A little over five years ago, I was six months into a complicated pregnancy, on bed rest, praying that my baby would stay put. My body had gone into preterm labour at 23 weeks and I'd spent my birthday crying and eating cheesecake in bed, which is where I stayed for three months...
Lottie was five in April, and I want to write about my experience of bringing both my girls Arabella, 7, and Lottie, 5, both premature into this world because I think it’s important for other mothers who have had premature babies or might be having issues with their pregnancy to know how hard it is. And no one really gets it because you’re the one carrying the baby, the one so deeply connected to that little life inside you, that it’s hard for anyone else to imagine how youre feeling. When I was pregnant with Lottie and on bed rest, I went through a period of depression and anxiety, then frustration, and then after the birth my health deteriorated after a post-partum hemorrhage, which led to a series of blood transfusions and took me months to recover from. I now have two happy, healthy girls and not a day goes past, even the hard ones where I find mothering exhausting and overwhelming, where I dont have a moment of quiet gratitude (even if it is after they go to sleep and I’m on the couch with a glass of wine in front of Netflix!).
On bed rest:
When I was 23 weeks pregnant with Lottie, I went to have a scan and they noticed my cervix was abnormally short which meant there was an increased risk of premature labour. The chance of having a stillborn child is high until you get to 28 weeks, where theres an 80% chance of survival. Given my history, I was injected with steroids to improve the babys lung maturity and put straight on bed rest. I turned to Google daily, scanning all the forums trying to predict how long I had before the baby would come. It was all I could do to control the situation – that is, aside from take daily progesterone pessaries. I was terrified I was going to give birth and I felt helpless that I couldnt control the situation.
I started my maternity leave early and we moved in with my mum and step-dad to get extra help. We rented out our house to pay for the full time nanny we hired to help out with Arabella. All my energetic toddler wanted was for her mummy to run around with her, but I was stuck in bed. I spent the next few weeks in an anxious, depressed state. I passed the days by working on The Grace Tales with episodes of Revenge.
During this time, my friends were my rocks. I’ll be eternally grateful to them for their support. When you’re a mother, your friendships become so much deeper. They’d turn up on my doorstep with treats from my favourite café and sit in the garden with me, legs up. One friend who lives in Hong Kong would call me every other day to cheer me up, despite the fact she had a newborn and was severely sleep deprived. I never knew she was having such a rough time with her baby because she didn’t mention it talk about selfless. And I guess I became quite good at staying in bed. My mother was incredible, doing everything for me and supporting me through each day. My husband cheered me up with episodes of House of Cards at night. Slowly, the weeks passed and at 33 weeks, my waters broke. The next day, Lottie arrived and finally, I got out of bed.
On special care:
My first daughter Arabella arrived at 34 weeks in a mad rush. Unlike Lottie, there was no warning, no bed rest, no short cervix. After a complicated birth, which ended with her heart rate dropping and forceps to yank her out, she was taken straight to a table next to me to see if she needed oxygen. I’d just done a calm birth course where we were taught that the baby must latch on straight after the birth or you wouldn’t bond (disclaimer: that’s a load of crap). Arabella was placed on my chest for a quick cuddle and then whisked away to special care and put in an incubator. It was heartbreaking. I was so relieved that she was ok, yet to be separated from your new baby is the strangest feeling in the world. I had to wait until the epidural had worn off before I could get up and see her. I sat in special care an emotional mess. So happy to meet my baby, yet feeling so strange about the fact that my precious bundle was in what looked like a plastic fish tank with a monitor and a mass of wires stuck to her that would sporadically beep. The next two weeks were spent travelling back and forth to the hospital, pumping milk as she was too little to breastfeed and slowly, she moved from an incubator to an open crib and finally we got to take her home.
I feel lucky that both my girls skipped intensive care and only had to go to the special care unit. A lot of the babies in the unit had come from intensive care. The stories were heartbreaking. There were a lot of stories shared in special care and I met some incredibly inspiring women in there. I’ll never forget them. Each day, there was a lot of laughter and a hell of a lot of tears, as wed go about our daily routines: check temperature, change nappy, feed, kangaroo care, pump, wash-up and then leave our baby in hospital while we went home and tried not to burst into tears the minute we got into the car. I cried a lot. I was exhausted. My days were spent travelling back and forth to the hospital and pumping around the clock trying to boost my milk supply.
I’d pass other women in the maternity ward as I came in and out of the special care unit, pushing their chubby full term babies down the corridor or attending bath classes and wish I had my baby with me. Yet at the same time, I also felt so grateful that I had a baby, even if she was tiny.
In the beginning, I was able to have one cuddle a day. I treasured those moments. I’d try and feed, which wasnt very successful for the first week as they were too little to develop the sucking reflex, then put them under my top, on my bare chest and give them kangaroo care, a technique practiced on newborns, usually preterm, where the baby is held, skin-to-skin, with an adult. We would sit cuddling, heart to heart. I’ll remember those cuddles forever. Those squeaky mouse noises both the girls would make were the most magical sounds I’d ever heard. The nurses would always give me longer than the recommended time. The idea was not to over stimulate the baby as it tires them out and they need to rest and grow.
Then there were the moments when the monitors would start beeping loudly and youd panic that your baby’s heart rate was dropping rapidly. Or having raced through the traffic, walk into the nursery to find your baby crying and feel incredibly sad that you werent there to comfort them when they woke.
Hand sanitizer became my best friend. I became obsessed with keeping my hands clean. Even after I brought both babies home, I made sure everyone sanitized their hands before touching the babies. It sounds obsessive, but when your baby has been hooked up to a heart rate monitor for weeks, you take germs and the risk of infection pretty seriously.
