Baby Hudson is just seven months old. He has a bright, toothless grin and is a “really happy boy”, according to his mum, who says he is beginning to love the sound of the voice he is only just starting to find.
He is rolling now, holding his own head up and doing “great” tummy time. His next little project, for the moment, is trying to get his tiny knees up. He isn’t so good at that one and he knows it. His tiny face gets angry with every failed attempt, but his mum doesn’t think it’ll be long before he is able.
Because baby Hudson, against all odds, is a very able little boy. A miracle boy, who has fought to be here more in the last seven months than many fight in a lifetime.
Born at just 23 weeks, Hudson entered a world that made him fight for his right to stay in it. Weighing just 684 grams and measuring just 30 centimetres long, Hudson is one of the most remarkable premature babies in the country.
His mother, 21-year-old Jodie Hollis-Tobin from Brisbane, knows all about remarkable premature babies. After all, she’s had three of them.
Her and ex-partner Josh Meehan's first child, Ariella, was born at 33 weeks in 2015. A year later, in 2016, they welcomed another child, Tobias, at just 25 weeks and 866 grams.
So, when Jodie was told her third baby was coming at 23 weeks, Jodie wasn't surprised, but she was absolutely, positively terrified. So much so, she refused to believe it.
"I was hoping [he wasn't going to come early] because my pregnancy was pretty smooth sailing," Jodie tells Mamamia over the phone from her Queensland home. "To be honest, I didn't think anything of it. My only hope was to get past my 25-weeker. That was my goal."
However, at 23 weeks she experienced bleeding she explains "didn't feel right". After going to her GP, who then directed her to the hospital, her doctors noticed her cervix was "starting to open". They tried an emergency rescue stitch, but upon closer inspection, knew it wasn't viable.
"[A doctor] looked at me and he said, 'I have bad news, he is coming now'. I said, 'No, he is not'. He said, 'Yes, he is'. Then he turned to the other doctors and said, 'She needs to go and she needs to go now'."
In that moment, Jodie said she could only muster one sentence on repeat.
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"I kept saying, 'It can be stopped, it can be stopped.'"
Baby Hudson, however, wasn't stopping for anyone.
"At one point another doctor turned to me. Her words to me were, 'He's not going to survive this.' I got really angry at her. I said, 'It's not your place to say that.'
"She said, 'It's a foetus.'
"I said 'No, that's my son.'"
For Jodie, when it's your own flesh and blood, "you don't have a choice". She needed to fight for him.
If not her, who?
"If I hadn't had my 33-weeker and 25-weeker, I don't know if I would've fought how I did. You trust the doctor, and don't get me wrong they're amazing, but you listen to them."
The doctors were telling her it was unlikely he would survive and if it was close, they didn't want to resuscitate him. So, after consultation with Josh, the duo decided that if their baby boy was struggling, they would let him go.
"He was going to be breech, so I couldn't go natural. He was too tiny, and they thought I could suffocate him. I had to go c-section, but I said I wanted to be awake. If I was asleep, I would be drowsy, and there was a chance the drowsiness could transfer to him. And if he was drowsy and didn't [look well], they may not have resuscitated him when he came out."
For someone who says she "cries when [she] stubs her toe", the choice to be awake during a c-section was "horrible". But she knew - she knew "it had to be done for him".
Baby Hudson arrived. He was, well, alive and ready to be loved by his parents.
Over the course of the next five months, Josh and Jodie were glued to the bed he lay. On day 21, mum got her first cuddle. On day 53, dad got his first cuddle. On day 95, Nonna and Poppy - Jodie's parents - got theirs.
In his short life so far, Hudson has had issues with his eyes and lungs, bleeding on the brain and meningitis, just to name a few. Some of the surgeries were so invasive and his body so tiny, Jodie and Josh prepared to say goodbye to their little boy no less than four times in 132 days.
"I think it doesn't hit you," Jodie says, of the times they were told Hudson might not make it.
"We sat there, I was looking at little angel gowns and little coffins. We knew it had to be done. There are no words."
Come October, their luck had begun to change.
"After three surgeries, a lot of times being told to prepare to say goodbye and 132 days he finally got to come home on 14th October."
Christmas, suddenly, was a holiday the family might actually get to celebrate together.
"It's something I didn't think we would see, I didn't even get presents to start with. I didn't even buy baby clothes - I just didn't want to jinx anything."
Hudson's siblings were more than happy to have him home. They are "pretty much" best friends now, the three of them together, holding their baby brother's hand.
And as for Jodie, well, you'd never imagine someone with the resilience to carry the load of three premature babies would be just 21 years old.
If nothing else, she says, in a kind of wisdom beyond her years, you just have to grow up. What else is there to do?
"We have a little baby depending on us. I used to fall apart and break down, then I thought to myself, my kids don't know [what's going on]. I have to pick myself up for them.
"You so have so much support* there, but you just have to get through it."
The experience of having a baby that came so close to not making it is a journey, Jodie says, she "wouldn't wish on [her] worst enemy".
"He will never be in the all clear but he is here now and he fought to be here and that tells me he was meant to be on this earth.
"Right now in this moment in time, I am happy and content."
*Of all the support she received, Jodie would like to make special mention of all their medical staff (in particular, Hudson's consultant Tim Donovan), the Ronald McDonald House Herston and the Preterm Infants' Parents' Association.
Listen to the latest episode of Mamamia's parenting podcast This Glorious Mess below.
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