It was around 9.30am at work on a Monday morning that I felt like I had wet my pants. This was embarrassing, but not uncommon for me considering I was in the third trimester of my pregnancy. I called my OB’s office and was promptly told to meet Dr Joe in the Birthing Suite at the hospital. The Birthing Suite? I thought. But I’m only 31 weeks pregnant! It’s too early for our little girl to come now…I don’t feel like I’m in labour! Thinking back, I had experienced some lower back pain, but that was it and at the time, I hadn’t thought anything of it.
As we got to the hospital, I kept apologising to the midwives, “I’m so sorry about this, I’m sure it’s completely fine. I think I’ve actually just peed my pants again!” But there I was, still in my high heels and bright red lipstick from work, checking into the birthing suite at 31 weeks pregnant. We had no bags packed, my car was still parked at work and my entire family were up in Noosa on holiday.
Dr Joe arrived and performed a physical examination and that’s when it all became very, very real. “Your cervix has shifted and the tests show that it was in fact amniotic fluid that you lost. Your contractions are now getting quicker. Kate, you’re going into labour.” It was completely surreal and unbelievable. How can we be going into labour? Our little girl isn’t ready to come out yet. We’ve only done one hypnobirthing class! We haven’t even attended our hospital birthing classes yet. It isn’t supposed to happen like this! My husband Paul went pale and squeezed my hand and I remember thinking to myself: You’ve got this. You have to stay strong and stay calm and breathe, for her, you can’t panic because she needs you to be brave.
In a matter-of-fact way, Dr Joe explained that our aim was to try and keep our baby girl inside for as long as we could as she was still too small to be born. “Every hour we can do that, the better it is. Every hour counts,” he told us. He was so calm and in control as our little team of midwives went into action, preparing for a potential early birth. I was given a cocktail of drugs; a penicillin IV, tablets to slow down the contractions and most importantly steroid injections to speed up the development of our baby’s tiny lungs and then, it was a waiting game as the staff continued to monitor our baby and the contractions.
I remember thinking to myself: You’ve got this. You have to stay strong and stay calm and breathe, for her, you can’t panic because she needs you to be brave.
We called my family to give them an update and my Mum asked, “darling, should we come home tonight?” Our gorgeous midwife overheard and said, “Katie, I think they should definitely come home. I am pretty confident your little girl will be arriving tonight.” Oh my goodness, this is really happening. It was now 12pm on Monday and all of this had happened in only two hours.
For two and a half days, the contractions continued, but they had slowed right down and were not regular, which was a really good sign that labour had been delayed. Our pediatrician, Katharine, had been on standby since Monday morning and had sat with us to explain what we could expect from a 31 week+6 day baby. We were told that if she was to come before 32 weeks gestation, she would be transferred to a neonatal intensive care unit at another hospital, as Epworth Freemasons Special Care Nursery are unable to take babies under 32 weeks. Katharine explained that until she was born, there were so many unknowns, so she talked through a variety of possible outcomes to try and prepare us as much as she could. “Your little girl’s lungs may not be mature enough to breathe on their own so she may need oxygen to help her breathe when she comes out. You need to know, she may not cry when she is born, but try not to panic if that happens. We will try to put her on your chest once she’s born if we can, but our priority is to get her examined and into the incubator as soon as we can, so we have to wait and see how she is once she’s born.” The thought of our little baby girl being transferred to another hospital was one that I couldn’t even entertain. Of course, I had a million terrifying thoughts, a million What Ifs whirling through my head.
It was about 8:45pm on Wednesday night (I remember it vividly as I was pacing the room having contractions while watching Offspring!), labour started kicking in again. I was 32 weeks + 1 day gestation. The contractions were coming on much stronger and at regular intervals and were getting quicker. This time, there was nothing stopping her, she was ready to see the world!
Poppy came out screaming (the best sound ever) at 10:44pm weighing 1.65kg (about 3.5 pounds). Katharine wrapped her up in bubble-wrap (which was a quick way of warming her up and increasing her temperature), and took her away to the special care nursery, where Paul didn’t leave Poppy’s side.
I had a million terrifying thoughts, a million What Ifs whirling through my head.
Unfortunately, at only 32 weeks gestation, my body wasn’t ready for labour so I was unable to birth the placenta and as a result, I had to go to theatre to have it removed. Due to the spinal block, I couldn’t walk for about five hours, which meant I didn’t get to meet our little girl that night. I woke up the next morning and looked around our hospital room. There was Paul, lying next to me on his trundle bed, but there was no baby. I placed my hands on my belly where only hours ago our little girl had been inside. I felt empty. I was so deeply sad that our poor, tiny little Poppy wasn’t there with us. It was so surreal, as I think deep down I wasn’t prepared for not being pregnant anymore. We had had our little girl, but she wasn’t there with us, instead she was lying in an incubator in the Special Care Nursery.
