Uralla girl Jess Chandler never imagined celebrating Mother’s Day this year, as her first baby was not due until May 2012. However, her daughter Jasmine arrived much earlier than expected! Jess shares her amazing journey …
How long have you lived in this region?
Nearly 26 years; all my life.
The premature birth of your daughter necessitated your transfer from Armidale Hospital to John Hunter in Newcastle. How did you find that experience?
There really are no words for it! It was the most terrifying night of my life, except for the night I gave birth! I was in utter shock; I didn’t have any idea this was going to happen, that anything was even wrong, and I honestly thought I was going to lose my daughter.
How early did your baby Jasmine come?
We hear John Hunter’s neonatal ward is fantastic?
It is. We call the neonatal intensive care unit NICU for short! The nurses and the doctors are worth their weight in gold! They do a fantastic job around the clock tirelessly to save these tiny babies. NICU is a whole different world – really daunting. You see some real miracles like my daughter, but you also see tragedies all around you! It’s extremely hard being a NICU mum; you never forget it!
How did you feel when you saw your baby daughter for the first time?
Overwhelmed. It was love at first sight, but it broke my heart too at the same time! She only weighed 840 g and was 27 cm long. I was faced with the proposition that my daughter could either live or die. I couldn’t hold her; I had to touch her through a humidicrib and wasn’t even able to comfort her when she cried. I felt so helpless, and there was a real sense of grief around the whole situation.
Tell us about your move to Ronald McDonald House?
Yeah, I got transferred from the hospital to Ronald McDonald house 9 days after Jasmine was born. They are fantastic down there; it was my home away from home until Jasmine was well enough to get transferred back to Armidale hospital! It was really good to meet others either in the same or similar circumstances who understood my pain.
We all walk each other’s journeys every day. The staff and volunteers are the most gorgeous people and are always available for a chat.
The fact that Ronald McDonald house is on the hospital grounds and that I could walk back and forth whenever I pleased was priceless. They even have different organisations come in once or twice a week to cook dinner for the house.
When were you transferred back to Armidale Hospital, and how does it feel to be home?
We were flown back to Armidale Hospital exactly 8 weeks to the day that I was flown to John Hunter! I just can’t believe I’m back in Armidale. I’ve never been so glad to see the walls of the Armidale Hospital as I was that day! It’s one step closer to being finally able to take my daughter home!
Where is Jasmine at medically today?
She is 8 and a half weeks old at the moment and only 35 weeks gestation; she is doing really well! She is 1.99 kg but is gaining weight all the time, taking to breastfeeding quickly and no longer in a humidicrib; plus, she has oxygen nasal cannulas, as she just needs that little bit extra to help her breathe on her own.
We’re still at Armidale Hospital for an unknown amount of time, as she needs to get bigger, be breastfeeding, instead of tube fed and hopefully weaned off her oxygen!
We have to go back to John Hunter Hospital every 3 to 4 months for two or three years to see the growth and development specialists, as she was so premature. We will be able to stay at Ronald McDonald house when we go down there though.
How has this special experience changed you?
Nothing can describe what I have been through since the 31st of January! I love motherhood and my little girl means the world to me, but it was the most traumatising thing I’ve ever been through at the same time. The only thing I could do really was love her and express milk for her to be fed through a tube. I absolutely hated seeing her having cannulas put in her arm and getting jabbed with needles all the time.
She had tubes coming out of her everywhere, and she was hooked up to all these monitors just so she could survive. The worst part of all, however, was that she was in a humidicrib 24/7, and I couldn’t pick her up whenever I felt like it and some days not even touch her. I just had to watch her lying there with plastic between us! I was very lucky to have a mother who had experienced very similar circumstances with me as a baby, so could completely understand what I was going through; it has brought us a lot closer! It’s brought my whole family closer together.
I’ll always cherish the fact that Jasmine’s alive and that she’s healthy. I savour every moment of it and will never take that for granted! Being a NICU mum has definitely changed my perspective on life and everything in it; I’ll always be grateful for what I do have in my life, regardless of how small, because some people don’t receive the gifts I’ve got!
I could not have coped through this experience had it not been for my family and friends who would come visit and call constantly! The other residents of NICU and Ronald McDonald house have been essential in maintaining my sanity! I’m just in awe of the medical profession that they have the capability to save these little people. I mean, I witnessed such things as babies under a kilo having heart surgery and 23 week old babies surviving! Having been through it, I know I can get through anything!
The midwives and nurses in the maternity at Armidale are just angels as well. Even though she is still monitored, it’s a lot more relaxed, and I feel really comfortable here.The philosophy is more about getting to know my baby while she gets ready to come home. I’ve really been able to bond with and have some quality time with my daughter for the first time since she was born.
This story was published in issue 60 of New England Focus