Health: The trauma of a baby born too early

Charlotte O'Nions with daughter Poppy, who was born at 31 weeks. PIC: Steve Riding
Charlotte O'Nions with daughter Poppy, who was born at 31 weeks. PIC: Steve Riding
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The number of babies being born prematurely is rising and leeds is believed to be home to one of the busiest neo-natal units in the country. Laura Bowyer reports on one mum’s tale of courage.

New mum Charlotte O’Nions had planned the perfect labour and relished every moment of her pregnancy.

She had always wanted to be a mum and was looking forward to showing off her baby bump, which only started to grow at 20 weeks.

But just over two months later Charlotte’s dreams of the “perfect” pregnancy were left in tatters.

She was rushed to hospital with severe pre-eclampsia when she was 31 weeks pregnant leaving Charlotte, 24, and her unborn daughter Poppy at death’s door.

Tests revealed that the placenta was not delivering enough blood or oxygen to her baby and doctors warned Charlotte that her baby needed to be delivered that day, otherwise they could both die.

Charlotte’s body was starting to shut down and she was forced to undergo an emergency C-section, nine weeks before Poppy’s actual due date.

Charlotte, who lives in Seacroft with her partner Chris Ellis, told the YEP: “I was told that it was get her out or both of you will die.

“My body was just shutting down and they couldn’t leave Poppy in any longer.”

But the new mum said she felt like she was in mourning after she was stopped from having her dream birth.

“I always wanted to be a mum and look forward to labour and going through the process of having a baby,” she said.

“I used to imagine what it would be like when she came out and was put on my chest straight away for skin to skin contact - but I never got it.

“Nothing had happened how I wanted it to and I was in mourning.

“I felt so scared for her.”

Moments after Poppy’s birth the youngster was rushed away by a team of doctors who fought to save her life.

The helpless tot had a bleed on her brain, her eyes weren’t developed properly and she needed help to breathe.

Charlotte didn’t come round from the traumatic ordeal until three days later and at first she didn’t realise she had given birth.

It wasn’t until her partner showed her a photograph of the tiny baby she had called Poppy just minutes after she was born.

And she said that meeting her tiny daughter, who was wired up to dozens of machines which kept her alive, was a strange experience.

Charlotte said she felt as though a tie had been cut with the baby who she had carried for the last 31 weeks.

She said: “It was really traumatic.

“For those three days I didn’t know I had a baby.

“When I came round and my partner bought me a picture of her I couldn’t register in my head that she was the baby I had bonded with.

“I never felt her come out and it felt like someone had cut a tie between us and it felt strange to look at her.”

At first she was told that she couldn’t touch Poppy, who weighed just three pounds, in case she caught a cold.

But she finally started to bond with her baby when she got to hold her for the first time.

She said: “It didn’t register for a while.

“When I first held her I couldn’t do anything for her. “She was just so vulnerable with all of those wires and tubes.

Nine days after Poppy’s birth, Charlotte was discharged from Leeds General Infirmary and she faced the heartbreak of returning home without her precious daughter.
She said: “I would have lived at the hospital if they would have let me.

“I just didn’t want to leave her. I wanted her home.”

When Poppy, who is now nine months old, came home Charlotte was finally given the chance to be the hands-on-mum she had dreamed of becoming.

The reality of giving birth to a premature baby finally hit home after she left a local mother and baby group after just five minutes in floods of tears.

But she found support from the Bliss baby group in Leeds, who have helped to reassure the new mum.

And Charlotte was so impressed with their efforts that she has now decided to set up her own Bliss support group for mums whose babies have been born prematurely.

She said: “It was brilliant to be able to speak to someone else who understands how it felt.

“You just can’t speak to full-term mums because it’s just not the same.

“I wanted to show her off but some people made out as if she was a freak.

“I felt like I was having to explain everything but I didn’t feel like I should have to do that.

“I knew I was never going to the same things as a normal, full-term mum but knowing that someone else has been through the same was amazing.”

She added: “Poppy is still quite small for her age and is doing what a six-month-old baby does, even through she’s nine months old.”

The new Bliss group will meet on Monday, July 29, at Swarcliffe Children’s Centre. in east Leeds, between 10am and noon.


A premature baby is defined as a youngster born before 37 weeks gestation in the womb.

Around 54,000 are born prematurely each year in England.

Around 80,000 babies are born each year in the UK needing specialist hospital care – that’s one in nine babies.

The UK birth rate is rising – there has been an 18 per cent increase in the number of UK live births from 2001 to 2009.

More and more premature babies are surviving because of advances in medicine and treatments.

Bliss family support team helped 7,000 families over the last year.

In 2009/10, the national average daily unit costs for special care were £442, high dependency £788 and intensive care £1027.

The Leeds neonatal service is believed to be one of the busiest in the country with 1,800 admissions annually.

The current mortality rate – the number of babies who die before their first birthday – in the UK is 5.1 babies per thousand.

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