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Our Premature Birth Journey | Azra and Noa: @noaselenac

A premature birth is classed as any baby who is born before 37 weeks - medically a full term pregnancy is anything from 39-40 weeks, however by 37 weeks the baby is fully formed and can arrive anytime. 

There are a number of health-related reasons connected to the mum or the baby that can determine premature birth, however sometimes there is simply no explanation. UK charity Tommy's raises funds to undergo pioneering research into the causes of premature birth, whilst offering support and information to families.

Tommy's estimates that globally one in 10 pregnancies will end in preterm birth.

Little Noa was born at 30 weeks and her mum Azra has visually documented her life as a 'preemie warrior'  through her instagram account @noaselenace. We caught up with Azra to hear more about their journey as she recounts her pregnancy, through to Noa's early birth and tips she would give to new mums who have given birth to a baby preterm.  

8 Sep 2020

Talk us through your pregnancy. Were you prepared at any point for the fact Noa may be born premature?

My pregnancy with Noa was a completely unexpected surprise! In January 2018, I'd taken voluntary redundancy from my work and was due to finish in June that year as we'd made a family decision to move from the UK to New Zealand. I found out I was expecting Noa in March and we were all overjoyed. We decided we would still be moving and Noa would be born in New Zealand like her daddy.

I decided to go to my first 12 week scan on my own as it was late morning and the hospital was close to my work. The radiographer carried out my scan and after some time waiting, I was greeted by the consultant who explained that from the scan, Noa looked like she had a cyst in her bladder. She explained that in her experience, this condition carries a high chance of a natural termination. An appointment was made for me to return the next day with a decision as to whether we would like to undergo an assisted termination at this early stage. We, however, called back later that day to tell them we would like a second opinion before making any decisions. 

Did you require any special medical care prior to Noa’s birth?

We managed to get the head consultant to see us the following week after the initial scan. I felt fine physically and still very pregnant - exactly how I had felt with my older two. We were informed that the cyst had actually reduced in size and to come back every two weeks for a scan so she could ensure Noa was ok.
By early July our consultant happily told us that the cyst had disappeared and from what she could see Noa was nice and healthy. Our next scan was scheduled for October, the month before she was due. 

In late July, we went on holiday to Spain and on our last day I woke up bleeding. We went to a private hospital where we got a scan and they confirmed that all was well. After being examined, I was told I had cells on the outside of my cervix, which was quite common and the reason for my symptoms. 

Two months later, however, I experienced the same symptoms and to be safe, went to the A&E department of my local hospital. I was sent home after a few hours, but told to return again if anything worsened. On Thursday, the bleeding hadn't gone away, so I returned to the hospital. I was attached to various monitors for a few hours. When I was about to get ready to go home, the monitors began going crazy. The doctor came in, checked the reports and said Noa’s heart had stopped. Fortunately, her stats were now fine, however they decided I needed to stay in overnight. That was the start of it ...

How was your in-hospital care? Were you given concise information on what to potentially expect?

The care was over and above what I had had in my previous pregnancies. It was simply the highest level of professionalism with the perfect dose of empathy. I will still to this day describe them all as angels.

Nothing can prepare you for the moment you’re told that your baby is coming early. What measures were taken by the medical team ?

At 3.15pm on Friday - the day after I was admitted - my husband was told to take our two daughters home and to come straight back. The minute he left they injected me with steroids, which were to help Noa’s immature lungs develop ready for birth. My doctor advised shortly after that an emergency caesarean would need to be carried out straight away to save both our lives. I remember not feeling unwell in the slightest and being quietly introduced to an anaesthetist - it was all very surreal but calm. An oxygen mask was put over my face and I remember counting down and only getting as far as 8! 

Noa was born at 4.28pm on 22nd September 2018 weighing 1.24kg and 30cm long. She was 30 weeks old.

Tell us about the days and weeks after Noa’s birth - when was she allowed home?

Later that evening Noa was transferred to the NHS Glasgow Royal Hospital for Sick Children where she was given a life saving operation just 24 hours later. She was given blood transfusions and had wires taped all over her, with tubes coming out of all different places. There were so many machines and so many different beeps and alarms. There were a few small setbsack whilst she was in the special care unit, yet I always had this feeling that she was going to make it. I knew she was a little warrior who was going to keep going. I got my strength from her. Noa was in the NICU for a total of 87 days and she finally came home on 18th December 2018 to which we were delighted. Today Noa is a happy, thriving soon-to-be two year old who has triumphantly overcome all her birth related setbacks and illnesses. 

What tips would you give to other parents who have a newborn premature baby?

- I would firstly recommend you eat, drink and sleep. Make sure you look after you as you're no good to anyone if you get sick. Consequently, you will not be let near your baby with even a slight sniff and it's so important at this time for your baby to get to smell you and hear your heart-beat regularly, to remind them that you're there and to encourage them, to thrive.

- Take one day at a time. Stop daily and remind yourself everything that is worth fighting for. Take time each day to think about how far you have come. Focus on the positive wins and mini-milestones. 

 - Never forget to tell those you love that they are appreciated so much. If you have other children, hold each one of them close. Make separate time for them too, as they will have their own worries and concerns and they will also be missing their mummy. 

All images by @noaselenac

Follow Noa and her family | Instagram


The NHS in the UK & Scotland offer advice to any expecting mums on premature labour, including information on when to seek medical advice. 

Follow the link to the Premature labour and birth - your pregnancy and baby guide | HERE 

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