[image]Andrea Doney- Connor 34 weeks photo2 resized.jpg

Miracle Mum, Andrea conceived her precious second baby after ten cycles of IVF. However, she went into preterm labour at 23 weeks and managed to hold off for another three months before welcoming baby Connor into the world.

"My pregnancy was a precious and hard-fought one. After four years of IVF and ten expensive, emotional and gruelling cycles my husband and I finally conceived our much longed-for second baby. Although my older son was fast approaching his fifth birthday, I remembered well the road ahead of me, the crippling impact of morning sickness, exhaustion and discomfort and I braced myself for the inevitable inconveniences of these. But nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.

Having spent years tracking every moment of my cycles, temperatures, blood and hormone levels I was well schooled in the habits of painstakingly ticking off the precious weeks and days of my pregnancy. So I know that it was at precisely twenty-three weeks and one day that I went into labour. It was also my father’s birthday, so the date of 21 November is forever etched in my heart. I woke up one morning prepared to go work, when I realised I was spotting blood. I rang the hospital, who agreed with my initial diagnosis that it was probably nothing, but that it was worth getting checked out nevertheless. I rang my boss to let her know I would be an hour or two late (how funny that seems to me now!), and hopped in my car. It was a gorgeous, sunny morning. The kind where dappled light filters through spring leaves and birdsong makes you feel good about the world. The midwives showed me to a wide, sunny room overlooking a playground, and I could hear the squeals of delight from children playing below. I remember thinking, as I allowed myself an indulgent stretch on the white sheets of my bed, that there were worse ways to spend a few working hours.

Little did I know.

The doctors arrived pretty promptly, asked me a few questions about my pregnancy and symptoms, and requested a quick internal exam. After years of IVF I was pretty accustomed to the indignities of these, but I had never seen the look of alarm that flashed across my doctor’s features after only a moment’s glance. He muttered to the midwife in that multisyllabic medical gobbledygook that always seems so impressive on television but is frankly terrifying in real life. She raced from the room and came back with a wheelchair, suggesting with a friendliness bordering on mania that I come with her for an ultrasound. I was bewildered at the speed at which I was jumping queues and getting attention, and struggled to make sense of the proceedings. The radiographer and midwife continued the stream of unintelligible medi-speak but I did catch the word ‘funnelling’ several times. Knowing by now that things were not looking good. I could feel the lump in my throat expanding rapidly and I really struggled to find the courage to ask them what they were looking at. As sweetly as she could, the radiographer explained that my cervix was shortened and dilated, and that it seemed as if I was in labour.

Back to the sanctity of my hospital room, its earlier cathedral, now shattered by dozens of nurses and doctors, preparing injections and exchanging instructions and repeatedly assuring me that things were okay but I was not under any circumstances to stand up. Summonsed from work, my husband Wayne arrived and held my hand, a life-line in the chaos. A senior doctor explained to me that I was in labour, that my cervix was shortened and dilated and that the membranes surrounding the baby were clearly visible. Their suburban hospital was not set up to cater for premature births and they had made arrangements to transfer me to another hospital, half an hour away, who were preparing for me even as we spoke. At 23 weeks, he chimed, as lovingly as it was possible for a stranger to be, my pregnancy was not viable. But they had given me steroids to boost the baby’s lungs, drugs to slow the contractions and had every hope that they could delay the birth for a while. Every hour, every day, he intoned with a smile, counted in my favour.

Strange as it may seem, I didn’t cry. It was all too surreal, like it was happening in a movie. I lay in the back of the ambulance, sirens wailing and lights flashing, trying to make sense of the trees and light poles and sky as they scrolled past. The intimately familiar Pacific Highway looks entirely different when viewed backwards and upside down. In no time at all the new, bigger hospital admitted me to the delivery ward, another set of doctors examined me and ordered yet another set of scans. The verdict was repeated, and I was ordered to rest.

Things began to blur and I struggle to remember the sequence of events after that. But one particular conversation with the doctor in charge of the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit stands out. He explained the risks associated with premature birth, how lungs and blood vessels and the minutiae of miracles needed to support life in a baby were just not ready, in my case. If I gave birth, he said, my baby would probably not survive. And if he did, he would face a gargantuan series of hurdles most of which ended with severe disability or blindness. His bleak message, though, was delivered in mellifluous tones that seeped through me like a warm quilt on a freezing night. Absolutely numb with confusion, grief and drugs I remember making out the words ‘quality of life death’ and a carefully explained message of how our baby would be comfortable no matter what happened to him. After that, I chose not to listen any more.

Once he left I put my head on my husband’s shoulder and for the first time in hours, I gave way to emotion.  The years of effort spent achieving this precious pregnancy, the love and longing for a baby conceived but not yet born, the magnificent volume of drugs in my blood, the heartache of the news just heard, the terror of what we were facing and an overwhelming sense of fear crashed simultaneously into my head and chest and I gave in to it. A nameless, fearful noise came out of me and I cried like I have never cried before, keening and wailing and hauling at feelings too big to contain for a minute. It was as if I had ceased to exist, my entire being consisting of nothing but darkness and grief and pain and the one solitary lifeline of the warmth to be had from my husband’s shoulder. It might have been moments or hours that passed, I don’t know, but that bilious wailing was terrifying and overwhelming and ultimately, cathartic.

