“What has happened to my life? I have a baby that is dead and one that is disabled. It got to the point where I was at rock bottom.”
This was the moment where mum-of-three, Amy Campbell, knew she needed help.
In the last three years she had given birth to premature twins, one had died and the surviving one spent three months in hospital before being allowed home following a cerebral palsy diagnosis.
Amy had another baby last year, healthy boy Archie, but the two pregnancies had triggered deep rooted anxiety and it was taking over her life.
It came to a head in October last year when Charlotte, now two and approaching her third birthday, had spent two nights in hospital just before Archie was admitted with bronchiolitis.
Amy of Sicklinghall, Wetherby, pictured above with husband Connor, children Charlotte and Archie, said: “Every time they got ill, I thought they would die or become seriously poorly. It felt like the neo-natal unit was coming back to haunt me and I was just waiting for something to go wrong.”
The realisation of the events of the last two-and-a-half years finally caught up with the 31-year-old, who backed Leeds Children’s Hospital first ever National Neonatal Mental Health Awareness Week this month.
Her involvement with the Leeds neo-natal unit began back in June 2016, when she developed complications in what had until then been a normal pregnancy with twins Charlotte and Esme. Her waters broke with Charlotte at just 24 weeks.
She said: “I was on the verge of giving birth three months prematurely surrounded by full term mums with healthy babies either waiting to be induced or going into labour.
“For the entire time I was praying for the complete opposite and wishing I was in their shoes. It was like torture.”
Seventeen days later after Amy began to feel unwell, the twins, Charlotte and Esme, were born at just over 26 weeks into the pregnancy by emergency caesarean section. In what is an unusual scenario, Charlotte had been stood on the umbilical cord in the womb and they were both breach. At one-week-old, Charlotte suffered a bleed on the brain which developed into cerebral palsy.
Then, at four-weeks-old, Esme caught an infection and her lungs collapsed.
Esme suffered seizures, sepsis, meningitis, ventriculitis, brain damage and rapidly multiplying cysts. Amy and husband Connor were told that Esme would have no quality of life so they made the heart-breaking decision to have her taken off the ventilator and she died on August 30, 2016 at just over seven weeks old.
After Esme died, Charlotte became well and eventually went home on October 10.
Around a year later Amy became pregnant again and on June 10 last year gave birth to a healthy son Archibald.
But the pregnancy triggered a mental health struggle for Amy, who suffered from anxiety that her unborn son may never come home.
She said: “After 26 weeks I had never been this pregnant before. I was paranoid and didn’t know what was normal. I was thinking he would be still-born. I never believed I would get this baby home.”
After Archie was born, Amy said she began to reflect on the loss of Esme and how poorly Charlotte had been, and sought support.
“I had to get in touch with my health visitor and say ‘I need counselling’,” she said.
“I had quite intrusive thoughts like what has happened to my life? I have a baby that is dead and one that is disabled.”
Amy accessed bereavement counselling for six months and cognitive behaviour therapy for 15 sessions, which she said was “absolutely life changing”.
She said: “The counselling has equipped me with skills and a completely different mind-set about how I want to live my life.”
She is now a volunteer on the neo-natal ward at Leeds Children’s Hospital, writes the blog This is My Brave Face and has even started The Campbellinas organisation that supports neo-natal units across region.
Amy said: “There is nothing natural about being on the neo-natal ward.
“You have to leave your baby every night, you can’t cuddle them when you want, you can’t feed on demand, you can’t hear them cry because of the equipment but you can see they are distressed and you have to ask the nurses for permission to do anything.
“Being back there is such a huge mixture of emotion. It is like a second home and it is where I only ever knew Esme. I talk to the families, host a coffee afternoon and give my support.
“I feel incredibly proud of my story.”