Like most preterm births, my pregnancy started out a textbook and normal. Having a 5-year-old already, we were more relaxed and knew what to expect. 

Things started to take a turn when I hit 13 weeks and I started to bleed continuously. Unfortunately, even after many ultrasounds, no one could diagnose the problem. Sophia remained fine, with no signs of being affected by the bleeding. I was hospitalized at the antenatal ward at 24 weeks after starting contractions – I contracted for 2 weeks. Every night, I went to the delivery suite, returning to the ward in the morning with the achievement of “keeping her in for one more day”! 

My time in Antenatal was heartbreaking – being on bed rest was not expected; and my plans to spend the summer holidays with my son before he started Kindy and became a sibling were torn away. I felt deeply guilty for leaving my son, not being able to drop him off or pick him up from school, not tucking him in bed – sent me into tears every morning and every night. I knew I was doing the right thing for my unborn baby at the sacrifice for my other child not having his mummy around…The midwives kept me going and were amazing – every morning they would wipe away my tears and give me the words of encouragement “every day on the inside is equivalent to 3 days on the outside” – I clung to this statement.

We were given a tour of NICU during our stay at antenatal – I remember seeing all the tiny babies in incubators and questioning their age/ gestation so I could compare it with Sophia’s – but in my head, I was in denial that this would be where we would end up.  Even when we signed the “election to resuscitate” form, in the event that Sophia would be born early, I was still in denial that it would happen.

At exactly 26 weeks, after 14 days of contractions, my waters broke. Sophia was born 3 hours later, naturally on the surgery table! A horrific experience, but we are so grateful for the team of pediatricians, our obstetrician, midwives, nurses and doctors.

Sophia has whisked away at birth, and it wasn’t until 3 hours later that I got to see her. It was at birth my condition was diagnosed as Placental Abruption. 

Sophia was 26 weeks gestation, 830 grams. Her skin was red, shiny and transparent. Her ears were not developed and were just very thin skin flaps. She looked helpless and so very tiny. All the lines and respiratory support were bigger than her. I just remembered thinking that there was so much machinery keeping her alive… The next morning, Sophia opened her eyes and looked straight back at me, though the incubator, while I held her hand, that was the first time I cried…. did she know who I was? I hated that I loved her so much already…..

Our life in NICU began. Sophia had chronic lung and had constant battles with oxygenation, anemia and infection. She was anemic and during her time in NICU, had 5 blood transfusions and several bouts of infections requiring IV antibiotics. It wasn’t till 4 weeks before we got to hold Sophia for the first time, when the humidity was turned off in her incubator. For a mum, not holding your baby on the day she is born is an awful, helpless feeling….  We spent 9 weeks in intensive care, which was the hardest for us, as she just seemed unable to get off CPAP, and her monitors were constantly ringing. I remember watching babies come and go, mums holding and breastfeeding their babies, whilst we were just praying constantly for Sophia to just breathe well…. I learnt that every baby’s journey is different and they are all individuals, our Sophia just needed time, and if that was the case, we would give her as much as she needed…. Time, prayers and lots of love…

Christmas came and went, New Years came and went and our son turned 5 and had his first day in Kindergarten. I really don’t remember much about the holiday season; every day was spent in NICU, I just wanted to be next to my girl, to feel helpful as her mother. Every morning I felt like I was rushing to get to Sophia. I would cry driving to the hospital and as soon as I reached the car park, I would stop, and run through the hospital to get there. My life consisted of looking forward to her cares (nappy change, face wash), kangaroo cuddles, pumping every 3 hours, rushing to pick up my son from school and swapping with hubby so he could go to the hospital.

What we did realize during our experience is the overwhelming support from family and friends – from mums at my sons’ school cooking and doing school pick-ups, ladies from church who delivered hot dinners, friends who texted us daily for updates and family who took it in turns to cook dinners and care for our son. Our family became stronger, and I saw strengths in all of us that I didn’t see before. My husband’s strength, positivity and support shone through this whole experience, and I really can’t see anyone else who could have got me thought this, but him. He never missed a blood transfusion or procedure to be by Sophia’s side. He sat holding her hand for the 4-hour transfusion, even if it was in the early hours of the morning, only to rush to work straight after. He was the pillar that held me up, when all I wanted to do was a collapse.

Most of all was our fellow NICU parents. They were our daily support group, we’re there to share our sadness, joy, milestones, and anxiety, and were there to share our daily coffee and dinners during quiet time or nurse change over. Their strength gave us strength. Out of a difficult situation, the positive was, that we met some amazing families, friends that will stay in our hearts and lives forever. Ever since our time in NICU, our “NICU Family” has remained a constant in our lives, and we couldn’t live without them.

Sophia came home after 86 days in NICU, before her due date. She is a healthy, happiest and settled baby. Someone once asked me if I believed in angels, I do, and I have been lucky to have one. Sophia came to teach us how delicate, fragile and important life is. That – at any moment life can change, but love, faith, family and support can get you through even the most difficult of experiences.