My son was born six weeks premature, but Chestnut House became the perfect base

Arriving six weeks early in Chelmsford, Essex, baby Jude needed immediate life-saving attention before being placed on a ventilator and transferred to The Rosie Hospital in Cambridge. To mark World Prematurity Day 2023, which takes place on 17 November, dad James Eddleston explains how Chestnut House kept him close to his son at the most difficult of times. 

When our son Jude arrived six weeks early in June 2023, our lives were turned upside down. My wife Faith had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which had resulted in more frequent check-ups and the challenges that come with being a diabetic. A further complication came ten weeks before the due date, with Faith’s water’s breaking the day before the second birthday of our first child, Maeve.   

We rushed to Broomfield, our local hospital in Chelmsford, Essex, where they confirmed Faith’s waters had indeed ruptured but she was not in labour. They told us the baby was safest where he was and to continue with the pregnancy as normal, taking care to be restful. A few days later the decision was made for a planned caesarean section at around 34 weeks, which was based on finding a Strep B infection that could possibly reach the baby and make him seriously ill.   

With the c-section planned we carried on as normal as possible. However, two days before the date of the planned section Faith went into labour. We rushed to Broomfield Hospital where they decided not to prolong it any longer and deliver our baby by c-section.  

Baby Jude Eddleston. Credit: James Eddleston.

I’ll always remember the moment he was born. He cried for around five seconds and then fell silent. Moments later, one of the medical staff shouted, ‘code blue, code blue’. A team of medics rushed in and started working on him, immediately giving him oxygen before putting a tube though his nose into his lungs and taking him away. It was utterly terrifying. We expected some complications during the birth because of the gestational diabetes and all the other flags that were coming up at the time, but nothing could have prepared us for what happened.  

Eventually, the medical team gave us the devastating news that Jude was in intensive care on a ventilator as his lungs weren’t working. His condition wasn’t improving so needed to be transferred to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, well over an hour away from Chelmsford, where Faith needed to stay while she recovered from her c-section.  

Jude’s transport incubator. Credit: James Eddleston.

It was at this point, we both started to panic, getting really upset. Faith, who had only seen Jude for the briefest of moments when he was born, was inconsolable when she saw him in the transport incubator, with wires and tubes connected to his tiny body.  

Jude was taken to The Rosie Hospital by the amazing PaNDR ambulance transfer team, with me following up by car, desperate to stay as close as possible to him. I arrived just after he did, and he was put into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). He had cannulas in both hands, feet and belly button as well as lots of wires and tubes, which was upsetting to see.  

It was at this point when one of the wonderful nurses came over to me and told me that I looked utterly exhausted. She was right – I’d had about an hour’s sleep in the previous 24 and was obviously pretty stressed out as well. She said she’d try to sort a room for me, and soon came back with an envelope containing a key in it. She explained that there was a room at Chestnut House, a ‘Home from Home’ run by The Sick Children’s Trust which was located just two floors below the NICU.  

I went downstairs where a lovely lady from the charity showed me around. I soon realised that I had my own room just minutes from where Jude was being treated. It was the most amazing place, way beyond anything I was expecting. As well as a much-needed comfy bed, my room also had an en-suite bathroom and a direct telephone line to the ward, meaning I could be easily contacted by the medical staff even when I was resting. There was a kitchen and communal dining space as well as washing machines, all at no cost. It was the perfect base, something which would prove vital during Jude’s stay in Cambridge.    

James feeds baby Jude at The Rosie Hospital. Credit: James Eddleston

After a couple of hours sleep, I went straight back upstairs to see Jude so I could give Faith an update on how he was doing. It was so hard for her, being stuck in a hospital in Chelmsford when she desperately wanted to be close to Jude. I did everything I could to make sure she was kept completely up to speed with how he was doing, something made much easier by Chestnut House keeping me close to him. I could leave my room and be by his side in less than a minute, it was such a lifeline for us.  

Having that room at Chestnut House was crucial for us, especially in those first three days. It was so important for me to have that base, especially with Jude needing his mum’s milk to help his recovery. I would frequently drive over to Chelmsford to see Faith, then take milk back to Cambridge for Jude, sometimes also calling in at our home in Finchingfield to get supplies. It was exhausting, but with Jude improving, being taken off sedation and beginning to move, it was worth it.

Mum Faith with daughter Maeve and son Jude. Credit: James Eddleston.

When Faith was eventually discharged from Chelmsford, three days after Jude’s dramatic arrival, the plan was for her to join me at Chestnut House. However, she was still in a considerable amount of pain, so we decided that while she would spend her days with Jude in Cambridge, she should sleep at home to help her own recovery while also staying close to our daughter Maeve.   

To our huge relief, Jude made amazing progress, eventually being weaned off the machines that were supporting him before being transferred back to Chelmsford, where he would spend a further four days before finally coming home on 15 June. We had another scare a couple of weeks later when he was readmitted to Chelmsford with breathing difficulties, but thankfully it was quickly resolved, and he came home four days later.  

I’m thrilled to say that he is doing brilliantly, now. He certainly has a set of pipes on him, he lets us know when he is unhappy! He keeps us up at night, but we wouldn’t change it for the world.  

James Eddleston, Jude’s dad 

James and Jude. Credit: James Eddleston

Related Content

Email Newsletter

Every year we help families by giving them somewhere to stay near their seriously ill child’s hospital bedside. Sign up to receive our email newsletters to stay up to date with how your support is helping to keep families together.