It was a Sunday night. I was 35weeks and 4 days pregnant. “Only 11 sleeps until we meet you, little one,” I thought as we climbed into bed that evening. We were counting down the days until our planned caesarean on the 24th of February. Shortly after 1:00am, I awoke and went to the bathroom. As I had done throughout my whole pregnancy, I checked for blood on the toilet paper. “Nothing.” I sighed with relief. I staggered back to bed and climbed in. Just as I rolled over and got comfortable again, I felt a pop and a gush of warm fluid. The pop was audible, like a water balloon softly exploding. In the same moment, I sprung out of bed thinking my waters had broken. But when I turned on the light, all I saw was red.
Blood was gushing out of me, saturating my pink gingham pyjama shorts and running down my legs onto the carpet. I screamed Frank’s name, who was asleep, but he woke up and leapt out of bed. We had been here before, and I could hear the terror in his voice as he yelled “shit” over and over again and told me to call our obstetrician. With blood dripping down my legs, I tiptoed across the bedroom and into the bathroom. I called our obstetrician at 1.25am. Just as I thought it would go to voicemail, she softly answered. I do not remember what I said to her in that moment, but ever so calmly, she told us to go straight to the hospital. We were not taking any chances this time around. Frank went into autopilot. He ran around the house getting ready to leave. He grabbed my hospital bags, then his, packed them into the car (thankfully the baby bags were already in there), put towels on my car seat and set the dogs up in our laundry for the morning. Meanwhile, I stood frozen in our bathroom. I started to panic. So many thoughts began to swirl around in my mind. Oh no, please, not again. My baby is dead. I am a mother to two dead babies. Surely this is not my journey? How has this happened again? This was not how it was meant to be this time. I cannot go through this again. I am not strong enough. I barely survived last time...
No…. I will not lose another baby.
Something came over me, and I knew I had to pull myself together. I hopelessly attempted to wipe some blood off my legs. When I realised it was pointless, I pulled on a pair of Frank’s tracksuit pants and quickly packed my toiletries into a bag. Frank came upstairs to help me to the car. On the way down, I said “But what about the carpet? Do we just… leave it like this?” In such a horrific moment, I was worried about our new carpet being ruined. Frank told me to forget about it and get into the car.
As we pulled out of our driveway at 1.30am, I felt movement. A little kick. A small glimmer of hope. Our obstetrician called and told us that she had spoken with the birth centre, and they were preparing for our arrival. It was probably only about a five minute drive to the hospital, but it felt like an eternity. It was the dark of night. The roads were empty. I sat in the passenger seat, clutching my bump, trying to feel any more movement. But there was only stillness. I wondered if that kick was the baby’s last. I was panicking again. But Frank told me to be calm, to breathe. I slowed my breathing and kept repeating that we would be ok. “Bonnie is watching over us, and we will be ok.” As we turned the last corner before the hospital, I felt two small movements. “Please hold on a little longer,” I thought. Frank pulled up in the private hospital’s emergency bay, and I opened the car door.
As I stepped out, I felt another gush of warm blood. I ran to the hospital door and tried to turn the handle. Locked. I started knocking on the glass door for help. A lady said something over the intercom, but I could not hear her. Frank ran over, and we stood there banging on the door, pleading for someone to help us. I describe this scene as something out of a zombie movie. Here we are, in the middle of the night, covered in blood, with more dripping down my legs, banging on a hospital door while screaming for help. It was truly a horror scene. A midwife heard our cries for help, ran downstairs towards us and opened the door. While Frank parked the car, she helped me through the birth centre and into one of the rooms. The same room (or perhaps the one next door) as last time. It was déjà vu. I staggered towards the bed and climbed in. I was asked questions; I cannot remember what exactly. I was too busy bracing myself for the worst.
Before I knew it, the CTG transducer was on my belly… “There is a heartbeat,” said a midwife. “Bub is stable.”
The relief I felt in that moment was almost euphoric. Our baby was alive. “Do you know what (gender) you’re having?” the midwife asked. “No” I replied. Frank hurriedly entered the room, and I told him that the baby was ok. He came to my side and squeezed me as some colour slowly returned to his face. The next part is blurry. It was all a bit of a whirlwind. Our obstetrician arrived and told us we were going to have our baby soon. Lots of people were in the room, calmly prepping me for an emergency caesarean. The blood-soaked tracksuit pants were removed from my body. There were needles, cannulas, and fluids. What I do remember clearly is repeatedly asking about the baby’s heart rate. I did not want anyone taking their eyes off the baby’s monitoring, not for one second. As they wheeled me down to theatre, I asked what the date was. “It is the 14th of February…” “Valentine’s Day!” the midwives joyfully replied. In a poetic twist of fate, we were having a Valentine’s baby. The sweetest gift from our darling Bonnie Hart.
