‘Hello baby,’ my daughter Manny, eight, cooed, rubbing my bump. ‘I hope you’re a boy because I want to be the only girl.’ It made me and my partner, Brodie, 30, laugh.
My son Leo, three, and Brodie’s son, Flynn, four, also wanted a brother. So we were thrilled to find out we were expecting a son and decided on the name Lennox.
But when I was 23 weeks and five days along, I got an overwhelming feeling. ‘Something’s wrong,’ I told Brodie. Leo had been born prematurely, so to be on the safe side, I was admitted to the Royal Women’s Hospital.
‘Something’s wrong,’ I told Brodie.
During an ultrasound, the doctor’s face fell. ‘I’m sorry, but it looks like the baby’s coming,’ he said. ‘His arm is already down the birth canal.’
I was hysterical as I called Brodie. ‘Babies born this early don’t survive,’ I sobbed. Brodie rushed to join me at the hospital. ‘This is going to be hard to hear,’ a doctor said. He explained that if our bub was born at 24 weeks, there was just a 10 per cent chance he’d survive. If he did live, he’d almost certainly be severely disabled.The moments after the birth would be distressing too. Lenni’s little lungs wouldn’t be developed, so doctors would need to give him his first breath.
‘If he takes it, he’ll then be placed in a plastic oven bag to keep warm,’ the doctor said. The bag would mimic the conditions of my womb until they could get him to intensive care. Doctors administered steroids to help his lungs develop before he arrived.
All we could do was pray. ‘Stay where you are little guy,’ I pleaded. Every moment he was safe inside me was a step closer to survival.
All we could do was pray.
At 25 weeks and three days, I woke with contractions. ‘It’s happening!’ I cried to the nurses. Three months early, Lenni had just a 50 per cent chance of survival. After seven agonising hours, I pushed him into the world. He let out a little squeak. Looking like a tiny purple worm, he was so precious.
Brodie went with our boy to intensive care, where he was put in an incubator. Once I’d recovered, I went to see him. At just 800 grams, Lenni weighed less than a bag of sugar. His head was smaller than a lemon and his arms were as thin as pencils. He also had a hole in his heart.
He had tubes in each tiny nostril and the ventilator pushing air into his lungs made a puffing noise. He reminded me of a little dragon. ‘Puff the magic dragon,’ I sang softly. This became our nickname for him.
His head was smaller than a lemon and his arms were as thin as pencils.
Lenni was strong, just like the mythical creature. But catching an infection could be fatal, so we weren’t allowed to touch him.
There was something I could do, though. ‘Your breast milk is the best thing to build his immune system,’ doctors advised. So I pumped as much as I could and he was fed through a tube.
Every evening, we had to leave Lenni and go home. It was heartbreaking being apart but he impressed everyone with his progress.
‘I love you little one,’ I said.
But my poor boy wasn’t out of the woods yet. Medication to try and close the hole in his heart wasn’t working. The last option was open-heart surgery.
The day before the op, when he was 39 days old, Lenni was placed in my arms for the first time. Holding him close, I felt like I’d burst with happiness. ‘I love you little one,’ I said.
The next day, he had an ultrasound. ‘This is amazing,’ the doctor said. ‘The hole has started to close overnight.’ It meant Lenni no longer needed the risky surgery. He put it down to my hugs.
My cuddle was helping to cure him! After that, I held Lenni whenever I could.
Just a week later, I was at home when a doctor phoned. ‘Lenni’s strong enough to move to an open cot,’ he said. It was a miracle. In June this year, after 111 days in hospital, we took Lenni home. Manny, Flynn and Leo were so excited. The hole in Lenni’s heart is closing gradually.
There have been some lasting effects though. Because of the anguish, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. We are also struggling financially as we had to take so much time off work. So we started a GoFundMe page and have been touched by how many wonderful people have donated to help us.
As a family we will get through this. We call ourselves the Brodie Bunch. The most important thing is our little dragon is home where he belongs. And we owe it all to an oven bag!
As told to Rachel Williams
You can help Lennox over at their GoFundMe page - Bringing Lenni Home