World Prematurity Day: ‘My baby was born at 23 weeks’

Posted in Birth Stories.

Baby Andie wrapped in a pink blanket

Nancy Mowad has always found it easy to fall pregnant, yet struggles to carry her babies to term. After several miscarriages and a stillbirth, she fell pregnant again in 2020. Thankfully this time, her baby girl survived – despite being born four months early.

A member of the Mum’s Grapevine Summer 2020/21 Due Date group, Nancy shares her incredible story for World Prematurity Day on November 17.

“My pregnancy was ok, it was pretty scary after what happened in my previous pregnancy and I had a hard time with bad morning sickness as well as pregnancy carpal tunnel and all the other fun things that come with being pregnant, however, I still loved being pregnant so much. At around 20 weeks I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia so was put on an even higher risk watch seeing my OB twice a week, especially given what had happened with Charlotte (my stillborn).

“When I was 22 weeks pregnant with Andie, two days after we settled and started renovating our new home, I was admitted to the SAN hospital in Sydney with high blood pressure. They struggled to get it down, so they put me on bed rest and said I would be in there for the remainder of my pregnancy, at this point Andie was still doing great inside, she was still growing. We had scans every second day and she was still thriving. On Friday afternoon (4th September) I was 23+2 days pregnant and my OB said ‘everything is looking great, we have your blood pressure under control and all your blood tests look good, so if this is the case we will send you home on Monday and you can continue you bed rest from home!’

“That night at around 11 pm, I started to feel a sharp pain in my upper right abdomen – at that point I thought it was just HG and maybe some heartburn, however, the pain quickly worsened. At this point, my OB came in and rushed me to Royal North Shore Hospital where the doctors ran more tests and came to the conclusion I had developed HELLP Syndrome, and my liver was quickly failing. They pretty much told us that they had to get the baby out right now and our best chance of survival was for a c-section. Given my liver issues, they were unable to give me an epidural, so under general anaesthesia, they performed a classical c-section.”

‘I didn’t hold her until she was two weeks old’

Nancy with her premature baby on her chest

On 5 September 2020 at 2:44 pm, Andie was born at 23 weeks + 3 days gestation, weighing in at a tiny 544g and with a head circumference of just 21cm!

“I had a few post-birth complications and spent the next few weeks in and out of ICU, and didn’t get to meet Andie until she was 2 days old and didn’t get to hold her until she was two weeks old.

“We spent the first 6 months of Andie’s life in the NICU and she had a hard time with a few complications as you can expect being born so early, but she was always the biggest fighter.

Andie born at 500grams

“On top of all the normal premmie complications, when Andie was born she had 2 brain bleeds, and in the first month of her life, she had acute kidney failure to which they said there wasn’t much they could do if it didn’t correct on its own, however after 4 days of no wee, they corrected themselves, and the nurses ran down the hall screaming we have wee!

“Andie also had an issue retaining blood and platelets so after her 14th transfusion, to which she never responded well, the doctors trialled her on Erythropoietin injections 4 times a day. When Andie was almost at her due date and we thought we were close to taking her home, her lungs were both filled with fluid and she had to be intubated again for 7 days on high frequency, to which she responded well. They managed to wean her off and she was able to go back onto C-Pap on Christmas Day. We took Andie home on oxygen on the 15th of February 2021, on low flow oxygen and she came off oxygen in May 2021.”

Baby Andie in hospital on with a due date card

After beating the odds, Andie recently celebrated her third birthday and is now a healthy, energetic toddler.

“She is my absolute world, has had some struggles and does have a diagnosis of mild global developmental delay, however, she has come so far in the last year – we have been working with a speech therapist, physio and OT for the past two-and-a-half years and she is thriving. Medically, she has had no issues aside from the winter RSV hospital visits the first 2 years, she is just a happy, playful and an absolute joy.”

