pregnancy

'After my premature birth at 26 weeks, I was diagnosed with PTSD from the trauma.'

Early in 2017, my partner Ross and I discovered we were pregnant. We were told at nine weeks that we had lost our baby, only to find out a week later that she was in fact still thriving. We knew she was a fighter.

On July 23 at 4am, my waters broke in Bombala, two and a half hours from Canberra. I was just 25 weeks along. After a few panicked phone calls we were transferred by ambulance to Centenary Hospital for Women and Children in Canberra.

Throughout the ambulance trip, Ross and I didn’t talk much. We were so invested in this little baby and we had no idea what the outcome was going to be.

Once we arrived at the hospital, we spoke to a range of medical professionals about statistics, risks and likely outcomes for a baby being born at 25 weeks. We were told that if our baby did survive, we would be looking at a four-to-five month stay in hospital. That meant not going home until Millie was strong enough to breathe on her own.

A little voice inside my head said, “How will you manage that?” This was not the journey to motherhood that I was expecting.

On our new parenting podcast This Glorious Mess Little Kids, hosts Tegan Natoli and Leigh Campbell share their very different birth stories. Post continues after audio.

I hadn’t gone into labour yet, so we were transferred to antenatal at 25 weeks gestation. Once things settled down, we started to meet people in similar situations to us. One couple was Mel and Mark from Tumut, staying just down the corridor from us. They were pregnant with twins and there had been some complications.

Mel and I were on bed rest, so it was the boys who developed our friendship at the start.

Mel and Mark welcomed their twins on July 30, and we had Millie soon after on August 1 at 26 weeks, weighing just 866 grams. We didn’t see Millie straight away and didn’t get to hold our precious daughter for many days after she was born.

25 weeks
"This was not the journey to motherhood that I was expecting." Image: Supplied
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We were told that we would be moving into Ronald McDonald House (RMCH) ACT. We were warmly welcomed, and although we were still in a state of stock, we immediately felt grateful that there was a place for us to recover and be able to focus on looking after Millie.

There were many families in a similar situation with babies in the NICU. Mel and Mark were just down the hallway and over the following months we developed a friendship that we cherish.

We formed a RMCH group of 'longstayers' and we would laugh and cry together, celebrate all the milestones and support each other on the good and bad days. We would cook for each other and have takeaway on the nights we couldn't do anything more. The volunteers would also cook for us and quite often give us a hug at the end of a long day, always enquiring about Miss Millie and her progress.

Over the next few months, the babies grew and were transferred to other hospitals or, if they were lucky enough, to home. Our 'longstayers' group vowed to stay in touch.

Ross with baby Millie.
Ross with baby Millie.

There were some very challenging times for us as a new family once we left the hospital. I had never experienced anxiety before - I thought I was the strong one. But I was traumatised by what happened to us and Millie. I would wait the day out at home for Ross to finish work, hand Millie over to him, and go outside to scream and cry.

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The pressure of looking after a delicate neonate was something I wasn't expecting.

We would go days without seeing anyone and the isolation took its toll on us. My world was like living in a war zone. I would have terrible nightmares and the thought of travelling in the car with Millie with a lack of phone reception in our area made me physically sick.

I ended up being diagnosed with PTSD by a wonderfully supportive GP. She reassured me that things would get better from that point on. Thankfully, she was right. I had intensive therapy that helped me deal with my worries about Millie, especially the worry of her becoming unwell. You become very focused on germs when you live in a hospital for an extended period of time.

The good news is that we have recovered - I believe time truly does heal wounds. We are now expecting our next baby (we are 36 weeks this week!) and we’re going to back at RMHC Canberra for the birth. We’re so lucky to have a family there ready to welcome us.

As us 'longstayers' all have babies with birthdays close together, we get together to celebrate and catch up on the progress of our miracle babies.

Millie's 1st birthday. Image: Supplied

When we talk now, we compare notes on our wild babies, strong-willed and full of fight.

As the largest annual fundraiser for RMHC Australia nationally, McHappy Day is instrumental in raising funds for the charity, which helps keep families together while their seriously ill child undergoes treatment. McHappy Day is this Saturday November 16.

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