Grease lightening baby
I felt a sudden rush of fluid. I was bleeding and knew something was wrong. We rushed to the hospital and with minutes, I felt my first contraction. The doctor gave me something to stop the labor and a steroid injection to mature the baby’s lungs.
At 7am, I was still having mild contractions but stopped bleeding so I was transferred to the prenatal ward. If I didn’t start bleeding again I could go home the next day. This was great news. My mother (who saw the original Grease movie when pregnant with me) and I had tickets to see the Grease musical the following night.
But the contractions intensified and I started bleeding heavily again. So it was back to the labor ward. The doctor continued to try stop my labor, but to no avail. The doctor said we would be having a baby in a matter of hours. “Well, I guess Grease is off then,” said my husband.
An urgent delivery
The baby was in a posterior position making things more difficult. The baby’s head was crowning when the monitor indicated our baby was in distress. The heart rate had dropped. I screamed with each contraction and sobbed to my mother that I couldn’t do this anymore. She replied, “But darling, that’s what I said and you’re here.”
They couldn’t wait for my next contractions to deliver our baby, so at 10:40 pm our bruised and distressed baby was delivered by forceps, weighing a very good 5 lbs. for a 33 weeker. He was placed on my tummy for a few seconds while they cut the cord, then handed to the pediatrician and taken to the NICU.
Our little Travolta
Because of the traumatic premature labor and not being able to see my baby, I felt depressed and detached from our son.
The next morning my husband wheeled me to meet our baby boy. His face was purple due to bruising and his eyes swollen shut. There was this tiny little person with monitors on him, drips in his arm, a tube in his mouth and prongs up his nose. Despite all this, I looked at my husband and said, “Can you believe we made him?”
Because this little boy was a fighter, we decided on the name “Riley” which meant valiant and war-like in the Irish culture. It wasn’t until we could cuddle him that the motherly feelings I had always longed for hit me.
Our little man was gaining strength and a quick learner. By day 19, he weighed 5.5 lbs. and was being exclusively breastfed. We were finally allowed to bring him home.
My friend Carol and her daughter enjoyed the Grease musical in my place and suggesting an appropriate nickname for our son, depicting his early arrival – Grease Lightning!
Preeclampsia and the miracle baby
After being examined, Jacqui said my blood pressure was dangerously high and there was protein in my urine.
Jacqui listened to Ethan’s heartbeat and it was strong. But when she felt my tummy, she looked really worried. She told us that Ethan hadn’t grown since our 24 weeks appointment, my blood pressure was dangerously high, I had protein in my urine and I had edema (swelling due to liquid retention). All of this pointed towards pre-eclampsia toxemia (PET). I had to go straight into hospital or we were going to lose our wee man.
Would everything be ok?
I felt fine. Ethan couldn’t be sick. I’d know, wouldn’t I? There was no way I could know just how sick we were. Jacqui told us that I was going to have to have an emergency C-section. We arrived at the hospital they said to try stay calm. My baby and I were sick and I was possibly going to lose him. How could I stay calm?
We were hoping my C-section could wait long enough to transfer us to another hospital equipped for premature babies. I also needed steroid shots to strengthen Ethan’s lungs before he was born. While all this had been going on I’d still been wearing the monitor that was checking Ethan’s heart rate. Ethan may have been small, but at that point his heart beat was still strong and healthy.
Ethan needed help
I noticed that the nurse had come in and taken the printout a couple of times in a row. They were watching Ethan’s heart rate and he was starting to show signs of major stress. His heart rate had started falling right off the scale then slowly climbing back up again, now the climb back up was starting to take longer and longer. Holding off on doing the C-section was no longer an option, Ethan needed help as soon as possible.
At 9:39 pm, Ethan Campbell Sherriff made a rather rushed entry into the world. He was 1lb 11oz and 13 inches long.
Ethan needed to be transferred to a special hospital for care. I was wheeled to have a first look at him before he left. Unfortunately, the travel incubator was so large and he was so small I couldn’t see him from my bed.
Two days later, I was well enough to travel to Ethan. Ethan was in the hospital for a month. While there, he lived in an enclosed, humidified incubator, at 12 weeks premature Ethan couldn’t regulate his own body temperature and his lungs and skin needed the moisture. He had high blood sugar levels, low blood sugar levels, ultra violet lights for anemia, blood transfusions and so much more. Because he was so early, Ethan suffered from chronic lung disease and initially needed a ventilator to breathe for him.
After a week, he was breathing for himself but had constant oxygen. Ethan’s lungs collapsed so he went back on the ventilator for a few days. Initially Ethan’s system couldn’t cope with any “real” food and he was hooked up to multiple drips feeding him nutritional liquids. At seven days old, he was finally introduced to expressed breast milk.
Wouldn’t change a thing
Ryan and I stayed at the incredible Ronald McDonald House. As Ethan grew, he had lots of first. He made it out of his incubator where he only wore a diaper into a hospital bassinet wearing actual baby clothes. He had his first bath, learned how to drink from a bottle, moved on to low-flow oxygen and had his first ride in a stroller, just to name a few. Ethan finally came off his oxygen. Not having to try and keep his tube in place was a relief for all of us.
