What is Walk for Prems?
Each year thousands of babies are born premature or sick. And Ballarat is no exception. Ballarat is home to one of the best Special Care Nurseries in the state, but unfortunately many local families are sent to Melbourne to have their babies when they are just too early and too sick to be cared for at home.
But with your help, Life’s Little Treasures Foundation can support these families along their journey.
On the 29th October 2017, at locations throughout Australia, including Ballarat’s own Lake Wendouree, families, friends and supporters are walking and running to raise funds for Life’s Little Treasures Foundation. The money raised goes towards providing vital services to families of premature and sick babies.
Life’s Little Treasures Foundation receives all proceeds, after expenses to continue supporting families of premature and sick babies.
The Life’s Little Treasures Foundation is a charity that provides support, understanding, information and assistance throughout Australia to families of children born prematurely or sick. Their services are available in the hospital (neonatal intensive and special care units) and the community when families come home. For example they fund and support a local playground for current and ex-premature babies and their families to discuss issues, offer support and encouragement for each other and give the kids a chance to play in an environment where everyone is understanding of any special needs they may have such as oxygen, respiratory or growth problems and so on. However, many of the little ones who attend the group have outgrown any problems and have grown up to be perfectly healthy little individuals.
The Foundation receives no government funding and is solely reliant on public donations with 100% of all fundraising going to the Life’s Little Treasures Foundation, who also organise the event through their staff and volunteers. So events like Walk for Prems are vital to keeping the support services available and caring for these families.
To register for the walk or donate:
Meet some of Ballarat’s Own Prems
I’ve always been super organised, planned ahead, had everything sorted in my life, but that all changed the day I was sent by road ambulance to the Royal Women’s Hospital to have my baby at 27 weeks! This was not what I had planned, I had only just installed carpet into the baby’s room, and we put the nursery furniture together the day before. I was still meant to have a third trimester to organise my life!
I woke on the 8th of November with the tiniest amount of spotted blood, so small I almost ignored it, but thought best not. At the hospital they checked me over and eventually realised I was already dilated. Things went from routine to panic. I was jabbed, poked, prodded, suddenly surrounded by dozens of staff, and told I was being shipped off to Melbourne. After a long ride, and more prodding, I spent the following 2 weeks on bed rest in hospital looking out the window at the Melbourne Star Wheel, communicating with the outside world through my computer, convinced that I could keep this baby in if I just did enough meditation and positive thinking. It didn’t work and nature had other ideas. Late on a Saturday night I suddenly felt what I thought was my water breaking, but it turned out to be haemorrhage and within the next 24 hours I was experiencing contractions, which I thought were just gas! My husband had to be driven from Ballarat in the middle of the night by a great friend, and he ended up sleeping on the hospital floor in the birth suite for the next night. Eventually the contractions became serious and I knew we were about to have a baby. Fast forward a day or two and after FINALLY being allowed to get out of my bed I squeezed out the tiniest little bundle of awesomeness I had ever seen. A boy! Born on November 24, 3:14am, weighing 1.5kg (3lb 3oz) at just 29 weeks & 4 days.
Sadly my well thought out birth plan was screwed up and thrown away, I wasn’t able to hold him then, no breast contact, no delayed cord clamping, nothing. He was whisked away and sent to the NICU with Dad close behind, while I showered and “rested”. But seriously, who can rest when they have just given birth??? As soon as I could, I was up that lift to the NICU to see my baby. He was on a breathing machine, had tubes and IV drips in him, but he was mine and he was perfect. He came off the breathing machine that first day, and I was able to hold him skin to skin the next day…oh my god, never have I felt so in love! (sorry babe). I just knew that as long as I could hold this baby in my arms against my chest, he would be just fine. And he was, we spent each day looking forward to the next skin to skin cuddle. We changed the tiniest nappies you ever saw, we fed the expressed breast milk through his tube and we made the best of our living arrangements as we could. And the Life’s Little Treasures orange folder of parent information became our bible!
Everything was fine until I was discharged from hospital. I excitedly packed my bags and made for the doors, but as I reached them, I fell apart. How could I leave this building without my baby??? He was up there, and I was going away. This was not how it was supposed to be. But we left eventually and headed for our small hospital unit nearby where I slept and made food, only to return to the hospital each day to do my mum duties. Until one day I returned to find my baby limp and unresponsive. He wasn’t behaving normally and he looked sick. Something was wrong. Right then I knew I needed to cuddle him, to put him on my skin, but with the flurry of doctors and nurses, I wasn’t allowed. He had a sepsis infection, and required more antibiotics over the next week than you would need in a lifetime! But within a couple of days he was back to his normal self and we progressed again.