Hours later, once we were both too exhausted to cry, we tried to sleep. And at some hour in the pre-dawn gloom I found a peaceful place in my head, at last, where the final shreds of my strength seemed to reside. Like a pilgrim kneeling at last before a lighted candle, I asked my body, plainly and simply, not to give birth. I talked to the baby and asked him to stay. I promised myself to devote every single scrap of energy to the quest and as the dawn snuck around the blinds I surrendered to the unknown, I closed my eyes and I finally went to sleep.

A long story follows, of hours and days and weeks staring at the ceiling of my hospital room and counting off the milestones. Twenty-four weeks to viability, twenty-seven weeks to significantly brighter outcomes, thirty weeks to being almost out of the woods. Every day a tedious repetition of ‘obs’ (observations), awful food, doctor’s rounds, bleeping machines, friendly nurses, ultrasounds, medicine, wash, rinse, repeat. As the immediate terror of early labour subsided, a new set of anxieties swelled up in its place, like how to care for my pre-schooler at home with no extended family in Australia, how to support my husband who was cracking under the strain of a full-time job, an unsympathetic employer, a needy child at home and all the usual meals to cook, bills to pay and jobs to be done. Every day was a marathon for him, juggling a patchwork of child-care arrangements, commuting, the logistics of snacks and toys and nap times, the hour-long return trip to the hospital, answering the ‘when’s mummy coming home questions’ and putting on a brave face for me. With hindsight it was the most brutal thing we had ever endured, and that’s saying something since we have previously survived immigration, a cancer diagnosis, retrenchment and unemployment, moving house, a child who simply didn’t understand the definition of sleep, and infertility.  As we now like to joke with one another, we have done the ‘in sickness’ and ‘for poorness’ part. Bring on the ‘for richer’ and ‘in health!’

In all, I spent three months in hospital. But you don’t know, going in, how long the road will be. I longed for home, I pined for privacy, I was bored senseless and I was literally sick to death of the twice-cooked swill they call food. My friends however performed miracles by organising themselves into a roster of child-carers and chefs, my mum-in-law and mother ran an inter-continental relay to come to our aid and the midwives, stenographers and doctors sang a blissfully well-rehearsed chorus of reassurance and praise. No one at the hospital had ever seen such a dynamic cervix as mine before (not something I ever thought I would be famous for!), they extolled, and no one had ever lasted more than eight weeks at seven centimetres dilated. Except me!  At one stage, my placenta dangled all the way down into the birth canal and doctors warned me daily that a premature birth was imminent. I missed Christmas at home, I missed my son’s fifth birthday and was only able to attend his first ever day of school by begging and pleading for so-called ‘gate leave’ so that I could kiss him goodbye at his classroom door. I watched the new year’s eve fireworks from a waiting room window. But it was a price worth paying, I told myself daily, for the sake of both the lives at stake.

One night I met a girl named Claire in the ward’s dining room who began to cry when she saw my still-pregnant belly. It transpired she had gone into early labour the night before, and had lost her baby girl at twenty four weeks. Her story mollified me, having allowed a certain confidence and familiarity of things to take over, and I realised how lucky I truly was. As I watched that girl cry the way I had cried on my arrival, and I saw the stony grief of her husband as he put a rigid arm around her, I realised how truly lucky I was. There, I thought, but for the grace of God go I.

I went into labour regularly during my stay, more times than I care to remember. But miraculously the cocktail of nifedipine, steroids, antibiotics and rest seemed to work in my case. My waters broke at thirty weeks, and I once again braced myself for the labour that was surely to follow. But the contractions obeyed the orders of the medicine, and subsided. I waddled around like an undignified duck with a full nappy for another four weeks, before the contractions resumed, this time for good.

Our precious son Connor was born at thirty-four weeks and fifteen minutes exactly. The paediatric specialist stood waiting at the door with his scrubbed hands outstretched, ready to rush the baby to the NICU at a moment’s notice, but Connor’s outraged bellowing at being expelled from his comfortable bed sent the doctor slouching back down the corridor like a cricketer out for a duck. I watched him walk away, and to this day remember the sight of his back being one of the most reassuring visions of my life. If he didn’t need to rush Connor away from me, then things were surely going to be okay.

With our preliminary cuddles over, Connor spent a few days in the NICU and high care, but was released home to us at a mere thirty-five weeks and one day’s gestation. Having shattered all hospital records, he continues to go from strength to strength and I still can’t look at him without feeling sheer undiluted elation. He is literally every dream come true. He is also a reminder of how senselessly lucky I am, with no rhyme or reason to explain why my pregnancy continued while the likes of Claire’s didn’t.  

When I think back on that whole dark episode, which has become such a stark and defining episode in my life, it is often that first night that I recall, and the peculiar and disembodied noises I made when we thought that we would lose our precious boy. And although you will think it a very strange thing to do, I often think of that as one of the best things that has ever happened to me. To have travelled so far down the mortal coil, like a bungee jumper viewing death in the looming reflection of an inky river, to have brushed those icy waters with my finger tips and travelled back to tell the tale, is a testament to a resilience that I never knew I had. To have a happy tale to tell when it might so easily have ended differently is nothing short of a miracle and one that still gives my step bounce. I know how lucky I am. I have an adoring husband, two healthy children and a whole new perspective on things. And I still hold the hospital record for being the woman who was in labour for three months. And how many people can lay claim to that?"

Thank you Andrea for sharing your story.

Andrea Doney- Connor 34 weeks photo.jpg



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