My husband and I had always expected that we would need medical intervention to achieve a pregnancy. So it was with overwhelming joy that Lachlan was conceived without any issues. It was from this point, however, that our real journey of difficulty began, not where we had anticipated it.
The first trimester was marked with bleeding and cramping pains throughout, requiring close monitoring and multiple scans to check on our baby’s viability. The bleeding and cramping finally stopped 12 weeks in, and we delighted in the joys of feeling the life inside grow and respond.
We starting making changes to give our little one the best life we possibly could. I stopped working earlier than anticipated to reduce the physical stress on my body, we moved across the country to Melbourne (in with family) to surround ourselves with support, and planned to buy our first home and settle in before our precious baby was due to arrive in three months, or so we thought.
I remember the day like yesterday. I woke at 07.15am and sat on the edge of the bed. Aflood of fluid came out of my body. I was only 27 weeks and 5 days! Hospital and Specialist visits confirmed Premature Preterm Ruptured Membranes (PPROM) and I was contracting. I had to transfer to the Royal Women’s Hospital immediately to attempt to stop the labour which was so obviously commencing. I also had to call my husband who was working overseas to get the next available flight back. The hours that followed involved a series of events that sent us on a journey like no other.
With my mother by my side, and fear in my heart that this baby was arriving so early, I arrived at the RWH and was immediately commenced on medication to halt the Labour, Steroids to mature the baby’s lungs, and antibiotics to prevent infection. I was tested and scanned, prodded and questioned. A barrage of information was given, had to be retained/digested, and decisions needed to be made.
Thankfully- the labour stopped. My husband made it home. Every day I woke and saw the sunshine through the hospital window I thanked God for another day bubs had growing inside of me. I was advised that each day’s growth in-utero equalled roughly 3 days in NICU, so I understood the importance of every 24 hours. It was 12 days later that things changed once again.
My baby and I had become very unwell. I was 28 weeks 5 days at this time. Investigations showed I had a serious infection called Chorioamnionitis, and the CTG demonstrated bubs was in trouble. No remaining NICU beds meant a quick transfer to Monash Hospital via ambulance. I was induced on arrival to speed things along for the health of both baby and I. After a dramatic assisted birth, in which Lachlan’s heart rate was seriously low, our little fighter was born even managing a tiny cry. He weighed 1071g and was 37.5cm long. It was a miracle…
Lachlan managed to breathe on his own for the first week – remarkably only going onto CPAP a week later from exhaustion- as the extended stress he was under inside of me (and Steroids) had matured his lungs a lot faster than the usual 28 weeker. He did, however, have more than his share of Bradycardia’s and Apnoea’s needing extended NICU care & intervention. We almost became blasé about stimulating his body by rubbing his sternum to perform its most basic functions- beating the heart and breathing!
Bowel inflammation also set in, and infections had to be treated. Overall, however, being in the same room with the sickest babies in NICU made us realise how small our baby’s problems were. That room was filled with babies on the brink of life- clinging by a thread. Having treatments so radical/extreme that it was their only chance of survival. As a nurse, my nerves frayed having the knowledge of what was happening to my son, and the babies all around us, and knowing all too well when a life was about to end. It tore me apart- it was the hardest time I ever experienced in my life. I still carry the scars and think of the babies that were lost.
We spent hours, days, weeks, months by our little boy’s side. We were overjoyed at his progress and fighting spirit, and saddened that we had to leave him every night not knowing if we would get “the call” in the middle of the night. Our celebrations became each ml increase in tube feeding, turning cot temperature down, Kangaroo-cuddles, the first bath so long after birth, tubes coming out, no more brady’s and apnoeas, bottles starting, and eventually going into an open cot. Our little man came home a miraculous nine weeks after he was born….and still considered preterm. We left many new friends behind, born earlier (& some older gestations) and staying for months longer. We knew we were so lucky to have had the road we did.
It wasn’t until I joined my Community Mothers Group that I realised how different our world had become. At the first meeting we introduced ourselves and our babies…and I looked around and saw that not only was my baby less than half the size of all the others (but great for his gestation), but had already been “here” 2-3 times as long. Their concerns were so different to ours. They worried about their child not smiling yet, we worried about brain damage. My son’s neck couldn’t support his head, their children were already lifting their heads and looking around brightly. They were sometimes sad about their births and ‘prem’ children (+35 weeks gestation), and we realised how lucky we were to have a 28 weeker as many of our new friends had children 23- 27 weeks gestation!
It is not to diminish what they were feeling- real indeed for them- just so different to our concerns. This continued all the way through the first twelve months…where Lachlan’s milestones had to be corrected and weighed against his gestation to see if he was in fact tracking “ok”. We were different, and we felt it especially at group activities like Gymbaroo. So often we would just stay home.
Life’s Little Treasure’s Foundation came to my attention at the Babies and Children’s Expo Melbourne when visiting the display. I spoke to the ladies whom had shared similar experiences as us, and I felt a warmth in my heart that I had finally found someone else whom understood little triumphs and how having a Premature baby is a celebration and sadness all wrapped into one.
Attending the meetings and receiving the emails and newsletters I finally found a place where we belong. A place where we celebrate what remarkable distances all our families (especially our children) have come. A place you come to and do not compare your children- you accept and celebrate. A group where we have all experienced a trauma like no other. We don’t have to explain corrected ages. Mother’s who have shared the same loss of a “normal” experience where we HAD to place our children into the care of others, and you HAVE to go home. A place where none of us took our babies home after birth.
Life’s Little Treasures Foundation acknowledges that all our journeys have been different, difficult, real and amazing. We can feel what we feel, share the smallest of achievements as they are sometimes so difficult to reach. A place where we can discuss our hopes and fears for our children without anyone diminishing the emotions being experienced. A place of friendship where we come together with a common goal to spread the word about Prematurity and the effects on mothers, children and families. A venue to support other women in the way’s we feel we did not receive adequate support or information. Last but not least, a place of fun where we can celebrate our special Little Treasure’s.
Chris & Ray