Shortly after arriving at the theatre, I was instructed to sit on the side of the bed to have a spinal block. The needle made me jump as it touched my skin, almost like an electric shock. When it was done, I laid back on the bed, and the midwives put a net over my hair. My feet started to tingle, and the room started to spin. I felt nauseous. The anaesthetist assured me that it was the spinal doing its job. Within a few moments, I could not move my toes or legs. Our obstetrician told us that she was starting the surgery. Excitement finally crept in. We were about to meet our baby! I asked if Frank could announce the gender. Frank and I held onto each other tightly, and in what felt like seconds, our obstetrician said “Here is your baby…” The blue surgical curtain was lowered, and from my belly birthed a little head covered in so much hair. “
…And it’s a…” our obstetrician said as she lifted our baby up, spreading its legs in our direction. “It’s a girl!” yelled Frank. She was born at 2.07am. Forty-three minutes from our phone call to our obstetrician.
Our little girl’s slippery, warm body was immediately placed across my chest. A midwife rubbed her with a towel as she made some little gurgles, which turned to loud cries. In that moment, it felt like my soul returned to my body. After nine long months, I finally let go of the breath I had been holding, closed my eyes and listened to the most incredible sound in the world. A midwife checked over our baby girl while she remained on my chest. Even though she had a dramatic entrance into the world, she was doing well. After ten minutes, she was taken to the side, where Frank cut the cord and she was weighed at 2.77kgs. The midwives asked us her name. Frank and I looked at each other and replied “Inka James.” It was always Inka James. The name that belonged to her big sister first, but we know it was always destined for her.
Inka was placed back on my chest for skin to skin soon after. As I spoke softly to her, she slowly opened one of her eyes. Her gaze found mine, and she smiled a teeny “hello” smile. That one little look said a thousand words. While our obstetrician completed the surgery, Frank and a midwife took Inka to recovery. I was wheeled in soon after. When I got there, Frank was in a chair with Inka wrapped in a flannelette swaddle in his arms. He looked so happy and proud in that moment. In recovery, Inka was placed back onto my bare chest for more bonding. And it was then that the events of the last ninety minutes caught up with me. Tears welled in my eyes with sheer relief and immense gratitude that Inka was here, safe in my arms. But it was so bittersweet. Because in that moment I truly understood everything we had lost, and I missed our sweet Bonnie more than ever. One half of my heart was completely full. The other half was in the stars with Bonnie.
After a while, Inka needed to go to the special care nursery to be checked over. She was sounding a little gurgly and having a hard time getting the fluid up from her lungs. Frank went with her while I remained in recovery as the spinal block slowly began to work its way down and out of my body. I asked our obstetrician what had happened, and she confirmed what we had thought. I suffered another placental abruption, meaning the placenta had detached from the wall of the uterus. It was a partial abruption, which meant there was still a supply of oxygen and nutrients to Inka. With Bonnie, I suffered a complete abruption. We had been told that the chances of an abruption occurring again was highly unlikely. Test results on the placenta later verified what our obstetrician told us, but unfortunately did not provide any clarity on why.
It was the early hours of the morning when I was transferred to our room in the maternity ward. The rest of that day feels like a blur. I was on a cocktail of painkillers, including morphine, which made my skin intolerably itchy. Frank and I tried to get some rest but were both equally traumatised and on a high from the events of the morning. Frank spent the day between our room and the special care nursery, checking on Inka often. By mid-afternoon, I managed to get up and shower so that I could visit her too. She was in an incubator (or Inkabator as I called it), receiving oxygen to help her breathing and was being fed through a tube. I sat by her for a while, taking in all of her tiny features, before retreating to our room for more rest.
The next morning at 3.30am, the paediatrician woke us and informed that Inka required further respiratory support, which they were not able to provide at the private hospital. They had arranged for her to be transferred to the NICU at John Hunter. We wanted to spend time with her before she was transferred, so we got out of bed and went to the special care nursery. I pulled up a chair to her incubator, put my arm through the opening on the side and held her tiny hand. With every breath her little chest was pulling in, her breathing visibly laboured. The transport team arrived just before 5am. They set up their equipment and hooked Inka up to some cords and a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. CPAP machines work by pushing a continuous flow of oxygen into the airways, helping to keep tiny lungs open. By 5.30am, the team were ready to leave, and Inka was whisked off. Frank followed and went with Inka in the ambulance to John Hunter, while I stayed at the private hospital and got some rest.
