A tiny baby born three months early and weighing just over 1lb is now thriving as a happy, healthy toddler.
Becky Ffrench, 37, was just 27 weeks pregnant when she was forced to give birth by emergency c-section after being diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, which caused her blood pressure to rocket.
Baby Rose was born weighing just 1lb 4oz and doctors told Becky, a magazine editor, and her husband Alex, 39, an accountant, to prepare for the worst.
During four long months in hospital, Rose’s life hung in the balance, but she pulled through and was finally allowed home on August 3 2018 just in time to celebrate her mum’s 36th birthday.
Now Rose is a healthy two-year-old and was signed off from the hospital last week.
“For her to come home on my birthday was the best present ever, especially after such a long journey to get her there,” Becky explains.
“Since then, she has thrived and hit all her milestones. It’s been a real miracle.”
“She’s a happy and fun little girl. Nothing seems to faze her.”
The early part of Becky’s pregnancy was completely trouble-free but at 27 weeks she started experiencing pain in her upper stomach.
Having been taken to Kent’s Tunbridge Wells Hospital, the mum-to-be was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia.
According to the NHS the condition causes raised blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine, and affects around 6% of pregnancies in the UK.
“The medical team were talking about whether the baby was ‘viable’,” Becky recalls.
“They told me they were going to have to deliver her by c-section that night.
At 8.45pm that evening Becky was taken into theatre.
“I went to the hospital that morning thinking I had 13 weeks left of the pregnancy, only to find the baby was coming that day.
“It was a very strange feeling. We should have been really excited, but all we could think was that she might not survive,” Becky continued.
“They were telling us that we had to prepare ourselves for the worst. It was so traumatic.”
After her birth Rose was rushed to intensive care, with the new parents only able to catch a quick glimpse of their newborn.
It wasn’t until later that night when she was wheeled into Becky’s room in an incubator that she got to meet her daughter.
“We could barely see her, because she was covered in wires and had a tiny hat on to keep her warm. You could see her hands were about the size of the tip of our fingers,” Becky said.
“She looked a bit like a 3D scan of a baby and she was a funny colour. Her skin was thin and she was covered in this downy hair. I was looking at her thinking, ‘She does not look like a baby’.”
Later that day, Rose was transferred by ambulance to a specialist unit at Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham, Kent, which had the facilities to care for such a premature baby.
But Rose’s problems extended beyond her prematurity. Just after her birth she was diagnosed with sepsis, a potentially life threatening reaction to an infection.
The newborns lungs had not developed properly either and she had necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) which, according to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, is a serious illness in which intestinal tissue becomes inflamed and starts to die.
This can, in turn, cause a hole to develop, through which the contents of the intestine can leak into the stomach, resulting in dangerous infection.
“Because I was still recovering from the c-section I had to stay put and Alex went with Rose to Medway,” Becky recalls.
“He didn’t let on at the time, but they were telling him there was a strong chance she would not make it. They said it was hour-by-hour.
“I felt terrible, not being able to be with her, helping her.”
“She was on a ventilator for three days with Alex by her side and when I was discharged from Tunbridge Wells Hospital, I went straight to Medway to be with her,” Becky says.
“When I saw her, I just burst into tears, she was so small.
“I can’t really convey how tiny she was. She was not even the length of Alex’s hand. His hand was twice the size of her head.”
Though she was taken off her ventilator after three days, Rose was still being given oxygen, food and antibiotics through tubes.
“We could put our hand through the hole into the incubator to touch her, but we could not hold her for three weeks, which was hideous,” Becky said.
“The first time we held her was really nerve-wracking, because we were so scared of pulling out one of her tubes. The nurses put her into my top, so we could have as much skin-to-skin contact as possible.
“It was like holding a little kitten,” Becky adds. “It was wonderful.”
After four weeks in Medway, Rose was transferred back to Tunbridge Wells, which gave the family cause for celebration as it indicated she was getting better.
But, Rose wasn’t out of the woods just yet and after a further three weeks, she was rushed to London’s King’s College Hospital because of a problem with her bowels.
“That was one of the worst days of the whole journey,” said Becky. “NEC, which she had, can be fatal and they feared she would need an operation.
“Her bowel was so small it was having trouble developing, so she had to go onto a special neo-natal formula and was given antibiotics.
“Really, we were very lucky, because she was tiny, she fought this thing and in the end didn’t need to have an operation.”
Returning to Tunbridge Wells Hospital, Rose started to gain weight meaning her parents could finally pick her up, wash her and change her nappy.
And the nurses were determined to make sure she would be ready to go home on August 3, after discovering it was Becky’s birthday.
“It was such an amazing day but also terrifying,” Becky recalls.
“The first night I kept waking up to go and check on her, but she was fine.”
Since coming home, Rose, who no longer needs medication, has continued to thrive, meeting all her milestones and even going to nursery.
“She’s cheeky and full of fun,” Becky says. “You would never know how touch and go it was for her at the start by the way she is now.”
In lockdown, for Rose’s birthday on April 17, the couple had a zoom party with friends and family.
And they are hoping to have a proper celebration for mum and daughter on Becky’s birthday in August, if restrictions are further relaxed.
Now Becky hopes Rose’s story will bring hope to other families going through similar ordeals.
“It’s not easy, it’s a long road, but you have to keep up your spirits,” she said.
“The children themselves are really strong – stronger than you know. You just have to look cautiously to the future and don’t give up hope.”
Additional reporting PA Real Life.