As it neared closer to Christmas I became more anxious about getting my baby back to Ballarat, he was edging closer to 32 weeks (the age that babies can be cared for in Ballarat), and I wanted to go home! As soon as he hit the mark, the doctors starting talking about transporting him back, but every day they would make the call, and there would never be enough beds for him to go. On a Friday morning, after a lot of tears and begging my husband to please come and stay the night as I was just so lonely and upset about not getting home…knowing he would miss more work which we just couldn’t afford, we decided to drive home and repack my stuff, regroup and start again with a positive attitude. And it worked, because the second I hopped out of the car in Ballarat, my phone rang. It was the hospital and I was f***ing terrified to answer! But straight away, the voice on the other end said “good news”…phew! James is going to Ballarat in 10 minutes! WOO BLOODY HOO! No repacking required. We went home, showered, ate and went straight to hospital to find out little boy there.
We spent Christmas in the hospital, which again, was hard, but we made the best of it. We had a tiny tree, we took tiny presents, we took millions of photos and made jokes. I spent New Years Eve in a dark corner of the hospital sipping apple cider with the nurses. And eventually we started to learn how to breastfeed. After weeks of expressing I had milk for a nation! And eventually, one day, I was invited to “room in” at the hospital and stay the night with my baby. This was the best sleep over ever! And on January 17, we went home. And we’ve never looked back.
Actually, that’s not true. Every time he has a hissy fit over something silly, we gaze back and reminisce about the days in NICU & special care when our baby didn’t argue, or cry or carry on like a pork chop over not being allowed to touch the stove top or something equally dangerous. But rose coloured glasses, and time always make the good old days seem better. But seriously, I would not wish it on anyone. It was hard, so emotionally draining and financially too. My husband almost lost his job. But we had no other choice, this was how it was and we did what we could to feel like normal parents and love our baby.
Today he is a cheeky, clingy little almost 2 year old. But he has a wicked sense of humour already, just like his Dad, and I know he is going to be just fine. He is strong and knows exactly what he wants, and I have no doubt he was sent to me to test my patience and my feeling of being in control of my life! He has forced me to become more flexible and simplify my world. And they are great lessons I have to say. Life doesn’t always go to plan, but it can still be great, in ways you never expected.
by Mum, Louise
Our little Evie Mae decided to spontaneously arrive earth side at 33 weeks gestation on the 2nd of May 2015. Up until the day she was born and beside the hideous nausea, heartburn and acne, I’d been having a somewhat ‘normal’ and ‘boring’ pregnancy. I woke up that morning experiencing what felt like period pain and a few more Braxton hicks than usual, but being my first pregnancy, I assumed it was just standard pregnancy symptoms and I tried to get on with the day by putting on my heat pack and heading to watch my husband play at the local footy.
After a couple of hours sitting in the car at the footy, the contractions were becoming more unbearable and I started recording the times that they were coming and going. They were inconsistently about 3-7 minutes apart and I started to find it hard to sit in the car. I had been in contact with my friend, my mum and had tried ringing my sister (midwife) and the midwife that I had planned to have at the birth. I couldn’t get onto either of them but my friend was pretty concerned and convinced me to go and get checked out. She drove to the footy oval at around 2:30pm and took me into the Maternity Outpatients. I was in a fair bit of pain during the ride in but was still in denial about what could have been happening.
At around 3:30pm after my husband and sister had both arrived at the hospital, the Dr did a vaginal check and sure enough he said I was fully dilated and going to have my baby that day. I remember transitioning straight into survival mode and mentally trying to just get the job done in the way that I had originally planned. I was moved into a birth suite and for the next few hours I had a calm, empowering, intense, painful, incredible vaginal birth. When our Evie came out, I was gifted a small amount of skin-to-skin and delayed cord clamping, before she began to grunt and was whisked away into the Special Care Nursery, where she stayed for 3 more exhausting weeks. I didn’t hold her again until the next day and my husband had to wait five days before he could have his first cuddle. He also went back to work a week after she was born, whilst she was still in the SCN. I honestly don’t know how he went to work each day knowing that she was so tiny and at times unstable. He was and is amazing!
In those moments after she arrived, I don’t think we realised the enormity of what had happened. We were naïve about the possible complications of a premature birth, and rightly so. It wasn’t something that any first time parents ever really consider and we didn’t know anyone who had had a premature baby. The next three weeks were a rollercoaster of emotions. Evie was a decent size of 2.1kg when she was born and she only decreased in weight to 1.9 kg in those next few days. She did require the CPAP machine to support her lungs for about five days after the birth, as well as caffeine to help her with the many apneas she was having. I was an expressing machine! Like most mums of premature babies, the breast pump became my best friend because it’s the one thing that you feel you can have control over to help your baby. Evie was fed via the nasal gastric tube for a while and eventually, after hours and hours each day of skin-to-skin she began to breast feed in small amounts. It was a crazy few weeks with one step forward and another step back. But eventually by the end of that last week before we took her home, she began breast-feeding well and her ability to breathe consistently well on her own, had improved significantly. We never found out why she arrived so early.
