We recently caught up with one of our customers, Helen, who shares the incredible birth and journey of her little girl, Grace, who was born at just 26 weeks gestation. Helen, a financial controller, lives on a five acre property north of Brisbane with her husband, Peter, and two Golden Retrievers. Grace was born on 15 June 2020 weighing 1018g.
Can you tell us about your pregnancy and the day leading up to Grace's birth?
My pregnancy with Grace was a dream, I didn’t have any morning sickness and no reasons for any extra check ups throughout. I had an anterior placenta so I didn’t feel a lot of movement from her until around 22-23 weeks, I would really only feel ‘flutters’. I didn’t really start to show until 20-21 weeks and had been working from home since March due to COVID.
The day before Grace's birth, I had been out to do some baby shopping with close friends. I came home that evening and felt a bit of tightness in my belly. I told my husband (Peter) and he asked if I was worried. I believed everything was fine as I wasn’t in any pain and there were no other symptoms. We went along with our evening and I went to bed. As I said earlier I didn’t ever feel Grace move a lot but I would always wake once in the night and feel the “flutters”. This time, I didn’t feel anything. We waited until morning to see how I felt before we jumped to any conclusions.
Sunday morning I woke up, and the tightness was still there, and I was a bit uncomfortable now. Peter told me to message my midwife. I did this, little did I know, she was off that weekend, so we didn’t hear a response straight away. At this point Peter insisted I call 13HEALTH. After a 10-20 minute discussion with the nurse (who was amazing) she recommended I head down to emergency just to be on the safe side. She said not to rush, but make sure I got down there before lunch time.
I get off the phone and Peter, who had already caught wind of all this, started running around (like a crazy person) getting us in the car quick smart. We figured this was a great practice run for us, although Peter was taking it a bit to seriously. We got to the hospital, we were met by some lovely midwives who did an ultrasound, checked Grace's heartbeat and cleared us of any issues. They believed it was a bit of Braxton Hicks and an irritable uterus.
We headed home, incredibly relieved that our little lady was OK. We got on with our Saturday, but as the afternoon/evening went on, my discomfort started turning into pain. We decided to call the midwife again and she recommend some Panadol and a hot water bottle and said to call her back if the pain was still there in 1.5 -2 hours. 11 pm soon came, and the pain was worse and the midwife's remedies had not made a difference. With tears in my eyes, I called the midwife back who told us to come down for another check up.
We drove to the hospital and were greeted by the midwife who took me into one of the suite rooms. The midwife put her hands on my belly. She looked at us, her face dropped, she calmly said, 'Ok, I will be right back' and returned with other doctors and nurses. Someone grabbed my arm and told me I was in pre-term labour and that they would need to transfer me to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital as soon as possible.
What do you remember from Grace's birth?
I don’t think it dawned on us that we were about to be parents, nor what the next few months would look like for us.
They transferred me to the Royal but Peter was not allowed in the ambulance. That was awful and was incredibly hard, probably more so for him as he had to drive the one hour drive to the hospital on his own, not knowing if I had had our little girl in the ambulance.
The nurses and doctors looked after me beautifully, right until they loaded me in the ambulance. I had a doctor and my midwife with me and felt like I was greeted by everyone at the Royal when we arrived. The obstetrician told me that she would have to be a c-section and they wheeled me into theatre with around 15-20 doctors and nurses surrounding me.
Peter scrubbed in and, before I knew it, I was getting an injection into my spine and they were opening me up. They pulled her out and Peter and I heard a faint cry. They took her away. I told Peter to go to her. They had to intubate her, and they took her away to the NICU before I could hold her or see her. Peter took a quick photo to show me, but you couldn’t really see her with all the tubes. He went with her.
As they were wheeling me to recovery, they were waiting to find out when I could meet my little girl. As as they had to do a few sterile procedures, I wasn’t allowed to see her until 9-10am the next morning. They gave me a 8x8cm pink piece of paper, with Grace's birth details (her weight, time, size, day). Little did I realise how important this little piece of paper was to me.
