Born at 25 weeks – how would she survive?

When Amy had her little girl, her life hung in the balance...
Olivia holding my finger

Amy Slapp, 31, Bundaberg, Qld

How has this happened? I thought, anxiously rubbing my small bump.

At 25 weeks pregnant, I should’ve been excited to welcome my new arrival.

I’d been looking forward to giving my kids, Declan, now 10, and Abigail, now seven, a little sister.

But this time I’d suffered lots of complications.

At 17 weeks, I had to have my gallbladder removed because I was suffering from gallstones.

Then at 23 weeks, I was rushed to hospital after an unexpected bleed.

Doctors couldn’t pinpoint the cause, so the Royal Flying Doctor Service flew me to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

Admitted for observation, I was walking to the bathroom one night when I felt something strange.

Looking down, I realised my waters had broken.

‘My daughter’s not due for another four months!’ I cried.

While the doctors managed to halt my contractions, they discovered I was also suffering from an infection.

Six days later, my bub couldn’t wait any longer.

I was frantic with worry.

How could she survive at just 25 weeks?

My head reeled as the doctor explained the risks of premature birth.

If she survived, my girl could have brain damage, chronic lung disease or severe developmental delays.

Stay strong little one, I thought.

As the delivery started, the doctor realised my bub’s arm was appearing but not her head.

‘She’s so small that if we pull her out by her arm, she might lose it,’ he said. ‘We need to do a caesarean now.’

Due to my infection, I had to be put to sleep.

As I closed my eyes, I prayed my little one would pull through.

Coming around a few hours later, all I could think about was my baby.

‘Is she okay?’ I asked the doctor.

I breathed a sigh of relief as he told me she’d been rushed to neonatal intensive care.

I was wheeled in to visit her later that night.

When I saw her, I felt a huge rush of love.

She was hooked up to a ventilator and covered in tubes, but she was perfect.

‘She’s so small,’ I said, stunned.

She weighed just 754 grams, about the same as a carton of eggs. Her little ribs stuck out and she was only 31 centimetres long.

My bub when she was born

I was desperate to scoop her up in my arms but she was too delicate to be held.

Instead, I reached through the incubator and gently placed my fingers on her nappy.

Holding one of my rings next to her, it could’ve easily fitted around her entire arm.

Choosing the name Olivia, it was 10 days before we could share our first cuddle.

As she was placed on my chest, I hoped she could tell just how much I loved her.

For the next 10 weeks, I rarely left Olivia’s side.

While my relationship broke down after Olivia’s birth, my parents, Karen, 57, and Allan, 59, were wonderful and brought Declan and Abigail to see their baby

sister on weekends.

‘When can she come home with us,’ they’d ask sweetly.

‘Soon,’ I’d tell them.

I cherished having all the kids together, but it broke my heart to say goodbye.

As the weeks passed, Olivia’s weight increased and she grew stronger.

After two and a half months, she was breathing on her own and transferred back to a special unit in Bundaberg.

Three weeks later, we were finally able to take her home – 22 days before her due date!

Olivia holding my finger (Credit: Supplied)

But our happiness was short-lived.

We were devastated when she was struck down by meningitis three weeks later.

Rushed back to hospital, she was put on oxygen, via nasal prongs.

She also started having terrifying seizures.

Doctors said it was because her premature brain wasn’t able to keep up with the rate her body was growing.

But Olivia’s strength shone through.

Even though she was sick, she was still her cheeky little self, sticking her tongue out at us.

My first cuddle (Credit: Supplied)

When Olivia was five months old, my friend Alaina told me about a company which makes dolls the size of premature babies.

I thought it would be the perfect gift for my little girl so I sent them Olivia’s birth measurements.

One month later, we got a tiny copy of Olivia!

Snapping a photo of her next to it on her first birthday, it was amazing to see how far she’d come.

By the time she was two, her seizures had stopped and she could develop normally.

From there, she blew everyone away with her progress. 

She began crawling after her first birthday and took her first steps on my mum’s birthday, when she was 18 months.

Olivia with the doll on her first birthday

We feel so grateful that she didn’t suffer any long-term complications.

Olivia’s now five and it’s hard to believe how small she was in those early days.

We keep her special doll on a shelf in her room and take a photo of her with it on every birthday as a reminder of her progress.

‘Look how much you’ve grown!’ I smile.

But Olivia is still very small for her age.

When she started school this year, we had to have her uniform specially adjusted.

On her fourth birthday

I’ve since found love and married my husband, Troy, 31.

Watching Olivia play with her siblings and step-sister Arianna, five, you’d never know what she’s been through.

She is our little miracle!

My beautiful family

This story was originally published in that’s life! Issue 9, 3 March 2016.

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