Mum with 'miracle' baby born at 24 weeks praises mental health support
Posted on Thursday 18th April 2019
Baby Storm and her mum, Jessica
Jessica Elliott shares her story during the UK’s first ever Neonatal Mental Health Awareness Week to encourage others to talk about their experience of having a premature baby.
Jessica Elliott gave birth to Storm at St Thomas’ Hospital four months early and weighing just 1lb 4ozs.
Storm was immediately taken through to the neonatal unit at Evelina London Children’s Hospital co-located with the St Thomas' maternity unit, where she received specialist care.
Dr Rebecca Chilvers is a clinical psychologist based in the neonatal unit at Evelina London where she provides immediate support to parents when they need it. Jessica says mental health support helped her to cope during the traumatic time.
Dr Chilvers, said: “Having a baby admitted to a neonatal unit has a huge impact on the whole family. It is vitally important that appropriate and timely psychological support is given to families, and the people who work with them, to reduce the immediate and long-term impact on their mental health and emotional wellbeing.
“Parents in this situation cannot wait weeks for a referral so being based in the unit means I can support them immediately, and they don’t have to be separated from their baby.”
Jessica Elliott, 31, a children’s talent coach from Lewisham in south London, shares her story: “It’s weird to have a baby and then you don’t see them because they get whisked away. I was so grateful that she was alive but I knew she was in a bad way.
“The first thing I thought when I saw her was ‘wow’ because she was so tiny and was lying in an incubator hooked up to lots of tubes. It took a while for everything to sink in so the first week in the neonatal unit was okay, but it was the weeks that followed that were hard.
“At the time I didn’t really talk to the other mums because I was trying to protect myself.
“Whenever family and friends asked me how Storm was doing I’d just say ‘she’s fine’ because I didn’t want to go into detail about what she was going through. Some people tried to be helpful but ended up saying things that made it worse.
"I tried to keep an upbeat attitude and some form of normality by putting on make-up and getting dressed, but for my own sanity and mental health there came a point when I had to talk about it.
“There were times when I felt like a bad mum because I was trying to express milk but not much was coming as she was born so early. I started to freak out about germs and was also very afraid to hold her because she was so small.
“Speaking to a professional who fully understood what was going on meant I could talk freely about any concerns, and she helped me to find ways and strategies to hold everything together.”
Storm spent 12 weeks in our neonatal unit and underwent 15 blood transfusions in that time, before being transferred to her local hospital where she was an inpatient for a further two months.
She recently celebrated her first birthday with a family party and a visit to Evelina London to meet the staff who saved her life.
Jessica said: “Although we didn’t want to be in that situation, we couldn’t have asked for better care, from the cleaners to the consultants everyone was so nice. The support from the clinical psychologist was amazing and really helped me get through a traumatic time.
“Storm is now fine and to look at her you would never know what she went through – she’s like a miracle.”
Neonatal Mental Health Awareness Week
Neonatal Mental Health Awareness Week was launched in 2019 by the charity, Leo’s, to highlight the long-lasting impacts on the mental health of parents, siblings and grandparents when they have been on a neonatal journey.
Evelina London's neonatal unit cares for more than 1,000 babies a year, and has some of the best survival rates in the UK.
Our Evelina 150 Stories
This article is part of a series of Evelina 150 Stories that we are sharing in celebration of our special 150th anniversary year.
150 years ago, Evelina London was born out of love, when Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild founded the hospital in memory of his wife, Evelina. Since 1869, we've been saving lives, improving health and inspiring better futures.
Find out more about how we are marking our special birthday: evelinalondon.nhs.uk/150.