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If my child had not been born in a first-rate hospital with access to the latest, greatest technology in modern science, he would have had no chance of survival. Even if Joel had been conceived in the year I was born, 1978, he would still have died a fetus, his lungs crushed by amniotic fluid.

Yet here I am writing this, the mother of a cuddly, whimsical little chatterbox who asks for sausages for dinner every day and can’t quite decide which snake he prefers, the boomslang or the inland taipan.

I decided to find out how, exactly, modern medicine got my son here.


I’m a journalist and have written for The Times, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Telegraph, Red, Psychologies, The Pool, Broadly and more. 

Having read English Literature at Cambridge University, I spent my twenties and thirties working as a journalist.

I was twenty-nine weeks pregnant with my first child when a scan found that he was critically ill. Thanks to a risky operation in utero and five months in neonatal care, my son survived.

My book The First Breath was published by Pan Macmillan in June 2019. It’s a medical memoir about having a critically ill baby with a genetic condition, and also a popular science book about the extraordinary history of foetal and neonatal medicine, taking in perinatal genetics and surgery along the way.

I live in Oxford with my husband, two children and two cats.

I’m proud to have been invited to be the first patron of Leo’s Neonatal, a groundbreaking neonatal charity which, among other work, founded #NICUHour on Twitter and is leading awareness of neonatal mental health across the NHS.

Contact me: olivia [at] oliviagordon.com

Here I am in scrubs, observing at one of the world’s most progressive neonatal units at the Karolinska, Stockholm, while researching The First Breath.