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Last Updated: Friday, 17 September, 2004, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Waiting for a miracle

By Sarah Barclay
BBC Panorama reporter

In the corner of the delivery room, two resuscitation units labelled Twin One and Twin Two had been switched on.

It was very quiet. The woman was exhausted but was being told to push. The babies were still alive but they needed to be delivered as quickly as possible.

It was late on a Friday night and we were on the labour ward at the Homerton Hospital in London waiting to film a woman giving birth to premature twins.

She was 23 weeks and six days pregnant - literally on the cusp of viability.

Until midnight the pregnancy could have been legally terminated. But these babies were wanted and the woman had asked the neonatal team to do their best to save them if they were born alive.

She knew the chances of survival were remote.

Resucitation

A premature baby
Doctors treat the babies with extreme care

Just before 11pm we were taken aside by one of the obstetricians and told the first twin had died but its mother had not been told.

She had to go on believing there was a reason to push. Alarmed that if we stopped filming she would know something was wrong, we carried on.

When the baby was born it was treated with extraordinary care and wrapped gently in a sheet. For a brief moment, two of the neonatologists rested their hands gently on its body.

Then we went and lay down on the floor of the nurses room to try and get some sleep before the second twin was born. At 5am, as daylight came, we were told that it too had died.

It had been like this for months. All four members of our team had been on call 24 hours a day waiting for a woman who would allow us to film the birth of a baby born at 25 weeks gestation or less.

Bleak outlook

Panorama: Miracle baby grows up
BBC One, 21:00 BST, Wednesday 22 September
Richard, my producer, had found himself on his own in an operating theatre some weeks earlier, filming the birth of a premature baby by caesarian section.

Fortunately he'd been told that when these babies are born they are put straight into small plastic bags (clearly marked "Tesco" in this case) before being resuscitated, in order to retain their body heat so he was prepared for something which might otherwise have taken him completely by surprise.

Abraham's parents allowed us to film intensive care being withdrawn from their 17 hour old son because they hoped it might help other people who might one day find themselves facing such an agonising decision.

During a difficult birth he had been deprived of oxygen. After a series of scans, it was apparent that he'd also suffered extensive bleeding in his brain. The consultant in charge told us the outlook for Abraham was bleak.

Trust

His parents decided they did not want his life prolonged. With great dignity they stood with their arms round each other while the battery of medical technology keeping their son alive was slowly disconnected and he was taken to a side room to die in their arms.

For a film maker, these are not war zones in any conventional sense but sometimes they feel like their emotional equivalent.

Lives beginning and ending unexpectedly, sometimes tragically. Human grief, agonising ethical dilemmas.

It helps to know the territory, to be prepared, to understand the rules of engagement - in our case, giving those who allowed us to film them the right to change their minds afterwards and refuse permission to use it.

You hope they won't but know that such agreements are part of the business of trust without which films like these could not be made.



SEE ALSO:
Miracle baby grows up
17 Sep 04  |  Panorama


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