For Meghan Billinghurst, the early arrival of her daughter meant she didn’t have the pregnancy and birth journey she expected. She told Insight of the challenges of having a premature baby.
It was March 2020 when I found out I was pregnant. My husband and I were ecstatic. We’d had fertility issues and turned to ovulation treatments to be able to fall pregnant. After just one round, I fell pregnant. We felt very, very lucky.
I was 23 weeks plus two days pregnant when I noticed the smallest amount of blood in my discharge. I didn’t think much of it - I had heard this could happen - but I called Campbelltown hospital (in Sydney) to get some advice and they recommended that I go in for a check-up. I was so relaxed about it all I even told my husband not to bother meeting me - fortunately for me he didn’t listen.
I remember the doctor who arrived to take a look at me was very calm - I expected to be told all was well and I could go home. But then her face changed. I’ve never seen a look of panic on a doctor’s face before but hers had it written all over it. She hit the emergency button and ran out of the room. I turned to my husband and said, ‘Well that’s not good’.
There were a lot of emotions. I was absolutely terrified, I felt like the operating theatre was in utter chaos.
At that point I started to freak out and I got really upset. I asked a midwife to tell me what was going on and she explained that I was actually four centimetres dilated and in labour. I was immediately taken to Liverpool hospital so we could be close to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
I spent the next 11 days in a rollercoaster of emotions. I was in and out of labour, I would start contracting and then everything would stop, and it would fizzle out. I managed to hold on until day 11 when my baby girl, Aubree, decided enough was enough.
During the delivery there was no time for pain relief so I was wheeled into the operating theatre for an emergency c-section and given general anaesthetic, so I was put completely under. Because of this my husband wasn’t allowed to be by my side. There were a lot of emotions. I was absolutely terrified, I felt like the operating theatre was in utter chaos.
At 24 weeks plus six days, Aubree was born screaming - ‘feisty’ according to the nurses.
Not the picture you’re taught to believe
All the images, TV shows and books I’d read on birth showed the mother cradling her baby after it was born - enjoying that skin-to-skin contact and cementing that special bond.
When you have a premature baby, you don’t get that experience. In fact, you don’t get any of the experiences you thought you would have and as much as I’m so happy with my end result, I feel robbed of my pregnancy journey.
At 24 weeks I was only just starting to show. I hadn’t had my baby shower and I hadn’t had time to ‘nest’ and get her room ready.
After the birth, it was 11 hours until I first laid eyes on her and 24 hours until I first touched her. She was so tiny she was practically see through. She weighed just 660 grams and I was scared to touch her out of fear I would break her. Due to COVID restrictions my husband and I weren’t able to be in the NICU with her at the same time so all our interactions with our new baby were had alone and not shared with each other.
Throughout our time in the NICU, Aubree went through many hurdles. She had a bowel obstruction that resulted in a laparotomy surgery when she was just 32 weeks gestation. She endured many IV’s, PICC lines, ultrasounds and tests, all before she was supposed to be born.
She stayed in the NICU for a total of 117 days, so we were forced to return home without our little girl. Instead of getting up to a crying baby in the middle of the night and breastfeeding, my alarm would go off every three hours and I would get up to express milk.
Finally, she was able to come home with us and today Aubree is 12-months-old. She’s still tiny but she’s a pocket-rocket full of energy and close to walking.
When I look back at the time it was such a rollercoaster of emotions. You really were forced to take it minute-by-minute. I can say now that it’s made me stronger.
While the experience of her birth was incredibly hard and incredibly traumatic, I’m so grateful for the outcome that we’ve had and now I’m able to support others who are going through something similar. I’m not glad we went through it, but we’ve experienced it and now I can share my experience with others.
If you need assistance you can contact NurtureLine, a free 24hr family support helpline for families of a premature or sick newborn. Their number is 1300 622 243