Callum

I had the most horrible pregnancy with morning sickness until 22 weeks, food poisoning at 6 weeks, chicken pox at 10 weeks, and back-pain so bad I couldn't even walk or get out of bed some days. I also suffered terribly from oedema or swelling. The swelling affected my legs and hands but also my face and my breathing. Out of all the things that went wrong in my pregnancy, it was the swelling that made it hell.

I'm a nurse and intended to work up to 37 weeks, but as my pregnancy progressed and I struggled to keep up with everything, I decided to finish work at 35 weeks. I even had to buy a new pair of shoes a size bigger than normal for work – my feet were enormous! As I plodded along though, I could not wait to finish work – little did I know...

On the day my son was born, I went to work as normal. I couldn't even talk properly, my lips were so swollen, but I actually felt good. My colleagues though told me otherwise, and I was even stopped in the hospital corridors to be told I looked "terrible". Just after morning tea, I waddled my way (in my new size 10 shoes) to the birthing unit of the hospital where I work. I asked them to check me out because despite my obstetrician's continual reassurance that "swelling in pregnancy is normal" I knew this surely was not normal. The midwife tested my blood pressure and my urine, and they were all normal albeit borderline. She put me on the monitor while waiting for the registrar, and totally exhausted, I took the opportunity for a nap.

After 20 mins, the midwife came in to update me on the comings and goings of the doctors and to check the monitor trace of the baby. When she bellowed out a swear word and ran off with the tracing, I knew there was a problem. My son's heart rate had dropped to 80 beats per minute for about 30 seconds - a sign of fetal distress. The fact that they had found something wrong initiated two very distinct emotions in me, and neither one of them was fear. One was a sense of satisfaction in knowing that I was right – I KNEW there was something wrong! The other was the sheer sense of RELIEF. Something was going to be done to help me and my baby. Perhaps some medication and closer monitoring was all I needed? And I really hoped they would tell me I could finish work early! I had a scan which showed a further problem and was sent back to the birthing unit to wait for the verdict. I was told: "We need to send you to Liverpool Hospital. You need to be there ASAP." When I asked what will they do there, what I heard next was like a bolt of lightning: "They're going to deliver your baby. Today." Despite the shock of being told you're going to be a parent 10 weeks earlier than planned, I was still unafraid. My professional experience took over, and I knew at 30 weeks, my little boy would be OK. I knew in my soul that it would all be fine. In fact, some thought I was not coping at all because I was so cheerful! But I really was so relieved. The blunt reality was that my son was slowly dying inside me and it was time for him to come out.

I found the experience of having a Caesarean surreal. It was to be a general anaesthetic, but they could not administer the drugs until I was fully prepped and on the table ready to go. This is to reduce the length of time the baby is exposed to the anaesthetic. As a nurse with some experience in operating theatres, I could hear the nurses counting instruments and sponges, I could hear the anaesthetist discuss the drug dosages and I could feel the cold of the betadine as they sterilized my skin. I knew what was coming and now I was scared!

At 10:04pm on 20th May 2009, our son Callum was born. He was taken straight to the NICU, and I was taken to Recovery. The first thing I remember is being woken by the anaesthetic registrar shouting at me to open my eyes. Then he shouted something to me that I will remember forever. He said "Your baby's fine! He even cried when he came out!" All was good.

After spending hours with our son, my husband finally came to see me with a photo taken by the nurses in the NICU. I didn't get see him in person until the next day – 14 hours after he was born. The midwives on the ward said that the porters were too busy to take me to the NICU in the night. To this day I am still angry about this. Receiving phone calls to tell me my son was beautiful when I hadn't even seen him yet was gut-wrenching. When I finally did get to see him, there was one very strange moment where I looked around at the other babies to make sure that this one I was standing in front of was indeed mine. What if they had a mix-up? I did not want to bond with someone else's baby, I so I hesitated to respond to him. I did not want to touch him. It was a bizarre rollercoaster of emotions, but it only lasted a minute. I was taken aback by his size, but fascinated by how perfectly formed he was. He really was beautiful. And tiny. At 1286g he was on the smaller end of the weight spectrum for a 30 weeker. And he was mine.

I kept positive and used my nursing knowledge to teach my husband about all the goings-on with our son and interact with the staff. On day 3, the doctors told me they weren't happy with his progress and suddenly I felt my world spiral out of control. As one of the doctors described it "you've taken your nurse hat off and out your mum hat on." I was a mess (I still blame those ghastly hormones!!). Callum stayed on CPAP for 10 days, which was about 3-times longer than that of a "normal" 30-weeker. His bowels did not function normally, and so he was denied feeds. When he did start feeding, he was given one ml of milk every 2 hours (and I was the milking cow, expressing 150ml every four hours!) But slowly he progressed.

One of the most amazing moments was the first time I held him. He was 5 days old and we had our first of many kangaroo cuddles. He was so scrawny and wriggled around until he got comfy. And then he slept. And it was heaven. After 2-and-a-bit weeks at Liverpool Hospital, Callum was down-graded and transferred to Campbelltown. Slowly he gained weight, had plenty of firsts like first bath, first clothes and first breast-feed. He had a hiccup along the way where he required CPAP again for 24 hours, but it all settled down and we kept moving on. At 37 weeks gestation, Callum finally came home. He weighed only 2105g, but he was feeding well and so the doctors were happy for him to be discharged. That's when the fun really began!! But once he was home Callum came along in leaps-and-bounds and now he is a typical cheeky 20 month old that won't sit still!

My experience taught me many things, both about myself, but also about my husband and our family, my profession and of course my son. Premmies are tough little buggers. They fight, even after they grow up and are well. They're stubborn and determined and won't take no for an answer! I look at Callum every day and think "He really is our little miracle..." and despite the trauma I am grateful for the experience and of course, the outcome.

 

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