It was January 2017 when my partner, Tom, and I found out we were expecting our first child together. We were ecstatic, but quickly became terrified when at ten weeks old the doctor at Huddersfield Hospital told us there was something wrong with our baby. We were told he had developed a condition known as gastroschisis, which meant his bowels were growing on the outside of his body, and we were sent to Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) for further scans and tests.
We had never heard of such a condition and didn’t know what to expect, but the doctors reassured us there were no other complications and provided us with lots of information. I was constantly being monitored and as my pregnancy progressed my baby’s bowels began to become inflamed. It was so worrying knowing his condition was getting worse, but until he was born there was nothing anybody could do about it. I was so scared to do much whilst I was pregnant and time seemed to pass very slowly. My eight year old son, Jacob, also knew there was something wrong and that his mummy wasn’t being herself, which made him anxious – it was a bad time for us all.
Albie was induced three weeks early on Friday 13th October 2017 in a room full of doctors and nurses. Although, Friday 13th is an unlucky day for some, for Tom and I, it was the amazing day we got to meet our son for the first time. Even though we had been expecting it, it was a massive shock to both of us to see the extent of the condition and how much of his bowels were protruding outside his tiny body. The doctors quickly whisked Albie away, leaving Tom comforting me in my hospital bed.
At just four hours old Albie underwent the corrective surgery he needed to move his bowels back into his abdomen. Although there had been initial complications when the doctors first began to treat him, the operation was a huge success and it wasn’t long before our baby was stable on the neonatal intensive care unit at LGI.
We had heard about Eckersley House run by The Sick Children’s Trust during one of my visits to LGI when I was pregnant, but a room didn’t become available for us for a few days. During this time I stayed on a ward at the hospital, which wasn’t very comfortable, so it was a huge relief for us when we could move into a ‘Home from Home’. That is exactly what Eckersley House became for us – a place that felt like home. We stayed there for three weeks until Albie was discharged and I can’t describe how amazing it was to have somewhere to stay so close to his bedside. There was a direct phone line from his ward into our room, which meant in the middle of the night when I was worried I could call through and be reassured in moments.
We also met other parents, who had babies being treated in LGI, which was a real comfort and support, plus having a room at Eckersley House meant Jacob could spend his weekends with us so we could be a complete family. He loved playing in the playroom there and made friends with other children staying in the house. It was such an emotional time for us as parents though, so surreal and also really scary. I got to hold my son when he was a week old for the first time – it was an amazing feeling, but there were lots of tears and I didn’t want to hurt him as there were still wires all over him.
Albie made an amazing recovery and even though we had been warned he would have to stay in hospital for up to eight weeks, he was discharged on 6th November. It was sad to say goodbye to Jane and the incredible staff at Eckersley House, but the best feeling to be finally taking our newest addition home after so many months of worrying.
Now we are preparing to celebrate Albie’s first Christmas and after the year we have had, we couldn’t be more excited. Albie is Tom’s family’s first grandchild so although we will open presents at home on Christmas morning, we are going to spend the day with them. Neither of us need any gifts though this year, because the fact our baby has made a full recovery with no side effects or complications from his shaky start to life, is the best Christmas present of all.
Ashton Daley, Albie's mum