Mother's horror after bomber's device exploded yards from her newborn

‘I was scared beyond my wildest dreams’: First-time mother, 34, tells of her horror after suicide bomber’s device exploded yards from where she was feeding her days-old newborn in Liverpool Women’s Hospital terror attack

  • Helen Edwards-Hughes was admitted to the maternity hospital on November 9 
  • Five days later, Emad Al-Swealmeen tried to bomb Liverpool Women’s Hospital
  • Helen was taken to the maternity hospital by her husband, James Hughes, 33

A first-time mother has told of her horror after the Poppy Day bomber’s device exploded yards from where she was feeding her days-old newborn in Liverpool Women’s Hospital.

Helen Edwards-Hughes, 34, a civil servant, was admitted to the Crown Street maternity hospital on November 9, five days before Emad Al-Swealmeen, 32, tried to bomb it. 

Helen looked at her newborn Penelope and thought ‘someone came and tried to take you away’.

Helen Edwards-Hughes (right), 34, has relived her terror and shared her deep gratitude to the staff at Liverpool Women’s Hospital

The Aigburth civil servant, was admitted to the Crown Street maternity hospital on November 9, five days before Emad Al-Swealmeen, 32, tried to bomb it (pictured)

Helen had been taken to the hospital by her husband, James Hughes, 33, after reporting cramping and bleeding.

Doctors decided to perform a Caesarean section in the early hours of November 10. 

After a few minutes with her mother and father, Penelope was taken away to begin treatment for suspected meningitis.

Helen told the Liverpool Echo: ‘I was scared beyond my wildest dreams quite honestly. It was quite hard; because of covid visiting was a lot more limited for partners.

‘When the incident happened I was in the hospital on my own. I was towards the front of the hospital but because I was recovering from a caesarean section I was on the bed and I couldn’t see the front entrance.

‘I think I was feeding Penelope when I heard the bang go off. I just thought ‘oh, that’s a loud noise’ but it is really near town and I didn’t really give it any thought. 

Helen had been taken to the hospital by her husband, James Hughes (right), 33, after reporting cramping and bleeding

Doctors decided to perform a Caesarean section in the early hours of November 10

‘But then things started going round; someone’s partner had been at the front entrance and had seen the car.

‘Then there was all sorts of other stuff. Then it started to filter through that it was being treated as terrorism. There were so many police outside which was kind of reassuring.

‘But I have quite serious anxiety and my one of my top triggers is terrorism, so it really sent me over the edge.

‘Whenever something happens like that, like the attacks in Europe or the Manchester bombing, I find it very difficult to switch off from, and then there was a terrorist outside the hospital where my little girl is and I can’t leave.

‘It was very hard to look at Penelope and think ‘someone came and tried to take you away’.’ 

After a few minutes with her mother and father, Penelope was taken away to begin treatment for suspected meningitis

Counter Terrorism police believe Al-Swealmeen’s plan was foiled when the home-made bomb he was carrying triggered prematurely, killing him. 

Over the next couple of days, overwhelmed by anxiety and stress, Helen said her mental health deteriorated.

She said: ‘On the Tuesday (November 16) I had a bit of a meltdown. I started to think I would never be able to leave.

‘Just terrible, terrible fear. You start to think what if there is another one, what if someone comes to finish the job.

‘It was horrible, I could not go to the front door for fresh air, and the baby was not really feeding.’

It was here that Helen says the midwives on her ward stepped into their own.

Asked how the staff appeared to be coping in the aftermath of the bombing attempt, Helen said: ‘You would not know anything had happened, they were amazing.’

In a message to the board of Liverpool Women’s Hospital, Helen described how the calm, caring demeanour of midwives on her unit helped her through her breakdown.

She said: ‘A combination of hormones and all the events going on physically and in the carpark caused me to unravel.

‘The staff on Matbase couldn’t have been any better with me.

‘I could see how busy they were doing their daily jobs and there’s no mistaking the unsustainable pressure they seem to be under, but in no time had organised for me to get the support I needed and moved me into a side room.

‘I don’t know her surname, but I believe the midwife assigned that day was called Emma and she was brilliant.

‘I felt much better once on the side ward as it allowed me to think a bit more clearly.

Helen looked at her newborn Penelope and thought ‘someone came and tried to take you away’

‘I’m also not great when surrounded by people so after a week nearly on a ward, I was so glad to be alone.

‘I think it gave me the chance to process what had happened without everyone else’s chatter setting off further anxiety.

‘The purpose of this communication is to let you know how glad I am that I chose Liverpool Women’s for my maternity care.’

Penelope, called Penny by her parents, made a full recovery from her infection and mum and baby were discharged on November 20

Helen has been able to access counselling after a referral from the perinatal mental health midwife team.

In her message to the hospital board she said: ‘Liverpool Women’s ensured that my child didn’t leave hospital until she was ready to and did the very best for me while we were with you.

‘I’m beyond shocked that your wonderful hospital was attacked, I’m relieved that no one else was harmed.

‘We’ll all be processing it differently and some will be more affected than others.’

Ironically her brush with a genuine terrorist incident has lessened her anxiety, and she no longer fixates on the possibility of being caught up in an atrocity.

She said: ‘I feel a sense of just wanting to live as best as I can, I no longer feel afraid.’

Helen and James are now planning to raise money for the hospital, with keen gamer James planning to host sponsored events on his popular Twitch streaming account, where he is known by the username ‘Supereffective Jay’.

A Major Incident Report by hospital managers reveals how staff were supported after the bombing.

Counsellors and psychologists from Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust were provided on site, while staff were also signposted to organisations dealing with the trauma caused by terrorism such as the Peace Foundation. 

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