MAS (Meconium Aspiration Syndrome) My Full-Term Nightmare – By Tahlia Ferre
My pregnancy was nothing special, I was growing a human, and as such I experienced the usual things; morning sickness, nausea, exhaustion, crazy emotions caused by the radical change in hormones and last but not least hunger, all the time… always so, so hungry. A totally “normal” textbook pregnancy, that’s the pregnancy I experienced, it was perfect, and she was perfect, in every way.
At 41 weeks exactly I went into labour, my girl had ideas of her own and took her time, at 6am on the 18th of December at 41+1 I was taken into the birth suite 4cm dilated, this was it, I was offered painkillers and ended up having an epidural, I slept for two hours and woke with the need to push. Fifteen minutes, that’s all it took and my girl was out in the world. That’s the moment my world turned upside down something was wrong, terribly, terribly wrong.
My beautiful “perfect” girl was placed on my chest, gurgled momentarily and went limp, prompting the midwife to rip her off of my chest, cut her cord in haste and call a code. Now for a first time mother who’d just given birth a code being called has to be one of the scariest things to experience, or so I thought at the time, little did I know what was in store for us. Twenty or more doctors, midwives and nurses rushed into my birth suite surrounding my limp, purple little girl and I watched as tubes were shoved down her throat and she was suctioned and resuscitated, I had no idea what had gone wrong, or what was happening to my little girl, all I knew was it wasn’t good and all I could think was ‘Please, please, let her be okay! Make her okay!’ She was resuscitated and as quickly as she’d come into the world she was wheeled out of the room, away from me. I could only lay there unable to move. The team of doctors, midwives and nurses following the lead paediatrician as he barked orders that made no sense to me as they went.
I didn’t hear anything for hours, nothing, not even a ‘She’s okay, everything will be alright.’ I understand now that they couldn’t tell me those things, because at the time she wasn’t, and everything might not have been alright. After what seemed like forever the midwife who had delivered my girl came to see how my epidural was wearing off, finally after three hours she said though not usually advised, in my circumstances I could get up, if I felt confident enough to walk, shower and go see my girl.
I got up, standing on shaky legs, still numb, showered and was wheeled into the special care nursery only to have the site I was faced with completely shatter me. There she was, my perfect little girl, hooked up to a multitude of machines, with a ventilation tube down her throat, a central line, and a glucose drip… through my haze of disbelief, I heard the word ‘TRANSFER’ all that ran through my head was, Where… Why… When?
Being told she was transferring, and I wasn’t able to go with her broke me for at least the third time that day, all I could do was melt into a puddle of tears and disbelief, my girl was leaving this hospital and going to a completely foreign to me hospital and I couldn’t go with her, ‘Why was this happening to me? Why my baby?’ I felt helpless, and lost. I was her mum, I was supposed to be there for her, I was supposed to keep her safe, but there was nothing I could do but watch as the team taking her packed her up and wheeled her away.
Lights and Sirens I was told by the team taking her, she’s a very sick girl, lights and sirens. Now I don’t know about you but when I see an ambulance with lights and sirens I worry for the poor person or people who that ambulance is racing to or transporting because I know that lights and sirens aren’t a good thing, that ambulance has people in critical condition that they’re racing to save and that day… that person in critical condition was my fresh, little, perfect baby girl. I sobbed, for what seemed like forever before I got moving, I needed to follow her, I had to go and be with her, and so I did, a transfer was arranged for me and before things were even finalised I was in the car with my friend following my baby.
She made it to The Royal NICU and was in a critical but stable condition. That night I got to hold her hand and change her first nappy, a task that I would’ve taken for granted or seen as a chore in any other circumstance, but in this moment it was something I cherished as I still wasn’t sure I’d get the chance to do again.
The news I received in the morning was more than I could manage to handle in my exhausted, postnatal state, I was sore, my whole body ached, and I was mentally, emotionally and physically numb. I cried myself to sleep my heart literally aching after being woken by a doctor at 5am with news that she’d deteriorated, there was mention of a chest drain and another transfer, not definite but on the cards… then 7am, a different doctor and a nurse; She’s being transferred to Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital PICU for emergency surgery, come say goodbye.
Goodbye… More tears… More heartache… Sobbing, disbelief, anger, and would you guess, more sobbing. The drive to Lady Cilento was a blur, the whole morning was really, I was too numb to take much of anything on board. By the time that I arrived, she’d arrived, been settled and was being prepped for this all or nothing surgery, this was her only chance, and, in her state it was now or never. I gave my consent, was given a quick run-down of the procedure and off she went to be cut open and hooked up to a machine that would be her lungs for as long as she needed… Waiting, waiting, waiting… The two hours of waiting to hear that she was out of surgery were the longest two hours I’ve ever experienced, then there was another hour wait before I could see her. So. Much. Waiting.