The sunshine of our lives—born at 24 weeks
At our 20-week scan, we were delighted to see we were having a girl. At 23 weeks and 5 days, I woke up in pain. I thought it was Braxton Hicks so I tried to relax. After an hour the pain became really intense, we decided to go to the hospital to be safe. The doctor told me I was 3.5 cm dilated.
Despite trying to stop my labor (or at least stall it long enough for the steroids to help our baby’ lungs), my labor was progressing fast. We were told that our baby would be very small and under-developed, and her odds of surviving were 50% at best. If she did survive, there was a very real chance that she could be disabled for life. The doctor asked us to decide whether or not we wanted to revive her once she was born. It was one of the hardest decisions we have ever had to make, but we decided to give our little girl a chance at life.
A born fighter
When Beth was born, she weighed a little over 1lb and her APGAR score was 4. An hour later, I was taken to Intensive care to see her for the first time. My world stopped as I gazed at this tiny pink life, so beautiful and so very frail, hidden amongst tubes, wires and machines. It was so overwhelming. She was small and frail, but she was ours and we loved her.
Beth’s lungs were so underdeveloped that she could not breathe on her own, and was on life support. She couldn’t eat or drink, her eyes were still fused shut and she had suffered a brain hemorrhage during delivery. We spend every moment with her, forgetting to eat or sleep. We knew we may not have long to be with her and wanted to savor every breath, every wriggle, every time we put our hand into the incubator to touch her foot or hand.
Beth had a duct in her heart which was causing blood to fill her lungs. She had been put on medication to try to close it, but the treatment was unsuccessful. At 21 days old and weighing a tiny 1lb, she had the duct in her heart closed. She had very frail and underdeveloped lungs. To be able to tie off the duct to her heart, they would need to deflate her lungs. The surgeon explained that many babies this small deteriorate on the operating table. The surgery was the longest, most terrifying hour in my life, but she survived.
Beth slowly recovered and began to gain weight. When she was 59 days old, I was able to hold her for the first time, and I cried with joy when the nurses handed her to me for the very first time.
At 60 days old, Beth was still on life support. Her lungs were so damaged from the ventilator, that she was diagnosed with severe chronic lung disease. The only way she could have a chance to come off life support was if we agreed to try a high-risk drug, which can cause bleeding on the brain, disability and death. Without it we were told she had little to no chance of surviving. She was to be given two courses of steroids to reduce the inflammation in her lungs so hopefully she would be able to breathe. If they did not work, it would be time for us to let her go.
At the end of the two-week course, Beth had improved just enough to try taking her off life support. We hoped and prayed she would breathe, and she did. Beth was put onto a CPAP machine. The machine helped to keep her lungs inflated so she could breathe easier. When she was 3 months old, she developed a complication from the high oxygen levels she was exposed to during ventilation. Her retinas had grown abnormally, and the scarring meant that they would detach and she would go blind. The only option was to perform laser eye surgery. The surgery stopped the scarring, and although it had caused her to lose some peripheral vision, her sight was saved. We were told that Beth would be at risk of blindness and would need to see an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) every 9 months for the rest of her life to check that her retinas were still attached and healthy.
After Beth recovered from surgery, we were moved out of Intensive Care and into the Special Care Nursery. From here we could get ready to go home. We were told that she would need to come home on oxygen equipment, so we ordered some ready for her discharge. Three days before we were ready to take her home, she felt very hot. She had a fever but we were told it was likely that she had been over wrapped and was just hot. At 11pm we said goodnight to our sweet baby girl, and headed home for some sleep. At 3am, we received an urgent call from the hospital to come back. Beth was not breathing. The nurse said she was resuscitated and might not live through the night.
We sped back to the hospital, terrified that after all she had been through, and how close we were to bringing her home, we would lose her. She had a staphylococcus infection, a common and potentially deadly bug often found in hospitals. Once again, Beth pulled through and we knew for sure that she was a fighter.
The light of our lives
After 112 days in hospital, we finally took her home. Despite having an 85% chance of death or disability, Beth is in perfect health. We have regular psychology, physio, speech and occupational therapy assessments and she is above average developmentally. She is beautiful, clever and the sunshine of our life. We are so happy that we gave our little girl a chance at life, and we feel so lucky to have her in our life.
An unexpected home birth of a local celebrity
My water broke at 11pm at night but I had no contractions. I rang the hospital, who said to come in the morning unless I had contractions that were strong enough to warrant coming in. At midnight the contractions started, but they were so mild and spaced well apart. I thought there would be plenty of time (my daughter took 12 hours). I told my husband Adam to go to bed.
At 1:30 am the contractions suddenly got very fast and intense. I woke Adam and told him to call his parents to come and look after our daughter. Adam went outside to wait for them. I felt the need to go to the bathroom. While in there, I felt Julian’s head crowning. I screamed for Adam and told him to call an ambulance. I put down towels on the carpet in front of the bathroom and Adam (on the phone with an ambulance man) helped me to deliver Julian then and there – in only 4 pushes he was out and Adam caught him!
The funniest thing was, Julian was born just outside my daughter Claire’s room and her door was open, but she slept through the entire commotion and did not wake up until 8:30am the next day! My husband is very proud of his midwifery skills (no stitches!) and is the local celebrity!
Huggies® has partnered with Hand to Hold™ to help support families with premature babies. Learn more.