Angelcare UK Partnership

Julie Ebrey Hardenberg the Managing Director of AngelcareUK went into labour at 24 weeks to twin boys; Jack and Marc, sadly only Marc survived.

Marc and I didn’t start trying for a family until I was 34. Nothing happened for two years then doctors found I had blocked Fallopian tubes – a real blow. We were advised to try IVF straight away.

Luckily, we only had to do it once. After implanting two eggs, we had to wait a long, hard four weeks to find out I was pregnant – and our first scan revealed twins. It was so bizarre seeing those two kidney beans on screen with their pulsating hearts.

My pregnancy was going to plan until, at 23 and a half weeks, I went to the bathroom in the night and all wasn’t right. I woke Marc and we rushed to hospital. Because I’d leaked fluid I was classed as being in the early stages of labour. The babies wouldn’t survive if they were born at this stage and technically would be classed as a miscarriage – it’s not a ‘viable’ birth until 24 weeks. Thankfully, as I was virtually at 24 weeks, the doctors gave me surfactant, a type of drug to help the babies’ lungs mature so they’d have more chance of being able to breathe if born. I spent three days in a ward with women who had a baby belly one minute then I’d see them later in the ward with their baby. All I could think was my two probably wouldn’t make it.

Three nights later, at one day over 24 weeks, I was watching TV when I suddenly felt weird, with rushing pains. Four hours later, at just past midnight, our first child, Jack, was born, surrounded by the entire staff of the neonatal ward. The birth was easy but traumatic, but the news was the most devastating any parent can hear. Jack wasn’t strong enough to survive. So he was wrapped in a towel and for two short hours I held him as he faded away. I can’t begin to describe how sad it all was but, with hindsight, I’m so glad I had my time with him safely nestled in my arms.

Just 30 minutes later, Jack’s brother was born. I remember he made a squeaking sound – ‘a good sign of life’, I was later told. He was a healthy colour and trying to breathe, but I didn’t get a chance to hold him before the doctors whisked him away from us to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The first I really saw of our new son was when one of the nurses brought us a photo. I was still lost in grief for Jack, but when I saw my other baby, all covered in wires, it really shocked me. Our baby was so little, about the size of a bag of crisps. But I remember he had really long fingers, just like me. The doctors told me to go back home, bring back an overnight bag and prepare for my baby to die. While I was at home, I cleared everything connected with babies out of the house, because I was convinced I wasn’t going to be bringing one home with me.

We decided to name him Marc after his father, figuring he wasn’t going to survive, thinking we’d never have to cope with the hassles of having two Marcs in the family. We sat up all that first night and, miraculously, he clung to life. But next day we had another setback – Marc had had a bleed on his brain. On day three we considered withdrawing care as we thought it too cruel to inflict all this pain on such a tiny being. But one of the consultants said to me, ‘In my heart I just don’t feel we’re there yet.’ He wanted to try one final concoction of drugs. I was too distraught to listen but he persevered and I am eternally grateful he carried on because,  within a few hours of having the drugs, our baby’s vital signs had lifted.

One of the biggest problems in the early days was feeding Marc. The doctors couldn’t get any more tubes into his tiny body to give vital nutrition, so they asked if I could express breastmilk so they could feed him through a tube up his nose. As I was only in my second trimester it was incredibly hard to express, but I pumped for all I was worth. Here was something only I could do to help my baby survive – finally I felt useful.

Marc was 1lb 6oz (640g) when he was born. The magical weight for premature babies is 2lb and by 8 weeks he was getting there being fed only breast milk. He improved and moved from life support to a breathing machine, then eventually, one week before my due date, and after 96 days in hospital, he finally came home. It was a moment we didn’t believe would ever come and of course we were ecstatic but terrified too. Our baby was still only 4lb and for the last 12 weeks whenever anything had gone wrong, trained staff would come running, but now it was down to us.

Being really anxious, and at home alone with no nursing staff I was truly grateful that a friend bought me an Angelcare Movement Monitor. That monitor saved me. It gave me some of the peace of mind that I needed being away from the nursing staff who so closely monitored my tiny son.

It wasn’t until Marc was about 6 months old (and had been home for three) that I finally suddenly got a feeling this little fella might actually be here forever. Now, he is a strapping, bubbly, hockey-playing teenager and you would never believe how hard we had to fight for his life.

Because of the trauma I went through losing one baby and a life and death struggle with the other, I have always thought it important to support charities to help pregnant and new mums with their babies, to get them into the world safely and give them the best start.

My business association with Anglecare came when Marc was 2 years old. I had been unable to return to work because no nursery could look after my son; he was too fragile, so I stayed at home with him. But a chance conversation changed all that. My passion for the brand and the support it gives parents like me has made me realise the importance of helping others through my own experience.

That is why I am so delighted that we at Angelcare have started supporting MAMA Academy. Hopefully, with the work that they do, mums will be better informed about their pregnancies and more babies will arrive safely.