Pamela Rogers, 28, Queanbeyan, NSW
Slumping onto the lounge, I kicked off my shoes.
I was 15 weeks pregnant and feeling run-down.
Taking time off work, I rested while my amazing boyfriend Tom, now 22, looked after me.
The pregnancy had been a happy surprise to both of us. We’d been together for six months when I found out.
‘I’ve always wanted to be a dad!’ Tom told me happily.
After a week of rest, I was feeling much better.
Then I went for a check-up.
‘You’re measuring a bit small,’ the midwife said as she held tape around my stomach.
She said it was probably nothing to worry about.
An ultrasound showed my bub was looking healthy. To be sure, doctors decided to do regular checks.
The next scan showed the baby was small but still doing well.
‘We can’t wait to meet you little one,’ I’d tell my bump.
It was an exciting time. Tom even surprised me by proposing. It felt so right.
But at 28 weeks, things took a turn.
My mum Trish, 58, came with me to an ultrasound and this time the sonographer didn’t say much as she looked at the screen.
She excused herself and returned with a doctor and a specialist.
‘Is something wrong?’ I asked.
‘Your baby has enlarged ventricles in his brain,’ the doctor explained, saying there were also other abnormalities.
I learnt it could mean anything from a slight developmental delay to a severe medical issue.
I needed a foetal MRI scan to get a clearer picture.
Tears poured down my face. Tom did his best to comfort me, but I knew he was just as scared as I was.
After a blood test, doctors called me back. ‘You should bring your partner with you,’ they told me.
I knew it couldn’t be good news.
‘Your baby’s brain is severely misshapen and underdeveloped,’ the doctor told us. ‘There’s a slim chance of survival. Your baby may not even survive pregnancy.’
It felt like the ground crumbled beneath me. Tests showed I had a primary cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection.
Although it’s a common virus that has barely any symptoms, it can prove devastating if picked up by a pregnant woman.
Doctors believed I’d been infected at the beginning of my second trimester.
My mind flashed back to the week I’d had off work.
I had only felt a bit run-down.
I soon learnt CMV is a virus that is passed through bodily fluids, often from coughing, sneezing, or kissing.
It is particularly common in young children, but most adults in Australia have been infected at some point, though it often goes unnoticed.
When contracted during pregnancy as a primary infection, the virus can turn deadly.
Tom and I were numb. If our baby survived past birth, it was unlikely they’d be able to breathe on their own.
Our little one would probably never eat, smile or move independently and might also suffer seizures and have sight, hearing and speech problems.
The list of possible outcomes seemed endless.
We were offered the choice of terminating the pregnancy but we didn’t consider it.
Even if we only got to hold our little miracle for one cuddle before saying goodbye, it would still be worth it.
Against all odds, our baby kept fighting, and at 37 weeks Christopher was born.
With blue eyes and the most precious little nose, he was absolutely perfect. It was the happiest moment of my life.
Thankfully, our boy was breathing without assistance, and he was taken to the neonatal intensive-care unit.
No-one had thought that he’d live to this point, so we didn’t know what to expect.
Although he tested positive for a congenital CMV infection, the next morning he was in a cot and took a bottle.
It was a miracle!
But things were still serious.
He had severe brain abnormalities and his head was smaller than it should be.
But he was a fighter.
Incredibly, we were able to take him home after 19 days, and over the next few months our precious boy began to prove his doctors wrong.
They told us he wouldn’t smile, but his happy little face lit up every room he was in! He’s such a cheerful little boy, always cooing and gurgling.
Christopher is now a beautiful two-year-old. He has cerebral palsy and can’t sit or move unaided, but he is the absolute light of our lives.
He was even the page boy in our wedding this year!
I feel like the luckiest mum in the world.
Instead of getting just one cuddle, I’ve had two years of love.
We don’t know what the future holds or how long our boy might live.
So we make the most of every day and treasure every moment.
I’m not sharing our story to frighten pregnant women – I’m speaking out because you deserve to know.
The world is panicking about the risk of the Zika virus, but no-one is talking about the bigger risk right here at home.
CMV is frightening, but it is preventable.
If Christopher’s tale can stop another family from going through this, I’ll be the happiest mum alive.
➜ CMV is a common virus, with 50 per cent of people having been infected by young adulthood and 85 per cent by age 40.
➜ If a woman is infected with CMV for the first time while pregnant, there is a risk that her unborn baby will also become infected with congenital CMV.
➜ Australian research shows that six out of 1000 live births will have congenital CMV infection, while one to two will have lasting disabilities.
These can include small head size, developmental delays, cerebral palsy, and hearing or vision loss.
➜ Pregnant women are recommended to take steps to reduce their risk of exposure to CMV:
● Wash hands often with soap, especially after changing nappies, blowing noses, feeding a young child, and handling children’s toys and dummies.
● Don’t share food, drinks, toothbrushes or eating utensils with young children.
● Use detergent and water to clean toys and any surfaces that come into contact with any child’s secretion.
Originally published in that's life! issue 16 - April 21, 2016