Space to grow

Mum Rebecca with her son Kai, 8. Pictures: ROB CAREW

By Casey Neill

Rebecca Comerford felt good throughout her first trimester, so the haemorrhage that hit at 12 weeks knocked her and husband Brett for six.

“We panicked and we drove to the hospital,” she said.

“They found the heartbeat was still there and everything seemed to be OK.”

But the haemorrhaging continued.

“When this started happening is probably when I thought about my septo-uterus,” the Wantirna mum said.

“Growing up I had really terrible periods.

“When I was 18 or 19 I had a laparoscopy to check for endometriosis.”

They didn’t find any endo, but did discover a septo-uterus.

“It’s basically where you have a wall or a lining down the middle of your uterus,” she said.

“The wall between my uterus runs past halfway of the height of my uterus.

“A baby doesn’t have that same space to move around.

“I hadn’t thought about it since I had that laparoscopy.

“They told me back then ‘you shouldn’t need to worry about it too much’.”

Rebecca went to the hospital every time she had a bleed, no matter the scale.

“I think probably all up I had around 10 different hospital stays,” she said.

“I didn’t bleed until 12 weeks and had my son at 29 weeks, so the bleeding was half my pregnancy.”

About 27 weeks in, tests confirmed Rebecca’s waters had broken. She was kept in hospital, and about 29 weeks her cervix started to change and doctors said her baby would soon arrive.

Then an infection struck.

“I was shaking in bed. My teeth were chattering so hard that the girl next door came into my area and pushed the buzzer for the nurse,” she said.

“I was taken down for an emergency caesar at around 3am.

“My husband made it – just.

“Kai was born and rushed straight to the NICU.

“They didn’t put my son on my chest, because he was obviously in dangerous territory.

“I don’t remember seeing him.

“He was just whisked away and then I was out of it and woke up in my bed later that day.”

Nurses and doctors in the days and years that followed asked Bec whether she’d done chest time at birth.

“They say it’s really important for that bonding,” she said.

“That played on my mind quite a lot and that upset me.

“Is my child not going to bond with me because I missed that critical moment?

“The guilt is what followed for me, for so long.”

Rebecca was sent home – which was then in Scoresby – 48 hours later.

Kai was in hospital in Heidelberg. She was recovering from a caesarean and Brett had only limited time off work.

“I remember crying when they said ‘you’re going to have to leave, we don’t have a room for you’,” she said.

“I was just devastated and I was begging them, ‘please’.

“It was really hard.

“I would get dropped off there and I would sit there from 7am to 11 and 12 o’clock at night.

“He was on oxygen and he was only 1.5 kilos, so 3 pounds.

“I got mastitis twice because even though Kai was drip fed, he was 100 percent fed with breast milk.

“I was sitting there all day just pumping. I had so much milk.

“We were actually quite lucky that we didn’t have moments where we thought his life was in danger.

“We obviously didn’t know whether his health was going to be great, but other than jaundice he seemed to be doing quite well for such an early baby.”

Rebecca feels for other parents with children at home to look after as well as a sick baby.

“I could sit there all day, and all night and not leave,” she said.

“If I had a 2 year old or 3 year old at home, I can only imagine how hard it would be then.

“Leaving at night is just horrendous. Not knowing whether your baby is crying…

“You’ve got such little control over your child, you really feel quite helpless.”

About a month after Kai’s birth, Bec was asked to consider leaving the Mercy NICU to free up space for another bub in need.

“I put myself back into my own position at 24 weeks, when I couldn’t get a bed, probably because other parents didn’t want to move from high care to medium care.

“So I did move and we moved to the Angliss.

“We were closer to home and we were happy with the care.”

People would tell her ‘go out for dinner, go out for lunch, he’ll be coming home soon’.

“But I felt guilty just sometimes having a laugh,” Rebecca said.

“We actually got out 38 weeks on the day and brought him home and undid all the routine that they had him in.

“He’d been in the hospital for two months, so you don’t have your mum to pick you up at 3am and soothe you and what not.

“They say preemie babies end up being quite routined because they don’t have that same experience.

“I undid all that pretty quickly by not putting him down for the next year and causing a very clingy child.”

Plenty of hospital stays followed due to respiratory issues, deemed bronchiolitis.

“We would be in hospital for days, on steroids all the time. Then one lady at the Monash swabbed him and gave him antibiotics for a bacterial infection,” she said.

“We had one minor stay in hospital after that, then never again.

“I think it’s hard as a first time mum. You don’t know what you’re doing, but if it doesn’t feel right, you’ve got to challenge it.”

Kai is now 8 years old. He’s asthmatic, and it took five years for his weight to register on the charts, but he’s otherwise unaffected by his dramatic start to life.

Rebecca and Brett never planned to have more than one child, but their experience with Kai confirmed it.

“I did talk to the doctor about it. He said it was unavoidable to have another premature baby, but this time the management would be much different,” Bec said.

“They kind of said ‘if you’re going to have one, have one now rather than later’.

“We just were in no way shape or form to think about having a baby straight away.”

It wasn’t something Rebecca thought much more about…until Kai asked about having a sibling.

“It was during the first lockdown of Covid. He was in Prep, so he was 6,” she said.

“He brought home a piece of homework.

“He was doing it virtually and they said you had to name three things you wish for more than anything in the world.

“For the first time ever, he said he wishes for a brother or a sister.

“He’d never said anything before. It was horrible and I felt really bad.

“Since then he does talk about it a little bit.

“It’s tough to watch actually, your child being a little bit lonely.”

But Kai’s best mates with his cousin, and is happy and thriving.

“Everything doesn’t have to be perfect for you to be a great parent,” Bec said.