits are donated to Southmead NICU. The Toy Stall and the Clothes Stall also donate to the unit. Clare Shapcott Photography runs a variety of photoshoots and vouchers which donate to the unit too.
We have been to a few of these markets now and I have to say it's the most fun I have had while raising money to support a cause which is so close to our family. My toddler has a lot of fun looking at the stalls, playing in the play area, eating cake from the cafe and bouncing on the bouncy castle - even making friends while he's there! My baby girl also gets treated to cake... in that I eat a lot of cake and then breastfeed her! Those of you who know my husband will know that he is very frugal and only goes for the best of deals, and even he has come away with clothes and items from the market.
As a business owner I have been treated amazingly by Sarah, Margaret and the whole team! They helped me with small tasks on the day, such as lending me a tub to collect donation money and helping me create a big enough sign. Sarah always puts a great deal of thought into the arrangement of the market and has always planned carefully on where to put the stalls to help reach people who are most interested in my services. As a mum, they have been amazing with me. They have supported me to be able to work while having a small, breastfeeding baby. I have felt comfortable breastfeeding there and have been offered a room if I wanted to go somewhere private.
As well as having a stall, I also do mini-photoshoots at many of the little tiddlers market events. These are very reduced and some, often all, of the proceeds are donated to Southmead NICU (Please see each event for more info).
I have to say, I think the work that Sarah and Margaret put into these markets is truly inspiring. And there is good reason for it. Sadly, the neonatal units don't get anywhere close to the amount of funding they need through the government. The hospitals provide life saving care for babies that otherwise would not make it. The staff at Southmead are incredible and the work they do there is amazing. As always, I have to mention my baby girl Jess, who wouldn't be here today without the amazing care at Southmead NICU.
There are a few ways that you can help:
1) Attending the events..
Iron Action Parish Hall
High St, Bristol BS37 9UH
Dodington Parish Hall
Finch Rd, Chipping Sodbury, Bristol BS37 6JZ
*Clare Shapcott Photography will have a stall at this event (one off deals and vouchers will be offered)
***Clare Shapcott Photography will be offering mini Photoshoots at this event (donations are always made to Southmead Neonatal Unit)
2) Offering Donation of Clothes and Toys...
Please contact Sarah on firstname.lastname@example.org to donate any clothes and toys to be sold at these events.
3) Donating Through 'Go Fund Me'...
Please do not hesitate to donate here. No donation is too small. www.gofundme.com/raising-money-for-southmead-nicu
4) Taking Part in Competitions and Auctions
Sarah runs an online facebook group, which promotes various competitions and auctions and has more information about the events being held and the suppliers involved. www.facebook.com/groups/147499866025244