Saima Parveen, 26, and her husband Mohammed, 35, live in Bradford. Their first baby, Qais, now two and a half, was born when Saima was 25 weeks pregnant.
Saima with baby Qais: 'Holding him for the first time was amazing, nothing can beat that moment'
"In August 2010, four weeks after we got married, I found out I was pregnant. I was ecstatic. It felt amazing, having this little life inside me. At my first scan, when we saw the baby on the screen, it made our dream become a reality. We both cried.
"I felt fine most of the time, with only very slight sickness, but at 18 and 20 weeks I had some bleeding. It was very frightening, but the doctors couldn't find a cause. They gave me a scan, and I asked if they could tell me the sex of the baby – it was a boy.
"Then, at 24 weeks, I bled again. We rushed to hospital and I was there for three days, having steroid injections to make sure the baby's lungs were healthy enough to breathe if he was born. It was very scary."
Going into labour
"When we got home I was too scared to walk – I worried that moving would somehow make me bleed again, but things were fine at first. Then, three days after getting home, I got up and found myself bleeding. It was 6.30am on a Sunday.
"At the hospital the nurse asked if I was feeling any pain, which I was. She then asked if the pain was every 10 minutes or so, which it was. I didn't realise that the pains could be contractions, it just didn't occur to me. Then they told me I was 9cm dilated – I was so shocked. I didn't want to give birth to my baby yet, he wasn't ready. Mohammed and I were so frightened. I knew that at 25 weeks, my baby was on the edge of being able to survive if he was born.
"I just wanted to go home and carry on being pregnant. At one point, because I knew he wasn't supposed to be born, I lied and said I wasn't feeling any contractions. I think I was hoping it would all stop if I pretended it wasn't happening. Soon after that, the labour got more painful. I cried all the way through that I wanted to go home. Then, at quarter past one in the afternoon, he was born. He weighed 760g – about 1lb 1oz."
"They took him straight away; there were about 10 doctors and nurses around him. I was so scared. Mohammed kissed me and said, 'thank you for giving me such a beautiful baby'. I only had a quick look at the baby before they took him away to neonatal care – I remember there was a light over him, and lots of tubes and wires. He was so, so tiny. We called him Qais. He couldn't breathe and they put him on a ventilator.
"My parents came to see us, but I didn't want to talk to anybody. All I wanted to do was see Qais. At 5pm the consultant told us that they were having trouble stabilising our baby and my heart just sank. I felt uncomfortable and restless."
Seeing our baby
"When I first saw Qais in the neonatal unit at 7pm, I cried and cried. He was so tiny and fragile. I felt numb, but at the same time I knew I was going to do anything to make sure he survived. I wasn't allowed to hold him because he was on a ventilator and that was very hard. His skin looked thin, almost transparent, and he was so tiny. I felt helpless.
"When he came off the ventilator a week later, I held him for the first time. They call it kangaroo care, because you put your baby directly on to your skin. It helps you to bond and helps regulate your baby's temperature. When I did that for the first time, it felt as though everything was all right and this was how things were supposed to be. Nothing else matters, you're a mother. It was the best feeling. Even now, nothing can beat that moment, it was amazing."
Looking after him in hospital
"Before I held Qais I sometimes used to get cross at the nurses, but I realised later that it wasn't anger, it was jealousy. I wanted to touch my baby, but I wasn't allowed to and they were. Soon I started getting involved in everything – feeding and washing him. It was scary because he was so fragile, but I also felt proud to be doing it. I was expressing breast milk so that we could feed him through his feeding tubes.
"Talking to the other parents in the unit was the biggest help for me. They're the only people who can understand. The first time Qais had a blood transfusion I cried, but talking to the other parents I realised it was a common procedure and I didn't need to worry. That kind of thing was a great support."
"Qais was in hospital for four months. During that time, we were there until midnight and then back at 6am. As the weeks passed we started to get optimistic, but the doctors told us that Qais still needed a lot of special care and we should take each day as it comes.
"Finally, Qais came home on May 7 2010, two days after his due date. It was phenomenal, the best moment of our lives – joint first with holding him for the first time! We were on our own for the first time, just our little family. We were seeing him as we'd imagined, lying in his Moses basket. I spent the whole evening weeping, I was so happy."
Our little boy
"Qais is now two and a half, and he's feisty and sociable. He's got some developmental delay – he's not walking, but he loves swimming. He loves birds, too, and we're always taking him to bird houses.
"Having a premature baby is something you don't expect to happen to you. The whole experience has ignited a passion in me to help premature babies get the best chance they can. I support the charity Best Beginnings and Bradford neonatal unit. I held a readathon at the school where I teach English, Belle Vue Boys' School, and we raised £672 for the unit.
"Everybody who worked on the unit was fantastic. They all did much more than their job. One day it all got too much for me and I just sat in the middle of the ward and cried. A nurse came up to me and gave me a big hug – that meant so much. They also talked really positively about the babies. One nurse looked at Qais in his tiny incubator and said, 'He'll be a good footballer, he kicks so much!' He actually is a good kicker, he hasn't stopped since."
You can read about Mohammed's experience in Premature baby: dad's story.
Small Wonders is a campaign by charity Best Beginnings to help and support parents who have a baby in neonatal care. Saima, Mohammed and Qais were filmed during their time in the neonatal unit for the Small Wonders campaign.
Please note that finding out your baby's sex is not part of routine antenatal care.