It was the moment the joy of being new parents turned into a living nightmare. My wife Laura and I were still getting to grips with the ‘new world’ after our first daughter Ella arrived in January 2015.
The feeding. The nappies. The sleepless nights. Those ‘what do we do?’ moments all new parents endure. When, suddenly, our world was turned upside down all over again - this time for the worse. Ella woke early one morning for what we thought was a routine feed and change. But when we laid her on the changing table we immediately sensed something wasn’t right. She was floppy, her body limp, and wouldn’t feed.
We might have only been parents for two weeks, but instinct kicked in. What followed next remains a bit of a blur but we phoned 111 before rushing her to A&E in York. The hours that followed felt like days as doctors seemingly struggled to find out what was wrong.
Panic turned to tears, tears turned to fear as we anxiously, desperately waited for news that our little girl would be okay. Family members - not usually religious - visited the hospital chapel to pray. That sounds dramatic, but illustrates just how serious things were. Ella’s screams from the hospital ward as doctors prodded and poked her tiny hands and feet to diagnose her are a memory that will live with me forever.
Eventually, she was diagnosed with Group B Strep, which is the most common cause of life threatening infection in newborn babies. It can cause sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis. The bacteria that causes Strep B is carried in 10 to 30% of healthy pregnant women.
Doctors later said our quick actions in getting Ella to hospital straight away had proved crucial. A course of antibiotics followed along with a two-week stay on the children’s ward. Day-by-day Ella slowly improved and we made the best of life in hospital, ‘celebrating’ Valentine’s Day that year watching hospital TV while doting over our precious princess as she napped.
We were very lucky. Ella is now a thriving seven-year-old (going on 17!) and suffered no lasting damage. Our son Harry, now five, was also born happy and healthy after Laura received a course of antibiotics to prevent a possible repeat of Strep B during labour. But we know of others who weren’t that fortunate, including a family whose baby suffered hearing loss after contracting the illness. The outbreak of Strep A, although a different strain, certainly brings back those dark, dark days and makes us count our blessings.
This is the first time I’ve opened up about our experience - it’s something we try not to dwell on for those fears of ‘what might have been’.