Andie at 3 years old

1 in 10 babies are born premature

Prematurity (born before 37 weeks) remains the number one cause of neonatal deaths worldwide, with 76 babies being born preterm in Australia each day. The causes for why babies are born prematurely are still not fully understood, making it difficult to predict or prevent premature labour.

“World Prematurity Day is about honouring the babies born too soon, celebrating those who graduated from the neonatal unit to eventually go home and remembering the babies who lost their fight to survive,” says Felicia Welstead, CEO of Life’s Little Treasures Foundation, an Australian charity that provides information, support and connection opportunities to families with premature babies.

“The chances are you know a premmie baby but what you might not know is how their lives have been impacted by being born prematurely – from spending extra time in the hospital to requiring surgeries and medication, to continual developmental interventions. Not to mention, the impact this has had on their family.”

Tanya Hounslow, a member of Mum’s Grapevine Spring 2023 Baby Group, experienced first-hand how having a premature baby takes an emotional, psychological and financial toll on families after giving birth to her second child, Violet, at 27+6 weeks.

Baby violet being born via c section

“I had hyperemesis gravidarum in both pregnancies and gestational diabetes. There were otherwise no other complications.

“The day before Violet was born, I had an appointment with my obstetrician and everything was normal. The baby was head down and we discussed my booking with my GP for a whooping cough vaccine for the following week.

“The next morning I woke up and vomited (as was usual for me every morning of both pregnancies!), but felt a lot of pressure in my pelvic region afterwards. I figured maybe the baby had just moved or I had pulled a muscle from being sick and carried on as usual.

“When I went to the bathroom I found I was bleeding quite a bit. I called my obstetrician and she told me to come straight into Northpark Private Hospital, where I was booked for the birth. When my doctor came in she did a vaginal exam and found I was 3-4cm dilated and my waters hadn’t broken but were bulging out. I was immediately given a steroid injection for the baby’s lungs and they called an ambulance to transfer me to a tertiary hospital. My husband, Tom, was called and came rushing in to be with me.

Violet in NICU on CPAP

“The ambulance crew were reluctant to take me in my condition, in case I delivered en route, so my obstetrician rode along with me. I was taken to Mercy Heidelberg and put into a birthing room for more monitoring. We waited like that until around 8 pm. My obstetrician was in and out checking on me. At 8 pm, she did another vaginal exam and I was 6-7cm dilated and waters still bulging. An emergency c-section was decided on as the baby was now in a frank breech position (bottom at my cervix). We went into theatre and I was given a spinal anaesthetic and all of the paediatric doctors came in.

“Violet was born at 10.28 pm on Wednesday 2nd of August, weighing 1080g. They had to do a classic c-section (vertical as well as horizontal incision) as she had moved right up under my ribs!”

‘I felt so scared and lost’

Tracey holding baby Violet in NICU

“I was allowed a moment to give Violet a quick kiss after the medical team stabilised her, and then she was taken straight to NICU. Tom went with her.

“The first few days were terrifying. Violet needed help breathing, antibiotics in case an infection had caused my cervix to open so early, and food and fluids via IV and tube. I couldn’t look at her without crying and I felt so scared and lost in NICU.

“She slowly started growing and the staff were amazing, explaining everything and helping us bond with our tiny baby. All up she was in hospital 10 weeks and 1 day. We visited every day, but only Tom and I were allowed in (no siblings or other people).

“My recovery was quite straightforward, though I had to express breastmilk for Violet every 3-4 hours around the clock.

“Violet is now 14 weeks old, 2 weeks corrected age, and a healthy 3.6kg. She’s bottle-fed and expressed breastmilk. She is on iron and Vitamin D supplements for 6 months, but otherwise no complications.”

Tanya with her husband and two children

Wow, what a brave little fighter she is! If you have a premmie baby like Violet and Andie, you can share photos and stories of your little treasures on social media with the hashtag #76borntoosoon to help raise awareness of the impact of prematurity in Australia.

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More birth stories from the Grapeviners…

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