Couple release pictures of their baby daughter who was born at 22 weeks weighing just 1lb 1oz

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A couple have released powerful photos of their baby daughter who is now thriving after being born at 22 weeks, two days – weighing just 1lb 1oz.

Baby Evie’s journey was made all the more poignant as in 2018 her parents Chrissie Fegan, 32, and Jonny Kirkham, 37, lost her brother Ethan, who was born sleeping at just 21 weeks and three days.

Training coach Chrissie has recalled their relief when she and Jonny, who works in finance, saw her breathe for the first time.

The mum, of Stalybridge, Greater Manchester, said: “All we could say to one another was, ‘She’s breathing.’



Chrissie and Evie on 1 March

“When she was weighed, Evie was just 487g. The doctors said they’d never seen a baby survive who was born before 22 weeks five days weighing less than 500g.”

The couple knew that becoming parents would be hard, after doctors told them in 2017 that they both had fertility issues.

Qualifying for one round of IVF on the NHS, they began treatment in June 2018 and were cautiously optimistic when Chrissie fell pregnant a month later.

But she went into labour in November, shortly after her 20-week scan, during which she had found out she was expecting a boy.

Despite her greatest efforts to hang on and improve her son Ethan’s chances of survival, she developed a dangerous infection, meaning she had to deliver her son, who was born sleeping at just 21 weeks and three days.

Speaking candidly, Jonny said: “I could see Chrissie fighting to save our baby, but it got to the point where the infection was turning septic and I was terrified I’d lose her, too.

“I can’t imagine how upsetting it was for her, as a woman, to go through the pain of labour and childbirth, knowing Ethan wouldn’t survive. I don’t know where she found the strength.”

Lost in grief, the couple put the thought of trying for another baby to the back of their minds – assuming that, when the time came, they would require further IVF.

Then, Chrissie fell pregnant naturally in August 2019. Her happiness was bittersweet, as she feared history would repeat itself and told loved ones: “Don’t congratulate us until there’s a baby in our arms.”

But, despite Evie being born at 22 weeks, two days – before the 24-week legal abortion limit in England, Scotland and Wales – her 1lb 1oz baby made it.



The first picture of Evie, taken 30 minutes after she was born

It was not, however, a straightforward journey. The remarkable tot fought off sepsis – an often deadly reaction to infection – as well as a group B strep bacterial infection, all against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

Then, eventually, in May 2020, after 141 long days in hospital, Evie finally went home, where she is now thriving.

Speaking to mark World Prematurity Day on 17 November, Chrissie and Jonny want to offer hope to other parents in their situation and to prove that babies born at 22 weeks can survive.

Chrissie said: “We can’t fault the doctors and nurses that looked after us. They were incredible and we felt so supported. But we’ve read so many stories of parents having to really fight, because some hospital guidelines do not consider babies viable until 24 weeks.”

She added: “It’s not about having a blanket rule for every pregnancy – it’s about empowering parents to seek out information so they can have those honest conversations with doctors.”



Chrissie shopping for maternity clothes days before Evie was born

Chrissie and Jonny discovered she had a low egg count and he had a low sperm count, which could make conception very difficult, in 2017, after two years of trying for a family.

She said: “The doctor was very black and white, telling us our chances of having children naturally were slim.”

She added: “At first, we didn’t want to confront it and make it real – but because I had so few eggs left, I was at risk of entering the menopause early. We couldn’t ignore it forever when time was a factor.”

The following summer, the couple began IVF, and Chrissie fell pregnant a month later.

At first, everything ran smoothly – although the pair struggled to ignore the nagging worries in the back of their minds.

“We were quite matter of fact about it all,” explained Jonny. “We almost didn’t want to emotionally tie ourselves to the process.

“It seemed too good to be true. How would we bounce back if it all went wrong?”

At their 20-week scan at Manchester’s Saint Mary’s Hospital, they discovered they were having a boy.

But a nurse noticed that Chrissie’s cervix had started to open – meaning she was at risk of going into labour at any moment.

Despite being given medication to strengthen her womb, just two days later, she began having what she now knows were contractions.

Medics planned to close her cervix with an emergency stitch – but as she was being prepared for surgery, tests showed the infection markers in her blood to be sky-high.

“I’d contracted an infection in my womb, which was on the brink of turning septic,” Chrissie explained. “That meant surgery was just too dangerous.

“Jonny begged doctors to try and help Ethan when he was born. He even Googled, ‘Youngest premature baby to survive’ to see if I could find any stories to give us hope.



Evie on Christmas Day 2019, weighing just 419 grams

“It felt like it was our only chance to have a child, and we wanted to do everything we could.”

Brave Chrissie held on for as long as she could, but when she began to develop sepsis, she had no choice but to deliver Ethan, who was heartbreakingly born sleeping on 26 November.

Looked after by a specialist team at the hospital’s Tommy’s Rainbow Clinic, the couple were able to dress and bathe their boy before they said goodbye.

“The support we got was incredible,” said Chrissie. “We were given our own private room, which sounds like such a small thing, but meant the world. It gave us privacy, and meant I was away from the maternity ward and couldn’t hear other mums and babies.”

Next, they faced the harrowing task of organising Ethan’s funeral. But, a true testament to their strength, they vowed not to let their unthinkable loss define the rest of their lives.



Evie at three weeks old recovering from sepsis

Jonny said: “I did slightly bury my head in the sand about it at first, and couldn’t face talking about it, but I also knew that, at some point, I’d have to pick myself up.

