The Coldstream community is rallying around the family of a little girl who was born astonishingly premature.
Emily Grace was born to Claire Cressey and Alan Coultas after just 24 weeks and four days gestation. At birth she weighed just 1lb 30z.
She made her entrance into the world late at night on February 27, less than an hour before her mum’s own birthday. “It was terrible, I didn’t know what to think, having thought I would be having a nice birthday on the 28th,” said Claire.
Emily is now in the care of nurses at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, where mum and dad visit her as often as they can - which, of course, can never be often enough for them.
“Alan is new in his job, building wind turbines in the eastern Borders,” said Claire, “so he’s just got unpaid paternity leave.
“At the minute he is working 10 days straight, for 12 hours at a time, then having four days off.
“Which leaves me without childcare and transport if I want to visit. Emily is so unique, at 24 weeks. She’s so special. We’re absolutely ruined. We know that at the Infirmary she has become quite a popular little thing, but it is our lives...”
Claire admits it has been hard explaining the situation to Emily’s three sisters, Caitlin, aged eight, Millie, four and Brooke, aged one.
“We’ve kept Caitlin in school,” said Claire, “and there is nursery for the littlest girls,”she added, “but they have been up to visit their youngest sister.
“It is a very difficult situation when we are at the hospital. The girls are only young, so of course they get fed up and bored being there.”
The family are full of praise for the nursing staff, though.
“The nurses up there are absolutely fantastic, around the clock,” said Claire. “They didn’t know what they were getting, either, and I just can’t praise them enough.”
Because of the distance and difficulties with transport and child care, Claire doesn’t see Emily as often as she would like. The situation also means Emily is not always taking in her mothers’ milk.
“I express milk, and sometimes when we know we can’t get up there for a few days, we freeze it,” said Claire. “Of course, it means that what she has isn’t always mother’s milk, there’s not the immune system in it, it’s not natural, but we’ve got to do what we can.”
Claire and Alan, originally from Morecambe, set up home in Coldstream after working in the holiday industry for several years. They say that the community has helped them immensely during an incredibly stressful period.
“The local people have been great, truly fantastic,” said Claire. “They’ve really rallied round, and they help us with as much as they can.”
One example of this caring spirit came from the Reverend David Taverner,who travelled to Edinburgh specially to give plucky Emily her baptism.
Rev Taverner learnt about Emily from her elder sister, Caitlin, who wrote him a letter and presented him with it at a school assembly.
“It read: “Dear Vicar, please may you say a pray for our new baby sister (born 27th Feb).
She is very ill.
We will be at church on Sunday to do the same.
Love Caitlin Cressey.”
“The service was a massive comfort for the family,” said Claire. “We’re very grateful.”
The christening marks another milestone in Emily’s already dramatic life. Claire said that registering Emily’s birth - without her newborn being present - was a perplexing experience. Emily was registered by a proud mum and dad on March 7. “Finally,” Claire wrote, “she has a place in life with her own birth certificate.
“I had a few tears as other mummies had their babies in car seats showing them off to anyone that would look, but we stood firm to sign,” she said. Claire has set up a Facebook page, Emily’s Journey, detailing the family’s struggle.
“We set ‘Emily’s Journey’ up as somewhere for ‘preemie’ mums - those with premature babies - to meet and talk about their experiences,” said Claire. “We have had some fantastic responses and help from that.”
Claire has vocalised the emotions of many premature babies’ parents, who often feel panicked about going out into the world with a child under constant care, miles away.
“People were unsure what to do when she was born, whether to send the usual cards and things. But now our house is full of the most amazing pink cards and trinkets, all so amazing. I’m very proud and happy. I feel for the first time like we have a baby girl.”
The site also details what Claire and Alan describe as “real world” problems that they wish they could do without - such as the very real cost of seeing their tiny daughter. Sadly, even despite a discount card, parking at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary is not free, and together with the fuel costs, the couple are spending £110 a week, a three hour round trip at a time.
Claire has acknowledged this difficulty, and, while she stresses she is not begging, and does not expect anything, it is possible to make a donation through Emily’s Journey.
All the work and worry looks to be worth it. Emily is now up to 1lb 40z, an especially large weight gain in such a premature child, and while she is still in an incubator and on drips, she is enjoying her milk. And baby Emily still has the ability to surprise her family. Claire described getting “The shock of our lives walking onto the unit seeing Emily there with her eyes open.
“It took my breath away, I can not even put into words how this made us feel, simply amazing - so proud.”
To follow little Emily’s incredible journey, visit her facebook page