Life

Tiny Belfast girl born four months 'prem' is proof that every baby deserves a fighting chance says proud mum

Born four months prematurely, baby Meabh McArdle was given little chance of survival. Jenny Lee talks to her mum Fionnuala about celebrating Meabh's second birthday and a new campaign by Tiny Life, an organisation that helped her

Fionnuala McArdle with her daughter Meabh, now aged two who was born four months early, weighing just one pound and half an ounce Picture: Mal McCann

BORN at 23 weeks and weighing just one pound and half an ounce, little Meabh McArdle was given a less than one per cent chance of survival, but defied all the odds to be well enough to be discharged almost six months later. Now the west Belfast tot has just celebrated her second birthday, and despite a few ongoing medical complications, she is a happy, giggly, chatty and fiesty toddler.

Her mum Fionnuala had suffered three miscarriages due to a septate uterus, which didn't allow her pregnancies to get past 12 weeks. In February 2015 she had an operation to correct this and just three months later was delighted to discover she was pregnant.

However, at 22 weeks, when she went to the Royal Victoria Hospital for a check-up after becoming concerned, Fionnuala went into premature labour and once again feared losing an unborn child.

She was given steroids to strengthen her unborn baby's lungs and put on bed rest, with the hope of holding on until at least 24 weeks before giving birth. She held on another week and three days before going into full labour, the pregnancy further complicated by an infection in her womb.

"When Meabh was born doctors asked me did I want to take her in a wee blanket and hold her as she had a zero to one per cent chance of survival. But I wanted her to be incubated straight away and for them to do everything they could to help her survive because if she didn't survive, neither would I," Fionnuala says.

Fionnuala was taken to see her daughter in the neonatal intensive care a few hours later.

"The room was silent but for the hum of the machines. It was then it sunk in how small and sick she was and in how much danger she was in and I started to cry. I sat next to her and opened the door of her incubator and started to sing 'Little Peter Rabbit had a fly upon his nose', which I sang to her throughout my pregnancy.

"I was told she had nerve damage and would never walk; but when I sang, her little toes wriggled. I knew she would hear me. It gave me hope and I knew I did the right thing."

After being discharged from hospital herself Fionnuala would take a black cab twice a day to visit her daughter and could often be heard singing and reading to her.

Meabh had some setbacks and had to have heart surgery, an operation on her windpipe and two operations to preserve her sight after suffering with retinopathy of prematurity. But finally, after five and a half months in hospital, Meabh was allowed home, weighing 12lb 7oz.

"When we were leaving the hospital, I remember the doctor saying to me 'It's good to be wrong sometimes'," recalls Fionnuala, who was grateful for the support of her family, as well as from local premature and sick baby charity Tiny Life.

As well as receiving emotional and practical support and advice, during her time in hospital Meabh was loaned a breast pump from Tiny Life and received a pack of tiny knitted premature clothes and hat.

In part marking world Prematurity Day on November 17, TinyLife have launched a new campaign, entitled Premvember, to highlight the daily plight of born too soon in Northern Ireland and to encourage people to host their own Tea & Tots fundraising parties throughout November.

"Six premature babies are born in Northern Ireland every day, with 2,000 admissions to neo natal units every year. Thirty years ago, 70 per cent of premature babies did not make it – today around 88 per cent of them survive. Our staff and volunteers provide a wide range of support services for parents, as well as funding vital research to ensure ill and premature babies, have the best chance to survive and thrive," says Alison McNulty, chief executive of TinyLife.

Meabh celebrated her second birthday on October 9 and while she has chronic lung disease, low muscle tone and has an artificial feeding tube, she is making huge progress developmentally and has just started to walk.

"She is the smartest wee child. She copies everything I say and makes up her own wee sentences. I took every day as it came, always trusting a mother's instinct. There is the same fight in her as there is in me and she is proof that every baby deserves a fighting chance."

Fionnuala's advice to other parents with a premature baby is to "keep the faith". "Just keep the faith. Walk, sing, read, interact and touch your baby. They just want to hear, feel and smell you. Try not to cry around the cot and keep positive, because it rubs off on the child."

:: Premvember fundraising packs are available free of charge by registering on www.buytickets.at/tinylife or emailing gillian.mcneill@tinylife.org.uk

Helen Marks, TinyLife Family Support Officer and Joanna Gardiner, CEO of Elave with baby Ben Hall announcing a partnership with specialist skincare brand Elave Baby

As well as Premvember, Tiny Life have agreed an innovative partnership with specialist skincare brand Elave Baby in a bid to boost much-needed funding. The limited edition Elave Baby Essentials Pack, with a special offer price of £17.95 (usual rrp £25), will be sold through TinyLife facebook, the Elave online shop (https://goo.gl/H57YeD) and Amazon UK, with £1 from each pack sold going directly to TinyLife.

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