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World Prematurity Day - Freddie's Story
World Prematurity Day — Freddie’s Story, by Natalie Le Roux, Freddie’s Mum And Head of HR
*trigger warning* The following discusses premature birth.
To celebrate World Prematurity Day on Thursday 17th November, I am sharing my experience of the birth of my little boy, Freddie, who was born 12 weeks early. I recognise this story is unique to me, and I know, despite the difficult journey, I really am one of the lucky ones. I hope this goes some way to highlight the wonderful job of our NHS and more specifically the Neonatal unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and to share my experience of maternity leave when you give birth early. Again, working for Somek & Associates, I consider myself one of the lucky ones, and I am thrilled to see the law is finally catching up and acknowledging those, who, like me, have to spend a large portion of their maternity leave in hospital.
October 6th 2021 started as any normal working day for me, I had a number of meetings in the diary and, as always, lots on the to do list. As Head of HR for Somek & Associates, often it didn’t matter what I had on in the diary, something was bound to crop up and become a priority, that was just the nature of the role. My very first meeting of the day was to discuss “what are we going to do when Natalie goes on maternity leave?” My due date was 31st December 2021 and I was keen to have all of my ducks in a row before then. Following the meeting we had a plan, albeit I remember thinking I have lots to do to make this happen, and for my mat leave to be as pain free as possible for staff.
My second meeting I was in a room with Jess Thurston (Head of Medico-legal Operations), Rachael Jeffery (Associates Relationship Manager), and Amy Taylor (Marketing Lead). When you work with people like these three, it makes work that much brighter and more manageable, I very much considered these women friends and had a great working relationship with them. I have worked with Jess Thurston for 12 years and I truly believe if it wasn’t for her, my story would have been a different one. During the meeting, Jess happened to ask me if I was feeling ok and told me I looked pale. It was that very simple question, and due to the relationship I had with all three, that prompted my very honest response. I had noticed a bit of spotting, which I hadn’t had throughout my pregnancy. Immediately they all told me to call the midwife and go and get myself checked. I felt fine in myself, but followed their advice. I remember the last thing I said to Jess was “I’ll login this afternoon”. She just smiled at me (almost knowingly) and said “don’t worry about anything Natalie”.
Unfortunately, the rest of my afternoon didn’t quite go as I had planned. Fortunately though, because of the advice and the support of my colleagues, I was at the hospital when my waters broke. I will spare the details of the steroid and magnesium injections (worse than childbirth!) but 4 hours later I gave birth naturally to a tiny baby boy weighing 2lbs 8ozs. I was 27 weeks and five days. When I was told by the doctors my waters had broken and they anticipated the baby arriving in the next 24-48 hours, I remember thinking, wait but I don’t even have a car seat, and I haven’t got his nursery ready. Silly Natalie, you won’t be taking this baby home anytime soon.
I first got to meet Freddie around midnight in the Neonatal unit, he was very pink and so tiny, covered in wires, surrounded by machines. That moment felt like a never-ending blur, just trying to comprehend what had happened, what was happening and what the future looked like. I was told the chances were he would be in NICU until his due date and that the journey ahead was going to be a rollercoaster. It doesn’t matter how many times you are told “this is going to be a rollercoaster”, it doesn’t prepare you for the lows you experience every time an alarm goes off because your baby isn’t breathing properly or his heart rate has slowed right down. I spent 9 weeks exactly at the Neonatal unit in Stoke Mandeville with Freddie, and I will forever be indebted to the nurses and doctors there, they truly are superheroes in my eyes.
It was important for me to try and do as much as I could to care for and look after my baby, so I learnt how to tube feed and to test the aspirates, and kudos to anyone who can change a nappy inside an incubator, it isn’t easy!! We had set backs of course, no one and no thing was going to rush Freddie, but one by one, slowly but surely his wires came off and when he had his feeding tube removed, I finally got to see his little face wire free for the first time. That was a great day. But nothing will beat that moment you are told you can go home. For me, this moment came from one of my favourite nurses, a nurse called Julie, who had been with me for the majority of my final two weeks in NICU. As I was keen to breast feed, I was told once breast feeding over a 24-hour period had been established and Freddie puts on weight following this, he can go home. This took me 4 nights to achieve and they were the hardest and longest nights by far, but when Julie weighed him the morning of Wednesday 8th December and he had put on weight, she yelled to the doctor, “Kate, Freddie has put on weight, does that mean he can go home?” And her response was “yes of course”, there were quite a few tears in the unit and it is a moment I will never forget.
Despite 9 weeks in the Neonatal unit, Freddie came home three weeks prior to his due date, he was still so tiny but he was finally home and I could wake up with him next to me and he could finally get cuddles from his grandparents, and the rest of his family and friends who were so desperate to meet him. The next few months were filled with more appointments, and surgery, Freddie had an inguinal hernia that was treated at John Radcliffe in January, but whilst there it was discovered his blood pressure was abnormally high requiring a three night stay and a referral to Great Ormond Street Hospital. Freddie was discharged from GOSH in March and although he is still under the care of Stoke Mandeville hospital (he will be until he is 2 years old) he is doing incredibly well. He has even had Covid and beat that. He is a very happy, determined little man.
One of the first questions I was asked by several people was “when does your maternity leave start?” The answer, the day after he is born. The response was often “oh that doesn’t seem fair” and that’s because it isn’t. When you envisage your maternity leave, you don’t ever anticipate it to be spent in a room without windows, sitting beside your baby in an incubator, but that is the reality for many. Due to his prematurity, Freddie is 3 months behind meeting his milestones, premature babies are measured against when they should have been born, not when they are born. This will be the case until he is 2 years old. I remember thinking in March when we were discharged from GOSH, I am half way through my maternity leave and I don’t feel as if it has even begun. I was yet to have a week without a healthcare appointment to attend. Prior to Freddie’s early arrival I had always wanted to take the full year and anticipated returning in January 2023. When Freddie came early, returning in the October, 1 year on from his birth, felt too soon. This was recognised throughout my maternity leave by Alison (MD) and Jess (Head of Medico-legal Operations). I had their full support in extending my leave to the January when Freddie would be 1 year adjusted age. Although I had accrued holiday during my leave, Somek allowed me to carryover all of my unused holiday. I remember being nervous to ask for the additional time, I needn’t have been. Without question, I was granted the extended leave and the return on a part time basis.
The extra leave was just the cherry on top of the treatment I received from Somek. When Freddie was born, the messages, emails, phone calls of support and well wishes and gifts I received from everyone at Somek & Associates was quite simply overwhelming. I will never forget a single one, they all meant the world to me. Every conversation I had, started with “How’s Freddie, and how are you?” What may seem like a fairly small gesture, went so far in making me feel supported and listened to. I am very lucky to work for an organisation who recognised the importance of the additional time I needed with my little boy, and to work with people who genuinely care for your well-being I will never take for granted.
Natalie Le Roux, Head of HR
Thank you for sharing such a personal story Natalie. We are absolutely delighted that Freddie is doing so well.
Natalie's story is not only a great testament to the support she received from her colleagues at Somek & Associates, but also to the incredible dedication and hard work she and Freddie experienced through the NHS.
At Somek & Associates we work with a number of very experienced clinicians including nursing and midwifery experts, who work across the NHS and private sectors. If you are a solicitor in need of an expert witness, you can view our Find an Expert page for more details. If you are interested in becoming an expert witness click here.