Friday 15 December 2017

Sophie Ellis Bextor on her frightening pregnancies with pre-eclampsia: 'When they're in intensive care, your role as a parent is quite limited'

A dangerous condition brought not one but two premature births by C-section for Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Sophie Ellis-Bextor had two frightening pregnancies with pre-eclampsia
Sophie Ellis-Bextor had two frightening pregnancies with pre-eclampsia

Anita Singh

When Sophie Ellis-Bextor gave birth to her first baby, she had been dating the father for precisely eight months. "It barely made chronological sense," she says with a smile and a shrug.

Sonny, conceived weeks into a whirlwind romance with Richard Jones, the bassist with rock group The Feeling, arrived early, weighing only 3lb 8oz.

The young couple, still unpacking after setting up home together, found themselves parents to a premature baby.

It was a traumatic experience they hoped never to repeat but five years later, their second son, Kit, was born at 31 weeks, weighing just 2lb 6oz.

The days spent in an intensive care feel far away. The boys, now aged 13 and eight, are happy and healthy, and older brothers to Ray, five, and 17-month-old Jesse. Ellis-Bextor finds motherhood a joy, and hasn't ruled out a fifth child. "With parenthood, you don't really get to choose much that happens," she says.

It is a typically thoughtful response from Ellis-Bextor, who shot to fame in 2000 when her single Groovejet (If This Ain't Love) pipped an aspiring solo artist named Victoria Beckham to the top of the charts.

Her refined voice set her apart from the pop crowd and her subsequent career has seen her combine music with modelling and a stint on the BBC1 show Strictly Come Dancing.

The daughter of Janet Ellis, a former presenter of children's TV show Blue Peter, Ellis-Bextor (38) comes from what she describes as "a positive family".

It is also a family with a history of premature babies. Her younger sister, Martha, was born 10 weeks early. Nevertheless, she did not expect the same experience.

Throughout her pregnancy, with Sonny, Ellis-Bextor sensed something was wrong.

"I didn't feel that I looked like myself. I kept saying to people, 'I look puffy' and they'd say, 'No, you look really good,' and I just knew it wasn't true.'

At 31 weeks, she was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, a condition that can send the blood pressure dangerously high. She was kept in hospital and the baby was delivered days later by Caesarean section.

The singer had wanted a "chilled" birth with low lighting and music. "Then're a patient and your baby is a patient, and that's very different." It was several hours before she was well enough to see her newborn.

"I didn't hold either of my babies straight away. I was wheeled down to see [Sonny], having only seen pictures. I didn't really see the machines, I just saw this baby and felt the love for this little person who was now part of our lives, and you just know, don't you, in that second, that everything's changed."

Fast forward to 2009 and Ellis-Bextor felt "great" while pregnant with Kit but when she went to her doctor at 31 weeks for permission to fly to Moscow for a gig, she was sent home to pack her hospital bag. The pre-eclampsia had recurred.

When Kit was delivered, his lungs were partially collapsed and he required artificial respiration. For the first week, she was unable to hold him.

Did she ever fear the worst? "I don't know if Richard and I are really the sort of people to have that conversation. But the first week or so is pretty scary."

Some 60,000 babies are born premature in the UK each year, representing 1 in 10 pregnancies. Yet premature births barely make a footnote in the pregnancy manuals.

"I know so well how isolating it is," says Ellis-Bextor. "When they're in intensive care, your role as a parent is quite limited."

She remembers going in one day to find her baby dressed for the first time. "I'd never seen him with clothes on. And I was a bit, 'Oh, I would have quite liked to do that…' But they have to be efficient because it's a hospital. That's just how it is."

Kit was only 3lb 10oz when he was allowed home at 37 weeks. "But you wouldn't pick him out in a line-up as being a premature baby. It's just something that happened."

Her mum lives just 10 minutes away in west London and is a hands-on granny. Does she put those Blue Peter skills to good use, fashioning toys from loo rolls and sticky back plastic?

"People ask me that a lot," says Ellis-Bextor. "The reality is: absolutely not. But if that makes a nice image in your head then go for it!" With that she's off home to the family.

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