ROCKED by their experience of becoming parents to a premature baby, Sarra Kemp and Sir Chris Hoy have shared Callum’s story in the hope that they can help others
When someone asked me to write something and put all my thoughts down, they all came out – fluid thought onto a page,” says lawyer Sarra Kemp, wife of Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy and mother to their son, eight month old Callum, who was born at just 29 weeks.
Kemp, 34, has written candidly, right, about her experience of having a premature baby, originally when asked to do so by Catriona Ogilvy, the author of a blog called The Smallest Things (thesmallestthings.org) – a resource that she discovered after “endless sleepless nights of Googling, as new mums tend to do”.
This online piece was then spotted by the people at The Scottish Book Trust, who asked Kemp if they could include it as part of their Journeys campaign, where the public are invited to submit a story of up to 1,000 words that details a physical, spiritual or emotional journey.
“We’re private people so even writing the original blog piece felt a bit strange,” says Kemp. “But it fitted with what the Scottish Book Trust are doing and I hoped others could read it and it might help them.”
For Kemp, putting her experience into words (in front of her computer at 3am one morning, after her “thoughts were going round and round”) has been extremely cathartic.
There are also miraculous little fighters who don’t manage to come home
“When you come away from the hospital and have your child at home, you think the journey’s over but it’s not,” says Kemp. “You’re at home with a very small vulnerable baby and now it’s up to you, but you’re constantly thinking about the trauma that you’ve gone through. Seeing my experience written down made me feel better and the process of sharing it and having people respond has been quite amazing. It’s reassuring when you realise your feelings aren’t remarkable.”
After the 30 June closing date, a panel of judges will select between 30 to 40 of the stories to be included in a Journeys book, with 150,000 copies printed and given away during Book Week Scotland (23-29 November).
Whether Kemp’s story makes it to the final edit or not, the process of writing it has been part of recovering from a stressful few months.
“The experience is such that at times you can feel overwhelmed and upset by what happened,” she says. “But this goes hand in hand with the fact that Callum is doing extremely well and is really healthy. We’re very lucky. If my story does make it into the book maybe one day Callum will read it and be proud of what’s been achieved, and what I’ve achieved really.”
To enter your story for Scottish Book Trust’s Journeys project, go to www.scottishbooktrust.com
It has been 140 days since I heard the words “Oh, this is not good, not good at all. This baby has to come out”. It’s been 139 days since my baby was born at 29 weeks by emergency C section, weighing 2lbs 2oz, having stopped growing some weeks before.
For quite a while afterwards, still in a state of shock, I would find myself telling anyone who would listen that I’d had a premature baby. I told bank tellers over the phone that I’d had pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome. “Have you heard of it?” I would cheerfully ask. I told the dry cleaners that I’d had a C-section. I told all the delivery men who came with packages, that my baby was in intensive care. I found myself telling a stranger in the vegetable aisle of the supermarket about my little bean of a baby who was currently growing in an incubator rather than in me; an “artificial womb” if you will. A complete stranger!
Now, 140 days later and my baby is home and (dare I say it)...thriving. And yet even so, I find it hard not to shout “I’VE HAD A PREMATURE BABY” at traffic wardens whilst in the supermarket car park.
This is the mark of a premmie mum. From nowhere, I was signed up to and given lifelong membership to a club I never wanted to join, nor even imagined existed. I can now talk a good talk around an intensive care baby unit. I understand the transition from ICU to HDU. I know all the different ways to store breast milk. I understand the loneliness of a breast pump at 3am; how devastating it is to have to try and trick your breasts into producing milk, when your body has barely realised it was pregnant, let alone known it has delivered a baby. I know about the intense feeling of loss and grief, having had a pregnancy so rudely interrupted and ended. I do not know what it is like to carry the weight of a baby inside me. I will never know the satisfaction of growing and delivering my own baby.
And I also know about brain scans, lung X-rays, heart monitors, countless blood tests, oxygen saturation levels, CPAP machines and ventilators. I know what TPN, NEC, RSV and ROP stand for both literally and metaphorically. All things I was happy not knowing about, not least in relation to a baby; my baby.
We are so fortunate that our little bundle managed his ICU journey relatively uneventfully and he quietly made his way through the Neonatal Unit, graduating 60 days later, when he was discharged and allowed home. When I could no longer do it for him, my tiny baby had to take on the challenge to grow by himself – a responsibility he accepted and did brilliantly – slowly, steadily but with little fuss. What an incredible little human we have been gifted.
And even still, the mark of our NICU journey remains with me. I think about it all the time. It never leaves me. Every day I relive some of those 140 days, through vivid flashbacks and intrusive memories.
Yet I am also reminded how lucky we are. There are also miraculous little fighters who don’t manage to come home and whose journeys begin and end in the NICU. I think of those wonderful babies whenever I gaze at mine.
A few weeks ago a friend kindly suggested we should keep an eye out for our child, even throughout school, due to his prematurity. “You can tell the early ones,” she helpfully observed. That may well be the case, but I’m determined that while my experience of pregnancy, birth and NICU has changed me, it will not define my child’s life. As soon as he is old enough to understand, I will stop talking about my experience. I don’t want him hearing adults discussing him or his early arrival. I don’t want him to hear all the reasons why he might not be as big as the other boys; why he might not be able to grasp things as quickly or why he may struggle with some everyday tasks. My boy is a fighter and can accomplish amazing things. We know this because he’s done it already.
Whilst I might be a member of the premmie club, which brought me grief, sadness, worry and miracles in equal measure, these are all chapters of my story; I’m determined they won’t be part of his. He’s not a member of this club. He’s a strong, courageous, ingenious little boy who held my hand and led the way, guiding his mummy through a nightmare of a journey. This is what will define my little boy.