Some of the most difficult parts about that time was not having her in the room with me the night after her birth and lying alone envying and listening to all of the mothers feeding, changing and soothing their new little ones. The first night that we had to leave the hospital without her was also heart breaking. After carrying her around inside of me for months, I just had to surrender and fully trust in the angels that are the midwives and nurses, to look after her. I wasn’t pregnant anymore, but I also didn’t have my baby with me. It was also difficult not being able to just go and pick her up whenever we wanted. We felt a little as if she didn’t belong to us. At that time we lived about 40 minutes from the hospital and so luckily my sister and her husband kindly offered for us to stay with them for a while.
When I look back on that time, I remember the long, lonely days spent next to Evie’s cot, expressing, skin-to-skin, machines beeping, scrubbing our hands constantly, the distinct smell of the hand sanitizer and roaming social media for support and stories from women who had experienced something similar. Life’s Little Treasures is one of the organisations that offers families of premature babies support and somewhere to go online to seek help. It was definitely one of the websites that I frequented during this time and beyond.
I know that we were extremely lucky to have had Evie at no less than 33 weeks gestation and that there are many families who don’t have the same happy ending that we have had. But it was still an extremely difficult time and I think it’s important to validate our (and other’s) feelings by acknowledging that.
Evie is now a healthy, vibrant, spunky little 2 year old and her strong and determined personality certainly suit her entrance into our world.
by Mum, Whitny
Charlotte & Madelyn
After the initial shock of seeing two little ‘sprouts’ in our first scan at 6 weeks (finding out that we were having twins!), we were lucky enough to have a dream pregnancy with no troubles and everything went very smoothly. Until my very first day of maternity leave at 31 weeks pregnant, I felt the worst I had the whole pregnancy so far. After a phone call to our obstetrician and a hospital visit, we were told that we were in the early stages of labour. As Ballarat doesn’t allow babies prior to 32 weeks gestation, we were sent to Melbourne. With luck on our side, we managed to bypass a week in and out of a birthing suite to be sent home a week later with the plan to be bed ridden in hospital to pass by a few weeks or as long as we could. The plan didn’t stick, with just staying one night back in Ballarat, we were sent to theatre the next night, when we would deliver our little bundles via cesarean at 32 weeks 5 days gestation. We didn’t know what sex our babies were and unfortunately I had to be fully under anesthetic for the cesarean and obviously wasn’t advised until I woke up in recovery.
We were very lucky with the team that we had as they were terrific with my partner and still allowed him into the room to cut their cords and also follow them into special care nursery while also coming to check on me in recovery. I woke up in recovery with him by my side, with the wonderful news that we had daughters and that they were both well.
This was the start of not only parenthood for us but our special care journey. I unfortunately wasn’t allowed to see the girls until the next day, but wasn’t allowed to cuddle them either as they were in the humidity crib. It wasn’t until day 3 that we could hold our gorgeous girls with kangaroo care or also known as skin to skin contact. This was the most beautiful thing that we have ever experienced but at the same time so scared and nervous as neither of us had seen nor held a baby so small. Not only was it hard for their size, it was also hard with cords and connections connecting the girls to monitors and drips etc.
On day 5, I was discharged and had the heartbreak of leaving our girls at the hospital. Although I knew this was the best place for them and where they needed to be, it wasn’t what was planned nor what I had imagined being first time parents! I had troubles with milk supply which was made even harder being away from your babies and waking up to an alarm over night to express and not your babies. I was by the girls’ sides, all day everyday until their last feed of a night, when I would leave them with the midwives and see them again the next day. Each day had its challenges, I couldn’t try and breastfeed as they were still too little, I still had problems with supply, the girls were in a crib for a few weeks so we couldn’t nurse them as much as we wanted, visitors were only allowed at certain times and so many at a time. It was December for us and this is my favourite time of year and not having the girls home for their first Christmas was heartbreaking. Each day passed and even though each day had its battles, the girls were very strong and determined so each day was better and the midwives and pediatricians made our journey so much more comfortable and the days didn’t seem to drag. Not only were they caring for our babies as well as others, they looked after me, helped me with feeding and hugged me through my tears, made me laugh and made sure I was fed at meal times. If it wasn’t for the wonderful staff, it would have been a completely different journey.
It’s really hard being a parent in special care because even though you are the parents and they are your babies, it feels as though it is taken away from you and not on purpose but due to the care that the babies need. The midwives made sure we were included when and as much as possible with changing nappies and even being able to tube feed through their nasal gastric tubes. It was hard seeing your babies so small and innocent and even though its not the way I had hoped to start motherhood, you have to take it all in and be positive but also very thankful.
After 5 weeks, the word ‘home’ was mentioned, something that we were beyond excited for and wasn’t expecting. After 6 weeks in special care nursery, we were walking out the door of the hospital as a family and couldn’t wait to get home.
I know I am one of the lucky parents who had two healthy prem babies and were also lucky enough to develop strong and healthy from the start and never skipped a beat and my girls are now nearing 2.
by Mum, Samantha