By Sarah Lumchee

I remember coming back home from the hospital six years ago, in tears. I had just given birth to my first son, Isaac. But my house was painfully quiet. He was born prematurely at 30 weeks old and had to spend the first ten weeks of his life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

I remember feeling a sense of loss and sorrow. I did not have Isaac with me and it wasn’t what I had imagined the first few days of motherhood would feel like.

I had experienced the usual nausea and fatigue during the first trimester. There was nothing unusual in that. But I was diagnosed with pregnancy induced hypertension via a regular check-up and was warned of pre-term birth as a possible complication.

At 30 weeks gestation I was rushed to the hospital with severe preeclampsia and had an emergency caesarian only few hours later.

Becoming a mother to Isaac was one of the happiest moments of my life. But the period immediately after was filled with the shock, fear and rollercoaster of emotions that ran through me, my husband and our families.

Watching your newborn struggle to breathe and have to be fed intravenously in an incubator takes a huge toll on any parent. It certainly took its toll on us. That was the image that made us realise the impact that his premature birth would have on our son’s health and development.
Once we were finally able to take him home, adjusting to a normal life wasn’t easy.

Shortly after his birth, the doctors discovered he suffered a brain injury and one year later he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Isaac’s health still needs to be closely monitored. We are still seeing the impact of his premature birth unfold.

For the last five years, thanks to lots of support and treatment, he has made incredible progress. He was recently diagnosed with ADHD and we’re now working to manage that.

But there is also a lot of joy that comes from having a child who has been born facing tough challenges. Watching him grow and achieve things despite his enormous struggle is truly amazing. Even the simplest things like watching Isaac walk independently or smile, knowing the challenges that he has been through, makes me the proudest mum.

I still think many people are not aware of the long-term effects that pre term births can have on children and their families. Beside it being a traumatic and stressful birthing experience, it is ongoing journey for us, Isaac and our broader network including our close friends and family.

I’ve learnt that 1 in 11 babies are born prematurely (i.e., before 37 weeks) every year in Australia. That’s a pretty scary proportion.

From the time I learnt that I had complications with my pregnancy and I was aware of the risk of a premature birth, I began to search for information and stories from other women. Hearing these stories and taking on the advice of my obstetrician really helped me to keep a positive outlook.

All the doctors and nurses have been so attentive in helping to manage the challenges that have been thrown my way. I know they are equally focused on reducing the prevalence of pre-term birth in the future for other women.

I encourage women who are concerned about the risk of preterm birth to talk with their GP, obstetrician, midwife or nurse. They are the ones who will be able to suggest the best course of action and provide suggestions about the best way to reduce the risks.

Isaac, my husband and I have had our family and all the healthcare staff with us throughout this entire journey. Knowing there is information and support available can make an incredible difference.

It certainly made a huge difference to us.

Australian women will now have affordable access to progesterone treatment for the prevention of preterm birth. Oripro has been listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, significantly reducing the amount paid by eligible women.