“Neither Chrissie nor I wanted what happened to define us. As time has gone on, the loss hasn’t hurt any less, but we’ve learnt to cope.”

As 2019 dawned, Jonny and Chrissie moved house and he changed job, while further fertility tests showed that she had an incompetent cervix.

This causes the cervix to open and shorten during the second trimester of pregnancy, from 16 weeks onwards.

So when Chrissie fell pregnant naturally in August 2019, the couple were taken by surprise.



Jonny and Chrissie finally taking Evie from from NICU after 141 days

She said: “The first sign I had was that my sense of smell had changed. I was in the supermarket when I noticed it, and thought, ‘I’ll pick up a test, to be sure.’

“I wasn’t expecting anything, so when I got home and it was positive, my jaw dropped. I was in the bathroom, stood still in complete shock.”

But Jonny said their heartbreak over losing Ethan dampened their joy.

He added: “It’s easy to think we’d be in a state of complete elation, and of course we were happy, but the main emotion was fear. We couldn’t bear to think about going through it again.”

Due to her incompetent cervix, Chrissie had a stitch put in at 12 weeks.



Evie at one month old

A scan four weeks later showed signs that her cervix was trying to open again – and that the stitch was the only thing stopping it.

At 20 weeks, they discovered were expecting a girl. Then, at 21 weeks and five days, Chrissie’s waters broke.

“We had done lots of our own research, so knew exactly what treatment options to discuss with doctors, and how important it was to avoid infection,” she said. “At first, I was advised to remove the stitch, but I begged to have it in a while longer. I didn’t want to deliver so early that I’d lose another baby.

“After lengthy discussions, doctors agreed to monitor me very closely and see how things went. At 22 weeks, they gave me steroids to strengthen my baby’s lungs.”

On 23 December, at 22 weeks and two days, the pain of the stitch pulling on Chrissie’s cervix became unbearable.

Raced down to theatre, she had it removed – and her daughter, Evie, meaning, ‘to live’ was born just 30 minutes later.

“The doctors had said that if Evie showed signs of life, they’d be there, ready to help her fight,” she continued. “That really put our minds at ease – especially when we glanced down and saw her, wriggling and crying away.”

Weighing just 487g, when doctors said they had never seen a baby born at 22 weeks weighing less then 500g survive, Chrissie had just one answer.

She recalled: “I said, ‘Well, let her break the record and prove you wrong.”

So premature that her eyes were initially fused together, Evie was immediately hooked up to a ventilator to help her breathe. Rushed off to neonatal intensive care, she faced a tough fight.

At a few days old, her weight dropped to 412g, and then at three weeks old, she contracted sepsis.



Evie on oxygen in April

Her parents were warned she may not make it – but as they held her tiny hands through an incubator, she opened her eyes for the first time and looked right at them.

“There were points where I didn’t know if she’d pull through, but the nurses never let me crumble,” said Chrissie. “They showed me how to comfort her through the incubator. I knew I had to be calm to keep Evie calm.”

“That moment she opened her eyes will stay with me forever. It was like she was saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’m a fighter.’”

Since then, Chrissie and Jonny have faced many other terrifying twists and turns, not least the coronavirus pandemic, which saw Evie in isolation and the couple unable to visit her at the same time.



Evie with Jonny on his birthday in May

Because of the national lockdown, several of her family members have never met Evie in real life.

But, supported by Saint Mary’s and Tameside Hospital, where Evie was moved to in April, in May 2020, after 141 long days, the couple finally brought their daughter home.

“We’d immersed ourselves so much in what was going on around us in hospital – mostly so that we understood what was being said and what all the stats and medical terminology meant,” said Jonny.

“We were almost programmed to do what the nurses had been doing, so that we could look after her when she came home. Still, her first night was very surreal – I don’t think either of us slept a wink.”

In July, Evie, who is believed by her besotted parents to be one of the youngest premature babies born in the UK to survive, came off oxygen, and now, she continues to go from strength to strength.

She has certainly defied the odds, with statistics from Tommy’s showing that only around 10 per cent of babies born at 22 weeks make it, while Office of National Statistics recorded just 832 births in England under 24 weeks in 2018.

Now Chrissie and Jonny – who are promoting World Prematurity Day, which seeks to raise awareness of the one in 10 pregnancies internationally that end prematurely and the impact this can have on families – are keen to make sure both parents and hospitals are aware of the latest British Association of Perinatal Medicine framework, which details treatment options for babies born at 22 weeks.

They want premature labour to be approached on more of a case-by-case basis, giving babies like Evie a greater chance of survival.

Chrissie said: “Evie is living proof that babies can survive – and thrive – at 22 weeks if they are given a chance.”



Evie in October 2020

Tommy’s midwifery manager Kate Marsh added: “We have around 60,000 premature babies in the UK each year, and medical advances mean we’re getting better at helping them to survive and thrive – but unfortunately these little fighters don’t always make it, or being born too soon can leave them with lifelong health problems.”

“The survival rate for babies born at 22 weeks is around 10% so Evie has really overcome the odds, and her family’s story will give hope to many parents who may be worried about the future,” she continued.

“It’s not always possible to explain the causes of premature birth, and the absence of answers can leave parents feeling isolated or blaming themselves, so it’s really important that families have a platform to speak out and support one another.

“Not knowing why it happens also makes it harder to treat, which is why Tommy’s premature birth research centres and clinics are so vital, working to understand the science behind it and translate that knowledge into care that saves babies’ lives.”



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