After I was admitted to the ward, I was left alone. My husband went home to get some sleep, the nurses finished their obs and left me. That pink piece of paper was looking at me, I picked it up and just held it. This was all I had to show that I did have a little girl that morning. It was surreal. Probably the first time I had managed to process what had happened.
When I did finally meet her, Peter and I could only see her together once for about five minutes. After that, due to COVID, only one parent was allowed to visit the NICU at a time. This was the case for the first 2-3 weeks of us being there. To say it was awful would be an understatement. No parent should have limitations on visiting their baby and, to not to have one another there to support each other, was terrifying and lonely.
How long was Grace in NICU and what medical support did she receive while there?
Grace was in the NICU for 64 days and in special care for 17 days. She came off breathing support when she was 35 weeks gestation, she was just over 8 weeks old. The NICU was filled with emotions, the parents are amazing. I have met some mums who I will be friends with for life.
When I was discharged we went down to say goodnight to Gracie, and left the hospital. Empty handed. Every night we had to leave empty handed. It is indescribable. Our phones were filled with calls to the NICU every night we weren’t there – all night. We would call in the night and Peter would be waiting so stressfully to hear me yell “she’s OK’, if I didn’t yell it he knew she wasn’t having a good night. We would just cry together. The last thing you would ever want to see on your phone is a “no caller ID’ phone call – this was the NICU. Your heart would stop, and you would hold your breath waiting to hear what the nurse (or doctor) had to say on the other side. Peter would know if it was a good or bad phone call based on my face.
The nurses and the doctors (particularly Grace’s doctor) were amazing, we owe them everything - they looked after her beautifully. We will forever be in their debt.
What was it like to finally be able to take Grace home? Can you describe that day?
Surreal. Terrifying. Heart Warming. We could finally breath. We were finally the parents who got to bring their little girl home. It felt right. We got to the hospital and were greeted by nurse after nurse who had looked after Grace on her journey to say goodbye. She must have had nearly every nurse in the NICU (100+) looking after her. The beautiful thing was that they all genuinely cared.
It was an incredibly emotional morning, because although the nurses had looked after Grace so beautifully, they had been there for me everyday for the 81 days Grace was there. I was sad to say goodbye to them, and knowing with COVID – it could be some time before I could bring Grace back to visit.
Driving Grace home was the best feeling, it felt right. I hung in the back with the little lady and my husband drove home. Our lives were set.
Tell us about Grace! Can you already see her personality coming through? What do the months ahead look like in terms of any ongoing medical support for Grace?
Grace has started smiling and has an incredibly cheeky one! She’s got long legs, and a wee dimple in her chin like her Dad. She’s got blue eyes (so far) like me. She’s becoming very inquisitive and no doubt will be a smarty pants like her Dad.
Because of Grace’s gestation when she was born, we will have a lot of follow ups with the hospital and the paediatrician. Thanks to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, she is also included in several trials. She has a risk of Cerebral Palsy (CP), however, between the trials she is enrolled in and the number of medical professionals involved, she will hopefully have enough support and will be watched closely if that ends up being her journey.
As you have experienced first hand, things don't always go as planned with pregnancies and birth. Do you have any insights or advice you can share with other mums who may be going through a similar situation or who are anxious about their own pregnancy?
Everyone will give you advice. Embrace it all but, ultimately, do what you need to do. My advice for any mums with a baby in the NICU:
- It is hard, but remember it is a drop in the ocean when you think of your little one’s life and you will get through it.
- Talk to other mums, don’t be shy. Whether it is in the express room, or the hallway, or the same room be kind and be there for each other. They are going through exactly what you are and feeling all the feels.
- Let yourself feel, cry, be angry. Don’t keep it in, talk it through. Most importantly talk to your other half, they are struggling too.
- Keep a diary, even of the shit days. You might not want to read it for a while afterwards but it is there for when you do. Believe me you will forget so much, and the days just merge into one long journey. I kept a diary of each day, any weighs, experiences, who I spoke to, who Grace’s nurse was for that particular day.
- Last but certainly not least, please don’t compare your journey or situation to any other person/baby. They are all so different. If you ever have a baby in the NICU, speak to the other mums there, they are going through exactly what you’re going through but never compare your situations.