BRITAIN’S smallest and most premature baby is fighting for her life at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
Tiny Emily Cressey is so fragile that her parents have not yet been able to hold her.
These astonishing photographs show the moment she opened her eyes to the world for the very first time, less than a week ago. Mum and dad Claire Cressey and Alan Coultas, look lovingly back, desperately willing their “little miracle” to keep showing signs she is gradually getting stronger.
At three weeks old today – and amongst Scotland’s tiniest-ever babies – she is facing a daily battle to survive following her unexpected arrival on February 27, weighing just 1lb 3oz.
So small she would fit into the palm of a hand, doctors at the Simpson maternity unit are working around the clock to help her develop.
Mum-of-four Claire, 34, said it was a feeling of “huge panic and devastation” when she went into labour only six months into her pregnancy and at a stage still legal to have a termination.
A medical team from the Capital transported her from her home in the Borders by ambulance to ensure experts were on hand to give Emily the help necessary to survive beyond birth.
They arrived at the hospital with minutes to spare following the four-hour labour before whisking Emily off to the neonatal unit and placing her in an incubator.
“When I first saw her, I was absolutely petrified,” said Claire. “I was frightened to death of her, she was so tiny and they immediately put her in a little bag to keep her temperature from dropping.
“I just cried when I saw her.
“You feel shock, horror, fear, it’s your worst emotions coming true – everything you never want to feel. As a mum, you know it is too early, it’s not right and it goes against nature but Emily was clearly doing her own thing and still is. She’s a little fighter.
“Within an hour of her being born they took me to see her. She was still in the bag and hooked up to life support, it was really frightening.
“She’s so tiny it’s unbelievable, even the pictures don’t do it justice – she’s the size of my hand.
“I was petrified but the staff in the unit really calmed me down, they have an incredible way with the mums.”
When she was just three days old, Emily was brought off the ventilator that had been breathing for her and put on a lower dependency CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which is less damaging to under-developed lungs.
But ten days later, she started to struggle so doctors were forced to ventilate again, a necessity not uncommon with babies under 29 weeks, classed as extremely premature.
Still 13 weeks from her due date, Emily is taking each day as it comes, her tiny life still hanging in the balance.
The fragility of her condition means her mum and dad desperately await the most precious moment for every parent – holding their newborn for the first time. “We have just sat and looked and prayed, that’s all we can do,” said Claire. “We only got to touch her for the first time a week ago. It was our first mother-to-baby contact and was incredible to feel her tiny fingers.
“It’s all very new, every day brings something new, we weren’t expecting to be able to touch her that day. Every day is amazing with Emily, although it is very difficult, it is incredible at the same time.
“She opened her eyes last week, which was a massive step for us. It was a tremendous feeling, there’s no words for it, but that just left me longing to hold her so badly.
“She’s so delicate, she can’t come out at the moment, which is so difficult for us.”
The family made the near-50-mile pilgrimage from their home every day while Alan, 47, was on paternity leave.
Sisters Caitlin, eight, Millie, four, and Brooke, 15 months, have all been to visit their baby sister and placed little toys in her incubator.
But now Alan has had to return to his job on a wind farm in Hawick, taking him away for the ten days at a time and leaving Claire without transportation to get to the hospital or anyone to look after the remaining three children.
The situation is making an agonising wait almost unbearable with hourly phone calls to the hospital, their only way of getting vital information.
Her voice cracking with emotion, Claire says it is a roller coaster she never wanted to get on.
“I’ve become part of a prem babies club that I don’t want to be part of. No mother wants to be part of it,” she said.
“We are living on hour to hour, day to day. We can’t live beyond that at the moment, we can’t look to the future because it is so uncertain. It is horrendous. We know there’s still a chance she won’t make it, we’re living with that in mind every day.
“She’s not safe, she’s still clinging on to life support but many babies do and we take hope from that. I want people to see Emily and see the work the staff do at the Royal because they are amazing.
“Our lives are in tatters, we’re devastated and this is a terrible thing to go through but they have been wonderful and I cannot stress that enough.
“She is literally clinging to life on life-support at the minute but wouldn’t be there without these incredible, life-saving people.”
Emily is expected to remain in the care of the hospital until her due date – June 16. It is hoped she will be transferred to a local hospital, before eventually being allowed home.
“She’s quite feisty and has her own little ways already,” said Claire.
“She doesn’t like the nurses putting her on her back, she likes to be on her tummy, they all have a little giggle about that.
“She might not be doing that well at the moment but she’s doing her absolute best. Emily is extraordinary, she is our miracle, it’s as simple as that.”
MEDICAL ADVANCES AID SURVIVAL
A GROWING number of babies are being born prematurely – and more of those who arrive very early are surviving.
Bliss, the national charity for newborn babies, said older mums and the increasing use of fertility treatment may contribute to an increase in premature births, while medical advances explain the improved survival rates.
Bliss said babies born early often have problems with breathing and gaining weight. They can also be more prone to infections. If a premature baby’s lungs are not fully developed, or the baby is very weak, it may be put on a ventilator.
Many premature babies have problems feeding and have to receive the nutrients and fluids they need to grow through tubes.
The normal length of a woman’s pregnancy is 40 weeks.
Recent research funded by the Medical Research Council pointed to a cut-off point in terms of chances of survival at 24 weeks – the current legal limit for abortion.