It’s possible for a child in hospital not to wake up alone on Christmas morning

Alison and William stayed at Crawford House after their daughter was born at 26 weeks. Now they're raising awareness to give other families a 'Home from Home' at Christmas

I’d never heard about The Sick Children’s Trust and what it does to support families when they find themselves in some of the most horrendous situations. That was until the charity gave me and my partner, William, free ‘Home from Home’ accommodation.

I’ve always been very fit and active – fitting in a morning run and swim before work, so the last thing I ever imagined was being told that I might die giving birth to my daughter Jessica.

My pregnancy was relatively smooth up until six months. One day I suddenly felt absolutely exhausted and had to leave work and go straight to bed. When I didn’t get my energy back over the weekend I decided it was best for both me and my baby to get checked out.

That week I visited three hospitals near our home in North Shields – none of which would care for me because I was only 26 weeks pregnant. William, who was working away as he’s a sergeant in the army, nagged me to go to A&E in Cramlington. There they checked my blood pressure, which was dangerously high and I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. As a result, the blood flow to my baby was being compromised through the placenta. I called William as the severity of the situation began to sink in letting him know I was being blue-lighted to The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough. Fortunately, the army let William leave immediately and he met me in there.

“At Crawford House I could escape, spend time with my thoughts, and remind myself what the professionals kept telling me. It wasn’t my fault.”

A part of me that thought I’d be in and out of hospital quickly. However, my life, as well as Jessica’s, was hanging by a thread. I was asked to sign a piece of paper to say I understood the risks that came with having an emergency caesarean – our only chance of survival. I was terrified as I felt like I was signing my life away. I wasn’t ready to die.

Miraculously, both Jessica and I survived but the fear didn’t stop there. When I eventually regained consciousness I didn’t recognise anyone. I felt like I was in a room full of strangers, even though my parents and William were there showing me pictures of Jessica. As I stared at the photos, I had no idea whose child I was looking.

For five days William and my parents watched both Jessica and me battle for our lives. Once I had finally stabilised and was moved off the intensive care unit, it was time to meet my daughter. I was heartbroken when I saw Jessica lying there. I didn’t feel that rush of love, that instant bond. She was so red and teeny, weeny weighing just 1lb 9oz – I’d never seen anything so small.

William was so understanding and knew that it was vital Jessica and I saw each other as much as possible so we could bond, especially as we had been apart for so many days. At six days old, Jessica was placed on my chest. In that moment every bit of dread disappeared and I fell completely in love with my little girl.

After a fortnight at The James Cook University Hospital, we were transferred to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) where our journey continued for three months. During that time, I was never far away from Jessica because of The Sick Children’s Trust. The charity gave us free ‘Home from Home’ accommodation at Crawford House, located within the hospital grounds. William had spent three weeks sleeping on chairs and pull-out beds in the hospital beside me so Crawford House was such a breath of fresh air. We were staying so close to Jessica and could with her in minutes.

The army was incredibly understanding and allowed William as much time off as possible. We can’t ever thank them enough as it was so important that we were together during those first few weeks. William was able to be with me throughout all my recovery and ensure that I had regained some of my strength before he went back to work. And, even though he was away during the day, every morning and night we were together because of our ‘Home from Home’ Crawford House. We’re also very grateful to Crawford House because it allowed Jessica’s big sisters Laura and Lucie to come and stay for a week during the holidays, so they didn’t miss out on meeting their baby sister and bonding with her.

Crawford House becomes a ‘Home from Home’ for so many families with children in hospital. Knowing that you’re not the only person going through it really helps. When your baby needs countless lifesaving blood transfusions and is rushed into the emergency room, you panic. But so many of the parents staying in Crawford House have already been through it and they reassure you. It makes you feel safe.

What was hugely important to me about Crawford House was the privacy and space away from the hospital. I had just given birth and felt self-conscious so having to express milk for Jessica on the ward made me feel uncomfortable as at any moment a nurse or doctor could walk in. But at Crawford House I could relax as I had my own private space to express. There’s so much to be said about the space at Crawford House. It helped me with coming to terms with what had happened. In the hospital the machines are constantly beeping and people are everywhere – it’s hard to get any time to process your thoughts. I went through cycles of blaming myself for what had happened. At Crawford House I could escape, spend time with my thoughts, and remind myself what the professionals kept telling me. It wasn’t my fault.

Jessica’s due date was 18 September. We managed to get her home just nine days before! We were so happy. She’s doing so well now and we’re starting to look forward to the future.

As Christmas approaches, many families who we met in the ‘Home from Home’ face spending it in hospital, but with Crawford House at least they can be together. For us, Jessica will be enjoying her first Christmas with her sisters in Scotland – and then will have a second celebration with her grandparents in Shields.

Our Christmas wish is that every child in hospital gets well and home in time for Christmas, or at the very least wakes up with their family around them on Christmas morning – which we now know can be made possible with the help of The Sick Children’s Trust’s ‘Homes from Home’.

Alison Dixon, Jessica’s mum

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