As soon as I could walk, Paul and I made our way to the SCN. I walked in and saw a line up of incubators. Teeny, tiny, precious babies all fast asleep with cords, drips and monitors all attached. Which one is Poppy? Where is my baby girl? Paul had to walk me over to where Poppy was located and it was at that moment, I felt like I finally got to meet my daughter. We weren’t allowed to hold her or open the incubator, but they let me put my hand through a little window and I reached out to hold my baby girl’s hand. And that’s when finally the tears flowed. And kept flowing and didn’t stop. Our little Poppy was here and she was going to be okay.
We had so much love and support from our families and our beautiful friends, which was incredible. I had to let go of so many pictures I had in my head of what I had imagined for the birth and the week after the birth. Naively, I had picked out the first outfit and blanket that I wanted Poppy to wear for her first hospital photo (for us to use on social media of course!) – Poppy didn’t even wear clothes for the first week of her life, only needing a nappy in the incubator, and when she finally did wear clothes, they were premmie ones for the first eight weeks. We had friends wanting to visit us in hospital, just like I had done when they had their children, but I found it incredibly difficult to have visitors when Poppy wasn’t there in our room for them to meet. For me, having visitors highlighted how different our experience had been compared with what I had always imagined. Instead of laying in my arms, Poppy was in her incubator in the SCN where we were only allowed to hold her for 20 minutes a day. Our sole focus each and every day was that she would get stronger and bigger; that she would soon be able to maintain her own body temperature so she could come out of the incubator and one day, no longer need her feeding tube.
Walking out of the hospital for the first time without our newborn baby was without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. My heart felt broken. In a way, I felt like I had failed her and that I was abandoning my tiny Poppy by leaving her side. That first week out of the hospital was also by far the most challenging. Paul had planned on taking two weeks off work when Poppy was born, but as she wasn’t home with us, he had to go back to work while she was in the SCN. Every day he would visit her and give her her morning feed through her food tube and meet us back there straight after work. In the meantime, I had set my alarm every three hours, all day and night, so I could keep up with Poppy’s demand then deliver it to her in hospital every morning. The middle-of-the-night express sessions were so tough with no Poppy in my arms –I would often call the SCN just to check in on her, ask the nurses how she was and if she’d put on any weight.
I would go up to my local shops or the café that I went to every day while I was pregnant and remember how uncomfortable I felt; so many strange looks because the regular barrister and girls behind the counter knew I had been pregnant last week and yet here I am, no longer pregnant but with no baby either. I didn’t take off my hospital wristband until the day Poppy came home (nearly 6 weeks later); weirdly, I felt like it was my one connection to her, a little piece of evidence I held on to that she was born and would soon be home.
The midwives at the SCN not only became my friends, they felt like family. They loved Poppy and knew her as well as we did. They treated her like she was their own daughter. I feel forever in their debt; they truly are guardian angels and were so compassionate, kind, patient, understanding and loving.
Every day I walked into the SCN they would give me an exciting update from the overnight shift, “Oh our little Poppy put on another 65 grams!” The SCN became my haven and I would spend hours there each day. We became friends with the other mothers and fathers who had their babies in there too; it was so nice to share our experiences and know that others had similar stories. I would sit in there patiently waiting to be able to hold my Poppy (twice a day for short periods) and watching her sleep in her incubator, her little chest rising and falling with every breath.
36 days after Poppy was born (at 36 weeks +6 days), we were able to take her home and it was the most incredible feeling we had ever experienced. Although I felt heavy-hearted to leave the incredible SCN nurses who played a part in our lives that will stay with us forever, walking through those doors was a day I’ll never ever forget; it was exciting, overwhelming, terrifying and absolutely surreal. The first week at home I called the Special Care Nursery nearly every day asking so many questions, panicked that we weren’t doing the right thing. We were so used to having to fill out Poppy’s chart every single feed and record her dirty nappies, weight, temperature, etc that it took me a few days to get used to it.
They’ve never been able to work out why Poppy decided to come eight weeks early, but I like to think of those extra weeks as bonus time that we were lucky enough to have with our baby girl. It was an extra chapter of her life for us to fall head over heels in love with her, bond with her and get to know her eight weeks before we ever thought we would.
Now, at 7 months old (5 months adjusted), Poppy is thriving. She weighs over 6kg, which was a massive milestone and is smiling all the time, happy, calm and sleeping like a little superstar (silver lining of the SCN as they put all their babies into 4-hour feed/sleep routine, which is brilliant!).
We feel so incredibly lucky and beyond grateful for our Poppy. We will forever be grateful for Dr Joe, the incredible midwives and the Special Care Nurses that provided the best care for our baby girl. It was a very tough start to Poppy’s life, but my gosh she showed us how strong, determined and brave she is and we will treasure our bonus eight weeks with her forever.