Albee and Sam on Christmas Day and Albee now, one-year-old (Picture: Sam Greenhough)With just days left until Christmas, Sam Greenhough and Jamie Palmer were writing their list for their final food shop.
This was their last Christmas as just the two of them as Sam was 31 weeks pregnant with their first baby.
But after finishing dinner and grabbing their list, Sam, 33, felt a pop – her waters had broke.
With nine weeks still to go, the couple, from Exeter, Devon, knew their baby was going to be premature if it was born now and they rushed to hospital.
Baby Albert weighed just 3lb 13oz when he was born later that day and he spent five weeks on the neonatal ward.
Luckily, despite being premature, Albert, or Albee as his parents nicknamed him, is thriving and celebrated his first birthday this weekend.
Sam tells Metro.co.uk: ‘We always say Albee was never ill, just undercooked and he still came home almost a month early and has continued to amaze us every day.’
Although they knew they really wanted kids, doctors told them that they were unsure if they would conceive naturally as Sam has polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS causes many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) that surround the eggs, meaning irregular periods and often causes fertility problems.
But in February 2018, Sam and 39-year-old museum assistant Jamie learnt they were expecting a baby.
We talked about having a baby and it was something we both really wanted but doctors were unsure if we could conceive due to Sam having PCOS.
Sam explains: ‘We were over the moon.
‘Everything was very straightforward until about week 26 when we had a small bleed. The doctors weren’t concerned but it was quite a scare for us at the time. I had a couple of days bed rest and all was back to normal.’
By Christmas time, the couple were starting to prepare for their baby’s arrival but had the festive season to get through first – and they thought they had lots of time.
On 21 December, they were making their final preparations when Sam’s labour started.
Jamie explains: ‘We were having dinner and prepping to go out to do our final food shop for Christmas. Sam’s waters broke at about 6:30 pm and we got to the hospital around 7.
‘We spent some time in triage and no one was certain that anything was going to happen.
‘We were at 31+2 weeks and obviously, they wanted him to stay where he was.
‘The cervix was closed and even though Sam swore she was feeling contractions. the CTG wasn’t picking anything up.
‘Sam was feeling sick and had to make frequent trips to the bathroom but still, nothing seemed to be happening.’
But when the midwives changed shift and came to check on Sam again, they realised that the baby was coming.
She was wheeled to the birthing suite and given steroid injections to help develop his lungs because he was premature.
Jamie adds: ‘We were told Sam would stay in for the night and be sent home in the morning but be under observation from the midwife but during the final examination the doctor suddenly said “oh I can see his hair so we are going to have to push”
‘At this point, paediatrics and neonatal were on standby and started prepping various equipment in the room. We didn’t really have time to worry and there certainly wasn’t any time for pain relief.
‘To this day we don’t know if the birth took 10 minutes or half an hour but it was quick and for the last moments everyone, but two staff left the room and it all seemed really quiet. And then we heard Albee cry.’
Albee was wheeled over for a few minutes so Sam could see him and touch him before he was taken to the neonatal unit.
Jamie followed him while Sam recovered.
He says: ‘I stood a little dazed as they worked on him for about an hour, putting lines in, doing heel prick tests, injections and connecting up an array of monitors before settling him into his incubator.
‘I went and found Sam after her post-birth checks and we both went and sat with him, both a bit in shock.’
Three days later, the couple celebrated their first Christmas with their new son – but it was far from what they had planned.
Sam adds: ‘We hadn’t really thought about it being Christmas after the birth. On Christmas morning, we walked into the unit and Albee’s incubator was decorated, surrounded by gifts and had a card to us from Albee, decorated with his footprints.
‘It was also the first day he opened his eyes. We broke down a little that day, overwhelmed not only by the situation we found ourselves in but also by the love and generosity of strangers we experienced.’
Jamie adds: ‘Being on the unit at Christmas was hard, but it would be hard any time of the year. It really focused us on what was important, that being together as a family was what mattered wherever we were.
‘We missed the hospital’s Christmas carvery by about an hour and ended up having cold sausage roll and stale chips for our Christmas dinner.
‘The man behind the counter told us all the wonderful food we’d missed while scooping our dry chips onto the plates but honestly, I don’t think either of us cared. it was a good trade to see those big eyes open.’
In the weeks that followed, Albee slowly built up strength and he was able to come home on 26 January, five weeks after he was born.
Since then, he has thrived and he celebrated his first birthday this weekend.
Jamie adds: ‘He’s developed fantastically and only caught one virus that he kicked in a few days.
‘He’s determined and cheeky with a smile that seems to melt hearts everywhere he goes.
‘He didn’t take long in catching up to full-term development expectations.
‘He’s well-tempered and a 12-hour sleeper since three months. He really is a dream and we couldn’t have asked for a better baby.’
This Christmas is their first one having Albee at home and they plan to celebrate properly.
Sam adds: ‘We plan to stay at home, be cosy and cook for the grandparents. It’s all about us and Albee being at home.’
For Albee’s first birthday, they fundraised for the neonatal unit where he was born and Snug. They are also taking part in the Christmas campaign for Bliss, the leading UK charity for premature or sick babies.
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