As I slid the gift box across the table, I could feel my heart slamming against my chest.
‘We’ve got some news,’ I said to my mum, Shayna.
Ten days earlier, my partner Alex, 23, and I had the shock of our lives.
Now, as Mum and my sister Anahera tore open the gift, I wondered how they would all react.
My dad Kenny couldn’t make the lunch, so I’d put him on video call instead.
Inside the box was a cuddly toy Stitch and a quote from our favourite Disney film.
Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten, that’s why we’re adding another member.
As the penny dropped, Mum let out a squeal, while Dad’s eyes welled up with tears.
‘We’re going to be grandparents,’ he shrieked, fist pumping the air.
A few weeks later, we had our first scan and everything looked good.
Soon after, we decided to move from Brisbane to WA to be closer to my family.
We chose not to find out the gender, and as the date grew closer, I couldn’t wait.
Then at around 36 weeks, I felt breathless.
I brushed it off, but by 39 weeks I couldn’t lie down flat without wheezing, and I felt pressure on my chest.
I went with Alex to the hospital for a procedure to help bring my labour along.
But then the midwife noticed something.
‘Your heart rate is awfully high,’ she said.
Already 3cm dilated, I was moved onto the maternity ward and soon after, my parents arrived.
I was given oxygen but, beside my bed, the heart rate monitor flashed as the number went up and up.
‘We think you’ve got a blood clot,’ the doctor explained.
They took me for a CT scan, but by now I couldn’t lie down for more than a few seconds.
It felt like I was drowning.
I was moved to the high dependency unit and hooked up to an even bigger oxygen machine.
‘Take deep breaths, Ocean,’ the nurse told me. With each short gasp, the machine pumped oxygen into me but it wasn’t enough.
Frantic, all I could do was hope and pray that my baby would be okay.
But then, the machines beeped manically.
A nurse called out code blue, and within seconds my room was filled with medics.
‘I need your permission for a caesarean,’ a doctor said.
Terrified, I nodded.
My mum signed the paperwork before I was taken into the operating theatre.
Then, the anaesthetist placed a mask over my face and everything went black.
When I came around, I could hear my dad’s voice.
‘Her hand’s moving,’ he was saying.
Groggy and confused, I blinked open my eyes.
As the memory of what happened slowly came back, I looked down at the blanket covering my tummy – my flat tummy. Glancing around the room, there was no cot and then it hit me.
My baby’s dead, I thought.
But amazingly, I was wrong. The surgeon explained that during the caesarean, I’d gone into cardiac arrest and my heart had stopped for 10 minutes.
They’d had to do CPR on me, and my baby – a girl – had been born without a heartbeat.
I’d been put in an induced coma and flown to a specialist cardiac hospital in Perth, while our daughter was nearby at Perth Children’s Hospital.
She was breathing, but critical. And I’d been in the coma for 22 hours. It was so much to take in.
Even as Alex tried to show me pictures of our girl, I couldn’t believe she was really alive.
Doctors were concerned she might have brain damage from the lack of oxygen during birth.
They cooled down her body temperature before warming her back up, and it was four days before I was finally able to see her.
As I caught sight of her, all the doubt I’d felt disappeared.
My little girl had survived.
‘Do you want a cuddle?’ the nurse asked.
As she placed my sweet bub in my arms, I felt like I could burst.
We decided to name her Atlantia.
She was transferred to my hospital, and a few days later, I was discharged.
The doctors discovered I had an underlying heart condition, where blood from my heart was pumping in the wrong direction, sending blood into my lungs, believed to be caused by having rheumatic fever as a child.
‘It’s a miracle you made it to full term,’ I was told.
Thankfully, tests showed Atlantia hadn’t suffered any brain damage and after 13 days, we all went home.
I was back in hospital two months later for heart surgery to have both my right and left valves repaired. Thankfully, it was a success.
Now, Atlantia is five months old. We have to keep an eye on her development, but so far she’s growing into a giggly little girl.
I’ll never forget the battle we’ve been through.
My baby and I came back from the dead, but now we’re full of life.
Standing outside the operating theatre was torture. I felt totally helpless. I could hear the surgeons shouting and I was terrified of losing them both.
Fighting back tears, I had to face the reality of being a single dad.
I’m so thankful they both pulled through and now they’re home where they belong.