Earlier than Due

This loving mother of two shares how her baby came to this world much earlier than she expected and the joy of seeing her grow up healthily.

WORDS RACHEL KWEK
 
Although many believe that the second pregnancy tends to be easier to manage than the first, it was not the case for Shirley. With an active toddler to care for, she tells us how the unwavering support of her family and close friends helped see her through a challenging second pregnancy. 
 
Keeping Herself and Her Baby Going
Shirley has a family history of high blood pressure and was diagnosed with preeclampsia in her final trimester of her first pregnancy. Although she pulled through the pregnancy without any medication and delivered her son two days later than his expected delivery date, things were not looking good when she was diagnosed with the condition again when pregnant with Scarlett. In order to lower her blood pressure, Shirley started taking aspirin shortly after entering her second trimester. “I was apprehensive about the medication’s effects, but I had to protect myself and my baby,” she says. She was watchful about her diet and kept herself active. The help she received from her husband and parents for managing housework and childcare enabled her to rest as much as she could. 
 
However, despite efforts to keep her condition in check, Shirley’s blood pressure continued to remain in the very high-risk range of 180 to 200.  Her condition was extremely disquieting. Not only was her heart rate abnormally low on a few occasions, Scarlett’s heartbeat was inconsistent too. 
 
Shirley was at risk of having a sudden stroke and other complications and yet, she felt upset and guilty that her condition was impeding the growth of her foetus. Her gynaecologist instructed strict bed rest and she and her family were prepared that she would have to deliver her daughter prematurely. 
 
A Meeting She Would Rather Delay
After her routine review – on Chinese New Year Eve last year—Shirley’s gynaecologist ordered her to be admitted into KK Women’s Hospital right away. Her blood pressure was extremely high and she was immediately wheeled into the delivery suite for close monitoring by the team in charge of high-risk pregnancies. Scarlett’s heartbeat was closely monitored and there were numerous instances when her heart rate dipped. Caught in a time bomb in which both mother and baby’s lives were endangered, the doctors ordered an emergency caesarean section. With that, preparations for the unexpected surgery proceeded quickly: the antenatal steroid jab to strengthen the baby’s lungs, acknowledgment of the risk for an emergency caesarean operation and injection of epidural anaesthetics. “I was still in shock. My whole family, including myself, were thinking I was admitted for monitoring and to delay the pregnancy for as long as possible,” Shirley recounts. 
 
Little Girl Meets World
Scarlett wasn’t crying after she was delivered. Lying on the operating theatre bed, Shirley burst into tears when she finally heard her baby’s loud cries. Weighing less than 700g, Scarlett was born prematurely at 26 weeks old. Outside the operating theatre, Shirley’s husband was worried sick. “He was afraid that he might lose either one of us,” Shirley says. During the hour-long operation, Shirley’s blood pressure was at a constant high, hitting 220 when she gave birth. She had to be warded at the ICU subsequently due to excessive bleeding. Shirley’s unplanned delivery was emotionally and mentally draining for everyone in the family and there were no Chinese New Year celebrations and visits for them.
 
After giving birth, Shirley continued to blame herself for Scarlett’s premature birth. She was distraught and that caused her condition to worsen. As her blood pressure was still on the high side, she was not allowed to visit her daughter after delivery. Her attempts to plead with the nurses to allow her to visit with her husband’s assistance were unsuccessful. It wasn’t until her third day in the hospital that she could visit her baby in the NICU. When she finally saw tiny Scarlett in person, Shirley broke down in tears.
 
A Long Journey Home
As Scarlett was born much earlier than expected, she spent more than four months in an incubator. During her stay in the hospital, she fed on breast milk and formula milk via feeding tubes. Shirley and her husband visited her every day without fail. They practised kangaroo care on her and played 
videos of her brother singing and talking to her.
 
Looking forward to bringing their daughter home, both husband and wife pulled out all the stops. Besides attending preparation classes arranged by the hospital to learn how to take care of their premature baby, they found out from the nurses who cared for Scarlett about her progress and routines. They even recorded environmental sounds in an attempt to create a similar environment for her at home. Shirley also joined a Facebook support group for parents who have had premature babies. 
 
When the day for Scarlett to go home arrived, the whole family was excited, especially her brother Sefton, who was going to meet her for the first time almost five months after she was born. He gave her a gift that his parents had taken him to buy. Shirley and her husband had been talking to him about his baby sister and he was ready to be a big brother. 
 
“I do get paranoid often when she is asleep at night and will wake up to make sure that she is breathing well, Shirley admits, relating how it took her a while to cope after bringing her home. At nine months old now, Scarlett is reaching developmental milestones and loves to spend time with her brother. Shirley proudly shares that her tough little girl has helped her see new meaning in life.
Thanks for sharing!