The nurses were unforgettable. They are the kindest, most caring women youll ever meet. They work around the clock caring for the babies (and mothers) in special care.
I still remember being told we could take the girls home I was overwhelmed with happiness. Perhaps my girls knew what an impatient personality I have and were just teaching me patience from day one. Whatever put them in special care, it was a beautiful moment bringing them home. I might leave out the part about how they both didn’t sleep for six months - that’s a post for another day.
On post-partum hemorrhage:
I still remember the night I started hemorrhaging vividly. It was 1am and I was breastfeeding Lottie in bed. She was six weeks old. It felt like my waters were breaking. I looked down and it was blood. Half an hour later, I was in an ambulance and rushed to hospital, again separated from my newborn child. The next few days were a blur. I just remember trying to pump milk while getting blood transfusions. I remember having a mild panic attack and announcing to the hospital staff I was leaving, and that I needed to get home to my baby. I started packing my bag and the hemorrhaging started again. Needless to say, I got back in bed and we started another transfusion. I remember my breast pump breaking and my incredible mother running all over Darlinghurst in Sydney on a Friday night to buy a new one for me. My dad and husband at my bedside, telling me itd be ok. A week later, I was operated on and the bleeding stopped. It took me over a year to recover from that, and to be honest, I dont think I’ll ever forget that experience.
Photo: Julie Adams
Thank you for sharing this very personal story! I had tears in my eyes from reading it.
Thank you for sharing this. I had a few tears reading this. We had a couple of scary moments during my second pregnancy and a pretty horrible birth experience. Although both of my children are thriving and beautiful, I will never forget those moments of fear and heart rendering tenderness. It is good to read these stories and to know that although you don’t forget, life moves forward. Your children are beautiful!
Thank you for sharing your special story. It was by chance I came across your blog, a girlfriend of mine left you a comment on FB… It was ironic I did come across it. My obstetrician has been monitoring the length of my cervix after discovering it was short. For the last few weeks it had been stable & we thought today that we could go back to normal check ups, that was until he took a look. My cervix has significantly shortened. I’m 24 wks… Needless to say I’m devastated but after reading your post feel a little more… Read more »
Thank you for your comment. Hang in there and while there is no scientific proof that bed rest helps, I really do believe it does and was the reason I stayed pregnant until 33 weeks. Wishing you lots of luck with your pregnancy and I hope it doesn’t get much shorter x
Thanks so much for sharing! It’s so important to share and be honest, to let other women going through similar scenarios know they aren’t alone. It’s so tough at the time I know, but I’m so glad it’s worked out well for you and your girls xo
Thank you for sharing your story. I am always so moved by the stories on here and am so glad things worked out well for you and your beautiful girls.
Thank you for sharing your precious story. My son George was born at 30 weeks following a massive placental abruption and arrived through emergency section within 40 minutes. Looking back, it was the worst and best time of my life. Having a premature baby is seeing life before you are meant to..it was like a priveledge to watch life unfold out of the womb. Based in Dubai, I have gone on to set up http://www.smallandmightybabies.com which provides support, information and contacts to families based in the UAE. It has become my form of therapy, being able to help others has… Read more »
Oh that handwash – brings it all back every time.
Georgie, this is such a beautifully written article. Thank you for giving us an insight into your pregnancies, both equally as difficult as the other. After facing such hardship and battles, and onto becoming the woman and mother that you are today, is truly inspirational. Much love and admiration to you xx
Thanks for sharing your story! What a strong, incredible woman you are! xxx
My daughter was born via c-section at 36 weeks on 1 days notice after she stopped growing in utero. She then spent 2 weeks in special care. I agree 100% with everything you have written, particularly about the nursing staff. I found it so emotionally hard grappling with having the baby in dramatic circumstances (I only saw her for 2 minutes the first day) and I didn’t at the time know anyone who had been through the same situation. My now 6 month old son was also born slightly early and spent 2 weeks in special care. It was much… Read more »
Beautiful story. I had a PPH with my first child. We are so fortunate to have recieved top ‘western’ medicine, some women aren’t so lucky. Christy Turlington (model) had a similar experience and started the ‘Every Mother Counts’ charity.
I too had a difficult pregnancy – baby was IUGR, with a heart condition, then I got PE – resulting in a tiny 1.4kg boy who spent a month in the SCN. My boy later had to have a lot of surgery. People always tell you you’re amazing and they wonder how you cope. But we are mothers and we just cope – we do what we need to do to protect our child. One foot in front of the other, one step at a time.
Georgie, what a lovely story and what a beautiful way to write about something so close to you. It could have had a sad ending, but instead you’ve got two beautiful beginnings in Arabella and Lottie. All power to you, and also to them for being so determined to arrive! xxx
Hi Georgie I’ve just come across your blog – your experience is so similar to mine – minus the bed rest! I’ve had two premature babies, Poppy born at 33 weeks who is now 3 12 and Essie who was born last October at 31 weeks. Poppy was due to pre-eclampsia and Essie due to my placenta deciding to stop working! I only had a few days on bed rest but met many women who like you had to spend months on bed rest leaving their other children at home. Thankfully both my girls are now healthy little bundles of… Read more »
I was really happy to read this story. Not happy because of what you went through and your struggles but just to read something real. I love this blog and the articles but everything is so, perfect and motherhood and becoming a mother can be for some, anything but perfect. My pregnancy was actually quite smooth but it took years with lots of fertility drugs to get pregnant and then she was so content I ended up needing drugs to get her out. Hardly the way I thought I was going to become a mother! One of my happiest moments… Read more »