By Melissa Grant
At just 31 weeks pregnant, Ashleigh Laing was about to welcome guests to her baby shower when she started showing signs of pre-term labour.
It was a hot day, and Ashleigh and her husband Rohan had just been to the Angliss Hospital for their first antenatal class. During their visit, the couple was given a tour of the maternity ward, including the special care nursery for premature and sick babies.
Little did they know that in less than 48 hours Ashleigh would be birthing their son Sebastian, who would end up spending weeks in that very nursery.
“When I got back into the car, I remember feeling a bit off. But it was really hot, so I thought it was the heat,” Ashleigh recalled.
“When I got home my friends had been setting up the house for the baby shower. It looked great.”
Dozens of people gathered at the Laing’s beautifully decorated Ferntree Gully home for the celebration on 23 March, 2019. They ate cupcakes, homemade sausage rolls and sipped champagne. They sat in a circle and watched Ashleigh open gifts for her unborn baby.
Nobody – including Ashleigh – had any idea there had been signs of pre-term labour.
During the baby shower, the mum-to-be noticed she had lost some fluid but thought nothing of it. After her guests had left, the situation escalated.
However, Ashleigh’s mum Susie hung around as she thought something may be amiss.
“Luckily my mum had a feeling. She said ‘I could tell you were off’ and wanted to stick around.
“When I told mum what was going on she told me to go to the hospital.”
Rohan, who hadn’t left Ashleigh’s side throughout the pregnancy, was at his high school reunion in the city.
“I said ‘mum, don’t call him, it will be nothing. She had a feeling that something might not be that straightforward and called Ro.”
When Ashleigh arrived at the hospital, a nurse told her there was likely no reason to be concerned.
Shortly afterwards, Rohan and his best friend Robbie turned up.
“They were quite watered. Ro was joking, saying ‘hey everyone my wife is having a baby’.”
However, the mood quickly changed when the nurse returned with the results of an AmniSure test, which diagnoses rupture of the fetal membranes.
“When the nurse came back, she had a different look on her face – she turned very serious.
“She said, ‘look guys things are happening, the baby is coming!’
“I was 31 weeks and 5 days at this point. I could tell because of the amount of fluid – I knew it was definitely happening.”
Ashleigh was given a shot to hold off the birth and then another. The following day, Ashleigh was put in an ambulance and sent to the Monash Medical Centre at Clayton as they had the facilities for such premature babies.
Contractions started but then stopped.
Ashleigh’s parents went home, but her sister Melissa – who initially declined an invitation to be at the birth – refused to leave. She went to the shops and got some clothes for Ashleigh, who didn’t have the chance to pack a hospital bag, before returning to the birthing suite.
For the entire day, the contractions were erratic. They were close and then far apart.
By midnight, the contractions had died off so the Laings were moved out of the birthing suite and into the ward. As it was after visiting hours, Rohan and Melissa had to go home.
But by 2am, the contractions returned. Within 15 minutes, Ashleigh was on her hands and knees.
She was taken back to the birthing suite, while Rohan and Melissa were phoned and told to rush back.
Sebastian Michael Laing was born at 4.07am on 25 March, 2019. He arrived at exactly 32 weeks, weighing 1.7kg.
The weeks that followed were an emotional rollercoaster.
Nobody had prepared the Laings for what it would be like to have a premature baby, including seeing Sebastian for the first time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where he stayed for eight days in isolette with wires and tubes.
“It was scary as he dropped down to 1.6kg. He kept vomiting. Then he put on weight and we would be happy. It was just a rollercoaster,” Ashleigh said.
Each day, the Laings were at the hospital from 6am until close to midnight. The scariest moment came when they phoned the hospital after they returned home in the wee hours. They could hear an alarm going off in the background. Sebastian had stopped breathing.
“They had to go in and do some CPR and get him on the breathing machine. We went straight back in and could see he was on the machine, which was breathing for him,” Ashleigh said.
When Sebastian was well enough, he was transported to the Angliss Hospital where he spent another 4-5 weeks in the special care unit.
At around six weeks of age, Sebastian reached the magic 2kg mark and was able to go home.
It was a tough few months, but the Laings had great support from family and friends who dropped off meals and stopped by to clean the house.
Sebastian had some weight gain issues initially, but now – at nearly age 2 – he is of average weight for his age and in the 90th percentile for height.
“The other day at the park he was mistaken for a ,three-year-old!” Ashleigh said.
Sebastian is also thriving developmentally. He is quite articulate for his age and has great pronunciation. He loves story time and will often bring books into his parent’s room and say “mama read it please”.
Before Covid hit, Ashleigh and Rohan raised money for premature and sick babies by taking part in the Walk for Prems. They also visited the Angliss Hospital on World Prematurity Day, where they heard other couple’s premmie stories.
Covid resulted in the cancellation of Sebastian’s 1st birthday party, so this year the Laings are hoping to have a grand 2nd birthday celebration. Sebastian would love nothing more than a big birthday bash – he enjoys being the centre of attention.
“He loves the limelight like his parents, he is very funny and cheeky,” Ashleigh said.
“He loves to dance and does anything he can to make us laugh.
“His latest thing is asking the waitress at cafes for a ‘coffee please’, very casually. As if we’d let him order a real one!”