Walking into that room, all I could see was my tiny little baby, hooked up to these giant machines that took over the entire space and made her look even smaller than she was. There in the centre of a mass of machines was this tiny body, still and silent and perfect. Still so perfect, still covered in the aftermath of her birth, with meconium coating her hair… she had so much hair… perfect, innocent, and so underserving of the hell her body was experiencing.
The next week or so was a blur of crying, holding her hand, chatting to the nurses, asking questions, watching screens; jumping every time something beeped, pumping and not sleeping; not really… I was a broken, shadow of myself, existing just enough and putting on a brave face for my baby. That week I spent Christmas in hospital, sitting by her bed.
As with most things, there were good days and bad, one day her lung collapsed, another her lung inflammation had reduced involving the change of her ventilation tube, then her chest drain fell out and had to be put back in by a surgeon due to the blood thinners coursing through her body.
There were little things that would ruin my entire day, and little things that would make it.
She was on so many drugs and medications to keep her body working, but still and unmoving, she was sedated and paralysed. There were a handful of moments where her sedation and paralysis were reduced enough for her to wake and in those moments she would look up at me, her face hidden behind tape with tubes and wires covering her body, look into my eyes and hold my finger as if to say ‘Hi mum, I’m going to be okay!’ Those moments, I treasured and still do, because at the time I didn’t know how many of them I would get.
Thankfully, she made it through, progressing in leaps and bounds much more quickly than doctors had anticipated and exactly a week after she was put on the machine, she was taken off of it. Two days after coming off of the machine and ten days after she was born I finally got to have my first cuddle with her, it took three nurses ten minutes and a lot of manoeuvring to move her and I stayed holding her there for hours, I didn’t want to put her down, I didn’t want the moment to end. It was the first time I’d held her, cuddled her, felt her against me, it was perfect and three hours just wasn’t long enough.
That wasn’t the end of our cross country journey. We were transferred back to The Royal NICU where she stayed ventilated for what seemed like forever before being put onto High-Flow oxygen through nasal prongs and at the same time she was on a methadone program to wean her off of the drugs. For me, watching her experience withdrawals and scream, cry and thrash about in her bed was one of the hardest things to have to silently observe my baby go through, she was for the first time in her short life experiencing the pain, experiencing the torture her body was enduring and it was heart wrenching.
Hours that seemed like days, days that seemed like weeks… The commute… The feeling of guilt when I’d leave her for the night… The grief of coming home to a room that was waiting for her… The exhaustion… The numbness…
We eventually “Graduated” to special care, she was no longer reliant on drugs, she’d been downgraded from high-flow oxygen to low-flow oxygen she started breastfeeding as well as being fed through her nasal gastric tube. Every day we were a step closer to home but it still seemed so far away.
I spent days in the hospital with her, talking to the other mothers there spending time with their sick or premature babies, all of us so close to home we could almost taste it but still unsure of when it would happen for us. I watched as babies and parents were transferred back to their original hospitals, one step closer to home with their little ones by their sides and longed for the day it would be our turn. Eventually it came, our final transfer, back to where it all began, the nightmare that rocked my world for exactly five weeks and one day was coming to an end.
She was transferred to the Redlands where we were reunited with the staff that saved her life. The ones who had acted so quickly on the day of her birth to rescue her and bring her back. She will never know the significant part these people played in her life but I do, I know how hard they worked on such a little human to breathe life back into her body, to make her stable enough to move in a condition that was completely unstable.
I experienced a completely normal, “textbook” pregnancy, my labour was perfect… and then, my baby was born on the brink of death and the only reason she is still here is because of the fast work and determination of the doctors, nurses and midwives that were there that day. I didn’t think this was something that could or would happen to me, I took it for granted that my baby would be born perfect, and then she wasn’t, even though up until that point everything had been. I often asked myself while experiencing this and still do sometimes ask myself as I reflect on that nightmare of a time, ‘Why me?’ ‘Why my baby?’ ‘Why did we deserve that?’ Honestly… the answer is, we didn’t, we didn’t deserve any of it, but these kinds of freak things happen, even to the least deserving of people and it’s the way that we handle the hard times that makes us the people and the parents we are meant to be.