George’s Marvellous Medicine

The day my son was born was the happiest and most terrifying day of my life. George entered the world via my stomach, or the sunroof, as a friend referred to it. A rapid heart rate and risk of infection the reasons behind this high entrance. Two months before I became pregnant, I’d discovered I carried *Group B Strep, common in women and quite harmless to me but a serious risk for baby. I was assured, however, that as long as antibiotics were administered immediately after my waters had broken there should be no complications. And that is exactly what happened. A drip was up within minutes. But my labour wasn’t progressing as it should and I knew that my baby was still in distress. I ordered the operation as soon as I had the option.

The procedure was quick, for George anyway. It took less than five minutes to get him out. For me, the ordeal was longer; putting me back together took almost an hour. Frightened, I held my breath as I waited to hear my baby cry. And there it was, the most incredible sound, my little baby testing out his lungs. As soon as I heard that cry I knew everything was OK. Or so I thought.

Soon after I’d held my precious son for the first time, the doctors informed me and my husband that he had a temperature and so they’d be treating him with antibiotics as a precaution. I thought nothing of it. He was in my arms, looking up at me with his beautiful blue eyes. Our bond was sealed and our gaze uninterrupted. Nothing in the world could spoil that moment. That was until the doctor delivered the news that George may have meningitis. Still recovering from the operation and overcome with emotion my head began to spin. The doctor was talking to me but I wasn’t taking in what she was saying. They left him with me that night but before breakfast it was confirmed. He had meningitis and they were taking him away from me.

I was allowed ten minutes to hold him before they took him to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). As the tears streamed down my cheeks, I squeezed him tight and told him that I loved him. I told him it would be OK and that I’d protect him, but my time was up. A midwife was standing beside my bed waiting to take him. She prized him from my arms and wheeled him away. I lay there alone, devastated and in pain. My baby boy was gone and I didn’t know if he was coming back.

I’ve never been so terrified in my life. I’d carried him inside me safely for nine months but had fallen at the final hurdle. My baby had a life threatening illness and I had no way of helping him. I couldn’t even get out of bed on my own. So there I stayed until my husband arrived half an hour later – Andy was not allowed to stay at the hospital overnight and didn’t have time to make it back before they took George.

George in neonatal intensive care
George in neonatal intensive care

Andy wheeled me down to neonatal and to our son, who was lying helpless in his crib. He was stripped down to his nappy – the clothes we’d dressed him in to take him home discarded in a drawer underneath – his body bloated by the meningitis. I reached in to touch him and almost choked as I tried to speak. I was paralysed with fear and guilt that the infection raging within me had attacked our baby who was now fighting for his life. We stayed by his side for most of that day, leaving only for a short while to shower and gather our thoughts. Back on the ward, Andy held me tight and said these words: ‘Whatever happens, I will always be grateful for the beautiful son you’ve given us’. I cried in his arms and kept those words with me as weapons to fight off any thoughts that we may lose our boy.

We returned to NICU soon after to be with our boy. I read Horton Hears A Who to George – a book I’d read through my pregnancy. “I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant is faithful one hundred per cent.” And I’d be faithful to my son, I’d look after my tiny speck and I’d never leave him. Andy sang to him and the hours seemed to drift by. We held our son, careful not to unplug the many monitors he was attached to, until it was time for us to leave. Andy took me back to the postnatal ward and he set off home. Neither of us slept that night, worrying about our boy and waiting until we could get back in to see him. The next 24 hours were critical.

The next morning George was showing some small signs of recovery. He was less irritable and was taking some milk. The doctors explained again what was happening and how they were treating him. They told us that George had sent out his soldiers to fight off the infection and that they seemed to be winning the battle. They seemed reassured with George’s response and slowly but surely one by one monitors were being removed. That night, Andy and I were also able to stay in one of the family rooms so we could get up in the night to feed our son. To new parents, night feeds can be draining, but to us it was a simple pleasure. We wanted to spend every waking moment with George, to hold him, to feed him and to know that he was going to be ok.

By the following morning, George was a new baby. To our delight, he was guzzling down his milk and was monitor free. He was strong and fighting his infection with all his might. We were allowed to take him home that day, on the proviso that we bring him back to the hospital twice a day for ten days to have his antibiotics administered. Andy and I cried with relief. Sleep deprived, terrified and proud of our little soldier, we prepared to take him home. That was until they discovered I had a serious womb infection and was re-admitted for two days. No one had noticed how ill I was, not even me, because all the focus that week had been on saving George. And I’d have it no other way. If it was a choice between my life or his, I’d save him every time.

So, the two of us went back up to the ward together, where we stayed for two days, recovering from our ordeal. But it didn’t matter because we were finally together and this time no one was taking him away. He was back in my arms and ready to take on the world. My baby boy was saved and all because of the marvellous medicine that had been administered from birth.

Read my husband’s touching letter to George about the day he was born.

*Despite a third of women carrying Group B Strep, not all pregnant women are routinely screened for it. This is a shocking fact, considering the quite devastating consequences of it being undetected and untreated. Had it not been for the swift administration of antibiotics, my story may have not had such a happy ending. Please sign the petition to make this test routine for all pregnant women.