Once at the NICU, Inka was transferred into a bed by a window and hooked up to the machines. She was given artificial surfactant to assist her breathing. Frank stayed for a while as she got settled and sent me photos and videos of Inka and the facilities. Due to COVID restrictions, only one parent was allowed in the NICU at any one time. Frank and I would take it in turns to visit Inka. Because we were not able to be together as a family yet, sharing photos and videos with one another was our way to include each other in our time with her.
By Tuesday afternoon, I was ready for my first visit to NICU. As I was recovering from surgery, and not able to walk the distance to the John Hunter hospital, Frank would take me across in a wheelchair. This was one of my favourite parts of our days. We would play songs that reminded us of Inka and sing-along feeling giddy with joy.
The first time I entered the NICU was surreal. Our baby was hooked up to many machines, most of which covered her tiny face. The CPAP mask looked like a tiny gridiron helmet, and the prongs in her nose gave her a little piggy nose. I instinctively wanted to pick her up and hold her, but she needed more time to adapt to being on breathing support before we could cuddle her. Through all of this, I was just so grateful she was alive and getting the support she needed. After 24 hours in NICU, Inka was much more settled. Frank visited early Wednesday morning and had his first skin to skin moment with his baby girl. I visited soon after, and Inka and I shared our first cuddle since she was born. I could have sat there forever with her on my chest. It was one of the most special moments ever. A moment that I had waited my lifetime for, and I could not believe it was finally mine.
We had told the NICU team that we wanted to be informed before Inka was taken off CPAP, so we could be there. I received a phone call from a nurse at 1am on Thursday morning, who advised they were going to trial her off the machine. It would have taken us a while to get over there, so we told them to go ahead without us. Thankfully, we were able to view Inka at any time of the day through a webcam. I quickly logged in and we watched as they took off her headgear. As soon as it was off, both of her little eyes opened wide. We had not seen her open her eyes yet. She looked so content. At 4am her breathing became laboured again and she was placed back on CPAP.
When I visited Inka later that morning, we had some cuddles, and the nurse said I could give her a sponge bath that day. I was so excited because it meant we could take her mask off for a short while. Her little face looked so different compared to the last time I saw it. But when I spoke, her dark eyes followed my voice and she looked into my eyes. I stayed with Inka until late that evening. When I was ready to go back to our room, I let Frank know. As he arrived to collect me, we heard the growl of thunder and saw flashes of lightning from the NICU window. We set off during the most magnificent lighting show. As raindrops started to fall, Frank ran while pushing me in the wheelchair. We arrived at the private hospital just before the heavy rain rolled in.
On Friday morning, NICU called to let us know that Inka was doing great, and they were trialling her off CPAP again. We were so excited and rushed to the hospital to see her. I stayed in NICU for most of that day. Inka had her first (and second) breastfeed and continued to kick goals. She did amazingly overnight too, staying off CPAP for a whole 24 hours.
The doctors came around and checked on Inka on Saturday morning. We were then given the news that Inka could graduate NICU! That morning she had another breastfeed and was weighed, measured, and dressed in her first outfit. The NICU team arranged her paperwork, and early Saturday afternoon the transport team arrived, and she was transferred back to the private hospital. This time I rode in the ambulance with her.
Having Inka back with us at the private hospital was a dream come true. We stared at her for hours and hours. We could hardly believe she was ours to keep. Because her weight was now at 2.5kgs, she needed to be fed on a three-hourly schedule, and after every feed, Frank would give her a top-up of expressed breast milk. Our first night together was a long night of feeding, expressing, bottle-feeding, and changing, with not much sleep. But it was the best.
On Sunday morning, Inka had her very first bath, which she was a huge fan of. The following morning, she had her hearing test done and a final check over by a paediatrician. We were then given the final go-ahead that we could go home!
On Monday the 21st of February, one week after we entered the hospital, we left with a beautiful baby girl in our arms. Strapping her into the car seat and driving away with her was the most incredible moment, though bittersweet. As we pulled away, there were tears of joy and sorrow from us both. For so long we had hoped and fought for this moment. After everything we had endured, this moment meant absolutely everything to us. We pinched ourselves the whole way home, and have not stopped pinching ourselves since.
Message from the mama: This story goes hand in hand with Bonnie's birth story. You can read Bonnie's story here
Birth & newborn course
The Bump, Birth & Beyond course will educate you and your co-pilot (support person) on what to expect during pregnancy, birth and the first trimester with your new little love.