Written by Gina Powell
Five years ago we welcomed our daughter into the world, a story I’d like to share with you all. While there is a happy ending, fair warning, there were harsh complications at birth so only read on if you want to.
I had a healthy pregnancy and was expecting a fast delivery based on how my mother’s births went. At the time we lived 30 minutes out of town and so when I woke up the morning of my due date with contractions we didn’t wait too many hours before heading into town.
We got to the hospital around 2pm and our midwife said I was only a couple of centimetres dilated and I could go home and come back later. However, I took note of my parents’ experience and didn't stray too far from the hospital. We didn’t go all the way home but went to a friend’s house nearby. Soon whanau from Auckland showed up and we went for a stroll in the Redwoods.
It turned out I did follow after my mother and it only took 3 hours before I was ready to give birth. I screamed down the Redwoods and worried a few passers by. At one point my husband tried to carry me but it felt too uncomfortable. Thankfully, I managed to get back to the car. Everything was still ‘exciting’ at this point. I still managed to make the occasional joke in between grimaces as we drove straight to the delivery entrance at the back of Rotorua hospital at 5:30pm.
This is when I realised things weren’t right. I got out of the car and rested on a step with my sister while my husband parked the car (maybe others were with me too – my memory is a bit shoddy from here). My waters broke outside the door. They were a murky green/brown and I panicked a little and all I could say over and over was, “It’s green".
All I could think was that we learnt in antenatal class that discoloured waters were a sign of the baby being distressed. I could no longer walk so a wheelchair was brought to me. Due to it being my first birth I didn’t recognise that feeling that stopped me from walking as Thea being ready to come out.
They brought me into a birthing room and in the haste of everything we ended up with a room full of people. In the moment it felt strange but necessary to take off my pants. I was on the bed, and the hospital midwife managed to tell me everything I was doing wrong instead of telling me what I should be doing. This didn’t help to calm my my panic about the discoloured waters or the fact that this was my first birth and that I had no idea what I was feeling or how long it was going to last.
They found that Thea’s heart rate was dropping and she needed to be out right then. At this point my husband calmly whispered to me, ‘you need to push her out now or they are going to cut you’. Strangely, this was a great motivation for me and out she came.
All I remember next is a smiling woman telling me that they were just going to take Thea to the next room to check she was breathing okay. As this was my first birth and I was physically exhausted I was none the wiser that this was unusual. I’m forever grateful for these calm smiling words they gave me unknown peace.
The memories I must have blocked out were filled in for me later. Thea was grey, she wasn’t breathing and when they lifted her little arm up – it flopped back to the table. Thea went straight onto a CPAP (Continue Positive Airway Pressure) machine, and later was intubated to assist her breathing. There’s even a photo of me reaching out to hold her hand, which I have no recollection of. Less than 24hours later Thea and her dad were taken by helicopter to the NICU at Waikato hospital while I attempted to catch a couple of hours' sleep in the car ride over with my father-in-law.
It turns out she was continually having seizures and a brain scan showed damage. She was on anti-seizure medication with all her senses suppressed. We were not allowed to stimulate her at all in order not to incite more seizures. All we could do was watch.
In positive determination I set a 4 hourly alarm to hand express milk for days so that I might keep up with her demand when she was better – it was hard work! On the fourth day, in preparation for taking Thea off of anti-seizure medication, we had a meeting with a doctor who went over Thea’s potential outcomes. He outlined to us the worst scenario and the hopeful notion that while some brain scans show damage – in the brain’s plasticity at her age – she could come out of this just fine.
He told us to consider what we’d do in all scenarios and then set that conversation aside and hope for the best. While spending 16 days in hospital with Thea, thankfully that conversation was the worst part of all of this. After coming off medication, Thea was okay and we were finally able to hold her for the first time.
As Thea’s grown we’ve had many follow-up appointments to monitor her development with the paediatrician commenting on how amazed he is at how well she is doing. After a few months at home, when everything caught up with me, I sought help for my anxiety through my GP and we have continued on a more ‘normal’ path since with the addition of a little brother two years later.
Today I look back on that time as surreal and I am incredibly grateful for how things turned out. Thea is so precious and I’m so grateful for her sweet, clever, quirky, fun, and loving companionship everyday.