On 27 November 2019, Mel was sitting at her desk at work when she felt her first contraction.
She was just 33 weeks pregnant, one week more than when she had given birth prematurely to her first child, Albie, four years earlier.
“When you’re expecting, no one ever talks about not being able to bring your baby home straight away.
“We stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) when our first child, Albie, came into the world at 32 weeks, so we knew that we’d be very well looked after if things didn’t go to plan. But just because we knew what to expect didn’t make it any easier.
“After a 48-hour labour, Ava arrived. She was briefly put on my chest before being whisked off to the High Dependency Unit in NICU, where she was put onto CPAP for 12 hours, a machine which supported her tiny lungs and helped her breathe.
“Despite feeling at home, I had forgotten how tough it is in NICU. You are surrounded by other families who are going through just as much pain as you are, if not more, and you go home still hearing the beeps of the monitors. I still hear them now sometimes when I think about it.
“She stayed in NICU for 27 days, where the team managed her jaundice and helped me establish breastfeeding to get her to put more weight on.”
“We had Albie at home, who was getting excited about Father Christmas, yet we couldn’t think about anything other than the fact that Ava may spend her first Christmas in NICU and not at home with us. NICU was hard the first time as it was all so unknown, but it was just as hard the second time around when you have another child to look after at home.
“On Christmas Eve, Albie, my husband Shaun, and I read Ava ‘The Night Before Christmas’, one of my family traditions, before we headed home to try and make our hardest Christmas a great one for Albie.
“I cried a lot when we left her that afternoon. I felt sick having to leave her. It was then that Albie grabbed my hand and said, “It’s okay Mum, she will be home for Christmas. We will see her tomorrow.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him I thought the opposite.“
“On Christmas morning, we were just about to cook breakfast when my husband yelled out, “Babe! I have a video of Ava from the NICU team!” The video showed Ava in a Santa hat, saying, ‘I’m ready to come home for Christmas’.
“I burst into tears, hugged Shaun and Albie, and we ran out the door. When we arrived at NICU, the nurses had everything ready so we could take her straight home. It really was the best Christmas present ever.
“Ava is now a happy and healthy two-year-old. We are so thankful to the incredible teams at Southmead Hospital that made that possible. Many families unfortunately won’t have that. They are always in our thoughts, as are the other families who are in NICU this Christmas.”
“Albie and Ava are happy, healthy, and boisterous and the best of friends. They have a special bond, which I think is down to them both being NICU warrior babies. They are strong and resilient. And despite their early entrance, I wouldn’t change a thing. It has made them who they are today.”
“Please donate whatever you can – big or small, every single donation makes a difference to families like mine, going through a really scary time this Christmas. You could help pay for the meals for parents, Christmas presents for those babies still on the unit, and help to provide the best lifesaving equipment to help more babies make it home like Ava.” Shaun, Ava & Albie’s dad