Kym's story: the highs and lows of giving birth to a premmie
It never crossed Kymberley Hogan's mind that she could give birth to a premature bub, so when she went into labour at 32 weeks, her world was turned upside down. Kym opens up about emergency caesareans, hand expressing and the special care nursery, and offers words of advice for other premmie parents.
When Kymberley Hogan and her husband Chris went for their 12 week ultrasound, they saw ten perfect little fingers, ten perfect little toes and a strong little heart-beat.
"It was really quite an amazing experience seeing that there’s this human being growing inside you. I was in awe of the fact that this was going to be my child,” Kym says.
She and Chris had been trying for a while to fall pregnant, and felt a sense of relief that everything was as it should be. They were growing a healthy little baby.
“There was absolutely no indication that she was going to be born nearly 8 weeks early,” Kym says. “I had a low lying placenta so I had to have a scan at 32 weeks to see whether that had moved out of the way, because that changes whether you can have a vaginal birth or if it has to be a caesarean.”
As a science teacher, Kym knew a lot about the birth process and what to expect. She had her birth plan mapped out, and decided she wanted everything to be as natural as possible.
At the 32 week scan, Kym was given the all clear. But just a few days later she started experiencing pain while at work.
“I remembered that in one of the birthing classes they told me that period pain is not a feeling that you should be feeling whilst pregnant. So I rang my midwife and she said, ‘Look, just come up to the hospital, it’s probably nothing’.”
Sure enough, Kym was in labour.
“They put the monitor on me and said ‘Oh you’re actually having contractions!’ And one of the midwives said to me, ‘Don’t worry, my brother was born at 32 weeks and he was completely fine’. It wasn’t until that moment that I actually thought – holy moly we may be having a baby today.”
But Kym’s cervix wasn’t dilating, so she was given medication to stop the contractions. That worked temporarily, until Kym lost her mucus plug, which sits in the cervix protecting the womb against infection.
Her obstetrician decided the safest thing to do was to take the baby out straight away via a classical caesarean. The baby was laying traverse, or straight across the body, so the surgery was a little more complex than usual.
"It was scary because I wasn't ready for it, I felt unprepared. I thought I had another 7 weeks to mentally and physically prepare to become a mother. I had to grieve that I wasn't going to have her the way I wanted to, my birthing plan was out the window," she remembers.
Despite the uncertainty, Kym felt complete trust in the team looking after her and her unborn baby, and knew she was lucky to have access to the best medical care.
“It was kind of exciting because I was going to meet my baby that day but there was definitely a bit of fear and trepidation because things can and do go wrong and I had to prepare for that.”
That afternoon a tiny baby girl called Grace was born.
After a brief but precious moment, Grace was whisked away to the Special Care Nursery. It was three long hours in recovery before Kym was able to visit her.
“It’s making me cry just thinking about it, it was really confronting,” Kym remembers. “You expect to see your baby wrapped up in a blanket and placed on your chest and you get to cuddle them. But Grace was so small and she didn’t look like a healthy baby. She was skinny, she was jaundice so she was quite yellow, and laying under a blue light. She had a tube in her nose and a drip in her arm.”
“As much as they said she’s perfectly fine, she didn’t look fine,” Kym says. “I couldn’t pick her up, I had to just put my arm through and just let her know that I was there.”
Despite having been born so early, Kym and Chris were lucky, Grace was healthy and strong for her gestation period. But she hadn't yet developed sucking reflexes, and needed to be fed through a tube.
“Once every couple of days I was allowed to Kangaroo Care with her, which is skin to skin contact. But I knew that she was being cared for really well by the nurses and doctors, so it was really just a waiting game.”
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Kym says that as guilty as she felt leaving Grace in the Special Care Nursery, she knew the best thing she could do was to put all her energy into recovering, and trying to stimulate her milk supply, which hadn’t yet come in.
“Hand expressing is not fun, it’s painful. You’re expressing your breast for minutes and minutes and getting only one or two mils, but you feel like that’s just the most amazing thing, this liquid gold. But all the midwives at the hospital were wonderful, they helped me do it around the clock.”
“It was tricky, but I always had in the back of my head that my baby is safe, she’s with wonderful nurses and midwives.”
Kym says her advice to other mums with babies in the Special Care Nursery or the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is to take advantage of the time to physically recover, while you can.
"Having a baby in Special Care means you have this rare opportunity to rest and recuperate and allow yourself to get some sleep. You’re their food, you’re their everything, so look after yourself first and foremost.”
When Kym’s milk supply did come in, it came in with a vengeance. At first Grace’s mouth was so small she couldn’t latch on, and had to feed with the help of a nipple shield. But she’s now thriving, healthy, and in around the 80th percentile for body weight for her corrected age.
“Now she latches like an absolute professional and I can feed her anywhere I want, any time I want, which feels like all the time because she’s always hungry!”
Kym also advises parents in her situation to find out what time the paediatrician does their rounds.
“The midwife will give you a really amazing perspective on your baby’s care, but to talk to the paediatrician was also really helpful. I always made sure I was there when they did the rounds so I could ask questions, hear what was going on with her care, what the next plan was, and when they thought she could be discharged.”
Kym has found it comforting talking to people about how common premature births are. In Australia around 8% of babies (one in 12) are born before 37 weeks gestation, and 15% (one in 7) require some form of extra care at birth. She also discovered two scientists she has always admired were born prematurely – Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.
“It’s so nice to hear from people who know premmies and hear ‘Oh they’re doing great, they play soccer, basketball and football and they’re perfectly fine’. It makes you feel better knowing that other people have been through the same thing. Especially hearing people say ‘Oh my 50 year old mother was a premature baby and she’s great'.”
Grace is now thriving and is learning new tricks every day.
“She’s amazing. She’s such a cruisy baby and I wonder if that has something to do with her being in Special Care with all the bits and bobs and the whizzing of all the equipment around her.
“She’s a real trouper and a really gorgeous little baby and her personality is just starting to shine through. She’s starting to giggle and loves to smile at everyone she sees. People are captivated by her.”
Bupa has teamed up with lead researchers and specialists to develop a new online tool mummatters. It’s a great way for women who are pregnant or recently had a baby to do some simple checks to ensure they’re coping well and provides access to support services if needed.