Touch and go for best present ever
Like any concerned mum, Clarissa Bromelle ensures her baby is snug and cosy before he leaves the warmth of the hospital for the first time. And as the biting frost and freezing fog looms outside, Zebedee needs to be properly protected from the cold before he can take his first journey home with his parents.
Like any concerned mum, Clarissa Bromelle ensures her baby is snug and cosy before he leaves the warmth of the hospital for the first time.
And as the biting frost and freezing fog looms outside, Zebedee needs to be properly protected from the cold before he can take his first journey home with his parents.
Yet had he headed home soon after he was born, like any healthy baby, his parents would have wanted to shelter him from the fierce rays of the sun during a record-breaking heatwave.
It is a measure of Zebedee's incredible journey that he was meant to come in to the world during the grey skies and drizzle of November, but arrived dramatically and completely unexpectedly on a burning hot day in July.
His story - and that of his brave parents - actually begins a year before that, when Miss Bromelle, 35, and partner Joseph Man, 27, suffered the heartache of a series of miscarriages.
“It's just been the most incredible rollercoaster,” said Miss Bromelle as the family sit together in the special baby care unit for the last time.
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“I don't know how we've managed to get through it but Zebedee helped us because he has been fighting all the way.
“Now I'm just relieved it's happening - we can finally take him home.”
The doting mother is so pleased at finally hearing some good news that she describes the tough times and the panic with an incredible sense of calm, giggling and smiling every now and then as Zebedee squirms and stretches in his father's arms.
But this new family has been through a mammoth ordeal to get to this special moment.
“We've lost four babies, and Zebedee is my first successful pregnancy,” she said. “He was meant to be due on November 12, but he came very early at 23 weeks while we were at a festival.”
The couple, from East Harling in south Norfolk, were at a private music event in the county on July 14, little more than halfway through the pregnancy, when Miss Bromelle suddenly and inexplicably went in to labour.
She had to be rushed to a neo-natal intensive care unit, but to make matters worse, the department at Norwich was full to capacity - leaving no choice but to go to Luton and Dunstable Hospital.
“I thought whatever would be, would be, and then it wasn't until I was in the ambulance that I really realised what was happening,” said Miss Bromelle.
“I didn't really know anything about premature babies and what age they can survive and didn't realise that he probably wouldn't make it if he had been born at that point.
“It wasn't looking good.
“I was in labour, my contractions were four minutes apart and the paramedics said there was nothing they could offer me if the baby was born in the ambulance. Babies cannot survive at 22 weeks.
“They said if he was born they would lay him on my chest and I would be able to say goodbye.
“I can remember all it very clearly. I think I was philosophical about it. I thought 'I am going to lose this baby and I am going to have to get on with it'.”
Miraculously, Miss Bromelle managed to hold on to Zebedee for the entire two-hour journey.
Not only that, she remained in the vulnerable and uncomfortable state for five long days before Zebedee finally arrived by natural birth on July 19, weighing just under 1lb and measuring about eight inches long.
“He cried, which is amazing for a baby at 23 weeks, because they don't have the lung capacity to take a deep breath,” explained Miss Bromelle.
“I had had a beautiful baby and I was really proud, but the feeling of joy was coupled with the fact that we expected him to die, and we were really prepared for that.
“He had some heart and lung problems because his system was not developed, and we couldn't hold him in our arms. When I eventually did, it was amazing.”
A month later, Zebedee was transferred to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital for surgery - on his duodenum which was trapped and could not take in any food, and an operation on his eyes to help save his sight.
“He was very unstable at that point,” she added.
“According to the sister that's been here the longest, he is the smallest and earliest surviving baby at this hospital.”
Along with the emotional strain of watching their child's life hang in the balance, the couple became exhausted with all the travelling to and from the hospital - with Mr Man clocking up hundreds of miles between Norfolk and Luton during July and August alone.
“I'd have to rush down after a long day work, not knowing what I would find at the other end, and that was very, very scary,” said Mr Man, who, like his partner, worked in the film industry and in the summer was on the set of Stephen Fry's new drama, Kingdom, in Swaffham.
Small tasks like changing nappies became huge milestones, but much of Zebedee's progress was one step forward, one step back.
Mr Milind Kulkarni, consultant paediatric surgeon, said: “It was touch and go at the start, but Zebedee has progressed tremendously.
“It has been brilliant achievement, to see him come through everything that he has had to undergo.
“He is a tough little fighter”.
Now Zebedee is a healthy 6lb 4oz and feeding from a bottle, his parents cannot wait to settle in to family life.
“All our parenting so far has been surrounded by medical staff, and that's very stressful, so being at home will be so wonderfully normal,” said Miss Bromelle.
“He has still got chronic lung disease, which is something premature babies get from the ventilators and he still needs to have a tiny bit of oxygen, but we are going home with a normal baby now.
“At the moment he is absolutely fine but of course we will have to be careful.”
Her eyes watering, she added: “I think we will sit at home for Christmas and just look at him the whole time.
“I absolutely adore him and love him so much and he's been such a strong little boy and soldiered on.
“We're just so happy that he is healthy.”
As the couple left to go, Mr Man said: “We haven't sorted out the tree, the cards, anything, but we've got one awesome, massive Christmas present.
“Him,” he added, beaming at Zebedee.
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