When Chelsea Keenan started experiencing backache, she knew something was wrong – but she had no idea she was about to give birth to her fifth child.
It was a complete surprise for both the 27-year-old and the paramedics with in the ambulance on the way to hospital.
It wasn’t the first time the mum found out she was pregnant at a later stage – she didn’t realise she was pregnant with her fourth child, Riley, now one, until 32 weeks in.
Chelsea, of Halifax, West Yorkshire, who is also a full-time mum to Finley, eight, Esmae, three, and Lilly, two, did mention her pregnancy with Riley to the paramedics as she knew the pain felt like labour.
As she was still having periods and there no signs she was expecting, they were sure her pain was coming from her appendix.
She said: ‘I rang the ambulance but when the paramedics arrived, they thought I must have a problem with my appendix.
‘They wouldn’t believe me when I said I felt like I was having a baby and needed to push.
‘My only inkling came because I hadn’t known I was pregnant with Riley until 32 weeks in, either.
‘To be fair, though, with Elliot there were no signs I was pregnant at all.
‘I’d been having periods, I wasn’t unwell and I was still wearing my size 12 jeans right up to the day when he was born. I tell people now that he must have been hiding!
‘As a mum already, when I’d read stories about women who didn’t know they were pregnant until they gave birth I used to think, “Give over, don’t be daft,” until it happened to me.’
When the ambulance arrived at about 6.45am on August 15, partner Ryan Griffiths, 26, had come home from his night shift at work but was not allowed to join Chelsea because of Covid-19 restrictions, so stayed behind with their children.
The only people with her when she gave birth were the paramedics, who placed her son on her chest and said: ‘There’s your baby, congratulations.’
Sadly, Elliot was not very well when he was born. His left leg did not look right and, where his tummy should have been, there seemed to be unprotected internal organs on the outside of his body.
Arriving at Halifax’s Calderdale Royal Hospital, he was admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and doctors recorded Elliot’s weight as 5lb 2oz – estimating that he had been born at 35 weeks.
Chelsea said: ‘All I wanted to do was get to him, but I knew he had serious problems and was told the doctors needed to check him over and stabilise him.
‘They wrapped him in cling film to protect the organs that were on the outside of his body and my heart sank when they told me he might not make it through the next 24 hours.
‘I was all alone in hospital, because of Covid, and had to text the devastating news to Ryan. It was just terrible.’
Elliot survived his first night and was then transferred to Leeds General Infirmary, where he waited for a free bed at either Manchester Children’s Hospital or London’s Great Ormond Street. Both hospitals offered the specialist care he nedded.
The following day Ryan was able to meet him for the first time and he was then transferred to Manchester Children’s Hospital.
There, doctors told the couple that Elliot’s abdominal wall had failed to form properly during the first month of pregnancy – resulting in conditions known as bladder extrophy and cloacal extrophy – where the bladder and bowel are on the outside of the body.
Chelsea said: ‘We were told the condition was so rare if only affects one in 400,000 babies, I think worldwide.’
Chelsea and Ryan had no idea how long Elliot would be in hospital, so left their other children with his mum, Dawn, and packed for a week to move to Manchester and be at his side.
Eventually, as the days passed, they were allowed to cuddle him, but were told he would need a stoma operation and a colostomy bag for the rest of his life.
‘Elliot was born without a rectum and so will never be able to poo normally,’ Chelsea said.
Just a month old when he had the operation, the couple were then told his malformed leg would have to be amputated before his first birthday.
After support and training on how to care for Elliot, his parents were delighted when he was finally allowed home on August 21, but less than 24 hours later, the community midwife visited and was concerned about Elliot’s weight loss.
He was returned to hospital in Halifax for another week.
Then, just before he was due to be discharged, his doctors in Manchester made a frantic call saying he needed to be readmitted as a matter of urgency based on the test results Halifax had sent them.
‘It has been a huge emotional rollercoaster ever since Elliot was born in the back of an ambulance,’ said Chelsea.’
‘I have learned that your life can be turned upside down in just five minutes.’
With the exception of one short visit home when her grandmother died in September, Chelsea has been living in the parents’ accommodation attached to the Manchester hospital and is by her son’s side every day.
Elliot is being tube fed to build his weight and has had multiple operations in his short life.
Two have been emergency procedures to save him, after the contents of his stomach spilled through an unhealed surgical wound and out into his nappy.
‘That was horrific. It was really traumatising, and I will never forget seeing something no parent should see when that happened,’ said Chelsea.
‘But Elliot is a fighter and for as long as he fights on, so will we.’
Chelsea and Ryan hope to have baby Elliot back home in time for a family Christmas this year, so they can all begin to heal.
And they have launched a GoFundMe page to raise £1,000 to take the whole family on a bonding holiday when it is safe to do so.
‘When Elliot does come home, I will be his full-time carer,’ said Chelsea. ‘He has been through hell and back, but he is a fighter, not a quitter.
‘He has stolen the hearts of everyone who’s looked after him and at the moment, after 10 long weeks, he is finally doing well.’
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