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‘Our miracle baby was born at 23 weeks – even earlier than tragic big sister’

Staring down at their baby daughter hooked up to a ventilator fighting for life, Tiffany and Matthew Bushell were in a nightmare repeating itself.

Just 18 months earlier they had helplessly watched as their first daughter Ruby lost her battle to survive after being born at just 24 weeks and three days.

And now, their second baby girl, Millie, was facing the same battle after being born even more premature at 23 weeks and six days, weighing less than a bag of rice and with a huge hole in her heart.

Matthew recalls: “I was in pilot mode going through the motions, thinking please not again.”

But despite the odds, after five weeks on a ventilator Millie pulled through.

Millie finally got home four months after being born in the middle of lockdown

The couple have now been able to bring Millie home for the first time since she was born in April. Tiffany and Matthew say she has made their family complete.

Tiffany, 32, who lives with Matthew, 30, and Millie, in Watford, Herts, says: “She’s miracle. Now she’s here it’s such a weight off our shoulders. We’re so relived she is home, it makes us realise how far she has come.”

Matthew, a lorry driver, and Tiffany, an embroiderer, had always dreamed of becoming parents, since meeting 12 years ago. Matthew says: “We’ve always wanted a family – one child would be enough.”

But after struggling to conceive, the couple turned to IVF. Matthew says: “It was four or five years before Tiffany fell pregnant with Ruby. Mentally it was tough and Tiffany kept saying that she was getting older. But it’s never too late.”

The pregnancy started smoothly. However, Tiffany who has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, struggled to carry a baby full-term. And, shockingly, at 24 weeks and three days, in November 2018, Tiffany went into labour.

'Our miracle baby was born at 23 weeks - even earlier than tragic big sister'
Tiffany Bushell, 32, and husband Matthew, 30, with newborn Millie

Matthew says: “We didn’t know Tiffany had PCOS and were planning to go to Bath for the weekend. But on the Friday night Tiffany went into labour and within an hour, she had given birth to Ruby. It all happened so quickly.”

He adds: “When Ruby was born, she only weighed 1lb 5oz. It was amazing to see her for the first time. She was so young and premature and was really raw and red.

“She was on a ventilator and in an incubator. You could touch her but couldn’t pick her up. She had blood clots and her lungs weren’t fully developed.”

Ruby was so tiny she couldn’t even be held by her desperate parents.

“That week was so hard, you just can’t even describe it” Matthew recalls. “It was unbearable. I just wanted to pick Ruby up and give her a big hug.”

Tragically, after seven days, Ruby passed away in November 2018 when doctors tried to remove her from the machines. The couple were heartbroken.

'Our miracle baby was born at 23 weeks - even earlier than tragic big sister'
Baby Millie spent the first weeks of her life on a ventilator

Matthew says: “You never get over it. But we had a lot of counselling from the NHS and we bought a puppy, which really helped.

“Sometimes I just wanted to stay in bed and do nothing. But we tried to keep busy and see people.” However, in December 2019, Tiffany and Matthew were given a glimmer of hope, as Tiffany got pregnant, after conceiving naturally.

Matthew says: “Tiffany said she felt strange and took a pregnancy test. When she said she was pregnant, I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy. But there’s always this worry in the back of your mind.”

And, again, the couple grew concerned when at the 16-week scan it was looking likely their child was going to be born early.

Matthew says: “Tiffany’s cervix was wide open so they gave her stitches to try to make sure Millie wasn’t born too early.”

But at 23 weeks and five days Tiffany went into labour. This time, they were prepared, had packed a bag and were ready to go to St Peter’s hospital in Surrey. But due to coronavirus, Matthew wasn’t allowed in.

'Our miracle baby was born at 23 weeks - even earlier than tragic big sister'
The proud parents with baby Millie

He says: “I waited until Tiffany was rested, then got in my car and stayed in a lay-by. We live 40 minutes away. No way was I going home.

“I had to sleep in my car and it was freezing. But at 3am on April 26, I got a call from Tiffany saying her contractions had started.

Luckily I was able to go and Millie was born the next afternoon. The rules were very strict at that point, so I was only allowed to stay for 10 minutes, have pictures and then I was asked to leave.”

Millie was so small she was whisked away and put on a ventilator after she stopped breathing at two days old. Tiffany was only allowed to see her for two hours a day.

Matthew had to see his daughter on FaceTime.

He says: “After a week we were both allowed to see her for two hours a day. I had to drive 40 minutes each way to the hospital and we had to wear gloves to hold her, but it was so worth it.”

Millie fought off seven infections, including suspected sepsis. Matthew says: “For the first two days Millie was fine, then she needed a ventilator.

“To go through that again. The trauma of what happened with Ruby – I’m still not over it and I never will get over it. To go through that and everything that’s happened now, to come through it is unbelievable. It makes you stronger. But after losing Ruby, you know no other news will be worse than that.”

And, after having surgery to fix the hole in her heart, Millie has gone from strength to strength. “It’s been a rollercoaster” Matthew says. “We’ve been at the hospital, had operations, surgery, ups and downs. But you’ve got to keep going and stay positive.

And, after five weeks, the proud parents were finally allowed to bring their little girl home. “We are just so happy she’s home and safe” Matthew says. “She’s gone from being 1lb 7oz to 5lb 11oz. It’s amazing to see. She’s looking like a normal newborn now.”

Millie still has a way to go but the couple are thrilled with their little fighter

Matthew says: “She’s on oxygen 24 hours a day but a nurse comes every week, so we’re hoping it’s going to be reduced to 23 hours soon.

“As she grows up we’re always going to tell her how strong and special she is. We must have taken 2,000 photos to show her when she is older. We’ll also tell her about Ruby.

“She’s buried in a cemetery near us and we’ll take her there when she understands.”

Matthew adds: “I don’t really want to go through everything that happened again, so don’t really want any more children. We just want Millie to have the absolute very best and to be a normal little girl.

“She’s had a tough start but what doesn’t break you makes you stronger. And we are so happy and very proud to be her parents.”

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