Placenta Previa & the Birth of a Micro-Preemie: A Personal Story of Hope and Faith.
By Julia Thomashoff
I am delighted to introduce our second guest contributor, Julia Thomashoff. Julia’s daughter, Chloé, was born at 27 weeks. Six years later, when Lily was in the NICU, Julia became a great confidante for me, especially in the early days . She gave me the courage to have hope and to have faith, and for that I will be ever in her debt. I am sure that this honest and beautifully written blog will resonate with other preemie parents.
Where to begin? I think all mothers of a Preemie consider this when asked to tell their story. We all have had different experiences, challenges and heartbreaks. These are also relative, we are all unique. Our journeys will not be the same. In its shortest form the two most prevalent words that come to mind are love and fear.
On the 10th June 2013 I was alone with my son who was not yet 3 years old, chopping vegetables in the kitchen. A normal day, like any other, a Winter’s day. Suddenly I felt liquid running down my legs, my first reaction was that I had lost control of my bladder. Apart from this sensation I felt absolutely nothing else and so I was stunned to see blood running down my legs, seeping onto the floor, instead of urine.
Shock, confusion, disbelief, unprepared, are words that come to mind and are a shared experience of mothers who have experienced premature birth. Even if one is aware of the potential of a premature birth, no amount of preparation can equip one for the reality. Not to mention that I just had a check-up and my Gynae had been happy and assured with my pregnancy.
When my Gynae had said that it was rare, and that the worst possible outcome of Placenta Previa would be like opening a faucet of blood and not water, she had not been exaggerating as I stood in a pool of blood. I remember at the time thinking, that kind of thing happens to other people. A quizzical moment of consideration before it left my consciousness into the Ether.
In our modern world, stories of problem pregnancies, births and loss, for the most part are far removed. My family and friends that had children at the time had mostly had predictable pregnancies. This was completely unknown territory and territory that one would hope never to enter. My first born came at 35 weeks, naturally and breached. I therefore was aware that the second may come slightly early and at that time the thought that we would consider my son as the full term one seemed ludicrous.
After the initial unexpected shock, it is very hard to explain in words how I felt. I lost all sense of time, as if time slowed from seconds to minutes. Shock was replaced with a sense of knowing. My mind and senses sharpened as if guiding me and an aura of reassurance held me. As this is my story and one of hope and faith, I can only describe it as divine intervention, Science will call it trauma. Still, it is a miracle that the human body protects itself in the face of trauma. Science and faith are not often found in the same sentence, but science definitely saved our lives. And this is a story of both.
Divine intervention that we were blessed by the most amazing medical team. Looking back, we do not have much control over pregnancy and birth. We may be lucky (as I was) to have some choice about our medical staff. At the time it had not been a conscious decision, but I had chosen a Gynae and Paed that made me feel safe, who are reassuring and kind. They opted to view the world with the best in mind and only prepare for the worst if they had to. This was my personal need, others may feel safer being informed on all possibilities, such is the rich tapestry of life. With synchronicity the rest of the medical staff that ensued held us, particularly the dedicated nurses who made the intolerable, tolerable. The NICU would become our home.
I recall the strangest details as if they were yesterday. I tell you this because it is an experience that most of us will never have encountered. Such as the opposing emotions of fear and love, so was my shock mixed with the most mundane of details. Lying on the floor with my legs resting up against the wall as instructed by the medics as we waited for them. I recall the heart-breaking moment of my son lying next to me, thinking it was a game as I smiled and pretended it was. The exact time of 7 minutes that it took for the medics to arrive. Dusk having turned to darkness as I was wheeled to the ambulance and the screams of my son calling for his Mother. My heart breaking for him and the promise to myself that I would, had to return to him. Etched in my mind was the strange preoccupation with how bumpy the ambulance felt, rather than the smooth ride I had always assumed it would be. This feeling of heartbreak intertwined with the mundane will repeat itself day after day with a Preemie. The thought of not surviving had not occurred to me and my only concern was for my baby, the mothering instinct was strong. It is astonishing the details I remember considering I had lost more than half of my blood by the time I reached the hospital.
