Here, Jessica Abbey, 24, tells the story in her own words.
￼I tried to take in what the doctor was saying. Feeling awful and suffering from a fever, I’d been sent to the hospital by my GP.
When I arrived, I received quite a shock. ‘Do you know you’re nine weeks pregnant?’ the doctor asked. I shook my head, stunned.
I’d just started seeing someone new but our relationship wasn’t serious. Already a single mum to my beautiful son, Oliver, then five, who has autism, I wondered how I would cope alone with a second bub.
I’ll find a way, I thought, determined. After being diagnosed with an infection, I spent a week recovering in hospital.At my 20-week scan, I was thrilled to find out that I was having a girl.What I didn’t realise was just how soon I’d meet her.
Two weeks later, I started losing lots of blood. Sent for an ultrasound, it showed that my baby was alive, but they couldn’t tell me what was wrong.
Then, a week later, I got a phone call from the hospital.‘We think your baby might have a twisted bowel,’ the specialist said.
Rushing to the hospital, I desperately hoped she’d be okay. But I was given devastating news. Her bowel was fine but my placenta was detaching. My bub’s only chance at life was an emergency C-section the following day. I was barely 24 weeks pregnant.
‘It’s very likely your baby won’t survive,’ the doctor told me gently. He ran through what would happen and started preparing a death certificate. No, I thought. I can’t think like that.‘If she does survive, she’ll be very fragile,’ he added.
She’ll be like a crystal, I realised. Precious and delicate. That’s her name, I decided. She’s Crystal Mae.
The next day, I walked into theatre. Terrified, I realised there were 40 medics. I tried to think positively while my Mum, Sara, 41, waited outside.When Crystal was born, she didn’t make a sound and was whisked away before I could see her. But she was alive.
I wasn’t allowed to visit Crystal until the feeling returned to my legs, but Mum stayed with her. She sent a photo of my girl next to her hand. Crystal’s head, covered in a beanie to keep her warm, was half as long as Mum’s little finger. She’s so tiny, I panicked. How could she survive?
Later that night, I was taken to see her. Peering inside her incubator, I saw her tiny body was in a zip-lock bag for warmth.
The size of a coke can, she weighed just 425 grams. ‘I’m sorry,’ I whispered. ‘It’s my fault you’re here so early.’
Of course, I wasn’t to blame but I still felt like I’d failed. ‘I can’t leave her,’ I told Mum, who agreed to look after Oliver while I stayed
by Crystal’s bedside.
Each day was agonising. Her weight plummeted to 364 grams, her lungs collapsed and she had bleeds on her brain. Watching her fight for life, I felt helpless. I couldn’t cuddle my girl, or even feed or change her.
It was more than four weeks before she was gently placed on my chest. Her tubes were taped to me to keep them still. I was scared to move a muscle, but it was a magical moment. She was so light, I couldn’t even feel her.
I stayed close to the hospital, at a Ronald McDonald House. One night, when Crystal was four months old, I was woken up by my phone ringing at 2.30am. Knowing it was the NICU, my heart dropped.
‘Jessica, you need to come,’ a doctor said. ‘You might have to say goodbye.’
I ran out of the house, not even stopping to put shoes on. When I reached her, she was surrounded by staff. Her heart rate dangerously low, I reached into the incubator to touch her, willing her to survive.
Holding my breath, I watched the monitor. Amazingly, her heart rate started to pick up. Does she know I’m here? I wondered.
Incredibly, my little fighter pulled through.
Soon after, I was allowed to change her nappy. I struggled to find clothes small enough, so I went to Build-A-Bear and picked out some pretty teddy-sized outfits. Dressing Crystal, I finally felt like a real mum to her.
After five months in hospital, she was allowed home. It was wonderful but it felt so strange to be alone with her.
Scared we’d need a doctor, I was constantly on edge. But Mum and my friend Gavin, 47, helped me settle in. Big brother Oliver soon loved her, too.
Now, two-and-a-half years on, Crystal has defied so many odds. I was warned she might never speak or walk, but, although she has cerebral palsy, she walks with a frame and can say a few words.
She has brittle bones, so she’s still our fragile girl.
My friendship with Gavin turned into something special, and we’re set to get married in December. And Crystal is now a big sister to six-month-old Hunter. My girl has come so far, and I’m sure she’ll keep on amazing us every day.
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