Chloé was born by C-section, 930 grams at 27 weeks. Until this moment I had not believed that our baby would be born that night. To our disbelief this tiny feisty little baby was crying, it was not the belting cry of a newborn, but quieter, and she was clearly livid. She would later be nicknamed ‘Opera’ in the NICU for her incensed screaming. Remarkably instead of fear, I remember that I could not believe it was a girl. I recall my Gynae arguing with the Paediatrician as they tried to whisk her away. ‘For goodness’ sake show her the baby!’ Eerily, a sign that she was not convinced that I would make it through the night (as she later told my best friend) and that it may be the only chance I would have to meet my little girl.
The next few days are obscure. Snippets, some vague and others detailed recollections of my family, closest friends and their worried faces. I went back to theatre later that night, the hypnagogic sounds of panic in the ICU as they realised that they could not control the loss of blood. I had another four operations after the initial c-section, ventilated, nasogastric tube, central line (an IV in the artery of my neck, I did not eat for 4 weeks) and so on. 3 weeks in ICU, 5 weeks in hospital.
On another floor in the NICU our little Chloé fought for her life after her traumatic entrance into the world, unable to have her mother beside her and surrounded by lights and monitors. How can one ever repay my dearest friend for taking my place and being with her, endlessly. The love of family, friends and acquaintances that will walk beside you and share the load.
I have said this many times, it was easier for me than for Chloé’s father, my family and friends. I was in a blissful phase of detachment, enhanced by Morphine and Pethidine. The reality only set in later as I came crashing back into my body. Panic attacks that needed Pethidine to placate my hysteria.
The first visit to the NICU was an undertaking. With pain and effort, I was placed in a wheelchair, with nasogastric tube, central line, a muddle of tubes, monitors and drips. I was wheeled down to the NICU to find a host of babies also attached to tubes and machinery. I held my tiny baby tangled in tubes for the first time.
Fortunately, I was detached from the reality of the roller coaster that was before me. And that is exactly how the Head Nurse described the course before us, it is a long journey and a roller coaster.
We are encouraged to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. However, I do not see how it can be helpful to prepare for the worst. This is not to act in complete denial, and I had my share of meltdowns and moments of hysteria, but I tended to keep my focus on the best which gave to possibility. I zoned out the information on the worst, probably due to my makeup and a protective mechanism and I am glad I did.
Something the Head Nurse said stayed with me: ‘I don’t know if Chloé will be okay but neither do I know if any baby will be okay!’ It helped that she had experienced preterm birth with her son who was thriving as an adult. Divine intervention, look for the small miracles, serendipity, the kindness and support of others. This impacted me and shifted my focus on helpless obsessing to possibility. We do not prepare for the worst with regards to full term babies or any child and yet there are those that are faced with unexpected challenges later in life. That we have no control of the future for any baby, full term or not. That the unexpected can happen to anyone in Life and the miraculous too.
Hope and faith are the few things we have in such helpless times. Be strong, which is easier said than done and if one cannot be strong then take it one day at a time. Keep remembering only today and be kind to yourself. It was possibly easier for me to think along these lines as my family and closest friends were not reporting to me the dismaying information or statistics of a 27 week old baby in great detail. Nevertheless, focus on your own small victories, however minute they may be, these little fighters will surprise you.
Chloé struggled a rocky journey. Being weaned off life support, Grade 4 brain bleed, hopeless brain scans and a myriad of helpless possibilities. That is for another blog and some of the prognosis was dark. Yet, she conquered this terrifying journey with resilience, persistence and followed the thread of hope that had seemed so remote. The hope that I had felt spiritually in those initial moments, the silver lining that held me through the darkest of times.
Julia Thomashoff lives in Cape Town, South Africa, and is the mother of two miraculous children. Her wish is to provide a silver lining and share her Preemie journey with parents facing similar situations. Although the future cannot be predicted and will be varied, her message is that hope and faith can lead to possibility.
Chloé, who was born at 27 weeks is now a feisty, independent 7 year old. With her determination and the continued support of early intervention and medical professionals she is in mainstream school. She loves all animals and crafts. Although she is only learning to read, from an early age she has had a passion for letters and words. Outdoors she loves to swim and ride her bike.