24 weeks and 6 days, 725 grams

Some events in life change you and your perspective on things, whether it be meeting someone totally amazing, the death of a loved one, a traumatic event, or even going to a powerful seminar.  You really never know what lies around the corner and what you’re going to learn from it.

Our lives were seemingly perfect. Three lovely boys, a wonderful husband, both a cat and a dog, had us wrapped up nicely. I guess you could have called us a typical family. And then life threw us a curveball.

In June 2009 we discovered I was pregnant with our 4th child. This was most definitely not what we had planned, but after some initial shock we were excited to be adding to our family. Our other children were born prematurely, so we had expected a bit of an early delivery but nothing could have prepared us for what lay ahead. It wasn’t an easy pregnancy and at 13 weeks, I was advised to go on bed rest. I really do mean bed rest, not just a little bit of rest. With three young boys to look after, how on earth do you do that?

My mum always said I was too stubborn for my own good. I’ve never been one to ask for help for anything, I would rather do it all myself and this was no exception.  You see, I’m a bit of a control freak.  In my head, I was going to have to do this without help, surely the doctors were wrong, surely they weren’t serious, somehow things would get better. They didn’t. In fact they got worse.

I remember the very moment that one of my good friends rang, she said “don’t worry about it we’ve got it all under control”. It was without a doubt the second that changed my life.  My initial shock of ‘hold up, I can do it” was quickly met with “don’t be so damn stupid, you can’t do it alone”.

The reality was that our place was a sinking ship and I had to accept the help of others  if we wanted to give this baby a shot at life. I hadn’t realised how kind and generous people could be in extreme situations, it had never occurred to me that people would want to help us. What on earth had we ever done to deserve it? But that’s what happened. We had friends cooking for our family every day, total strangers came and did our housework, friends did the school and kindy runs for us, our family from other parts of NZ uprooted their lives and moved in with us to look after our three boys. This happened, day after day after day.

At 20 weeks things went from bad to worse and I was admitted to hospital. Nobody was sure whether this baby was actually going to survive, it was a matter of wait and see. Often we would receive bad news and yet somehow my husband always remained positive.  He was the one that carried me through the most difficult times.  Friends came in to visit and bring much needed coffee, food and activities to do. My daily shower ritual became the highlight of my day.

The hardest thing was that I missed my boys something crazy, yet somehow we made the best of a bad situation. The good days were really good, we celebrated any slight hint of favourable news. My husband and I were euphoric the day our son hit the magical 500gm weight, as this meant the doctors were prepared to start fighting for his life and he was given steroids to mature his lungs.

Harlow was born at 24 weeks gestation, weighing in at 725gms, and being that premature meant he had his own set of issues. We became one of those families you read about in the magazines. ‘Miracle child’ was mentioned many times and whilst there were times when Harlow fought for his life, we remained optimistic.  I was now doing daily treks into town and back, juggling the three boys at home and one in hospital. All the while this was going on, our friends and family still rallied around helping us.

Harlow came home six months later, being fed via nasal gastric tube and on oxygen. His extreme prematurity meant he would get sick easily and couldn’t cope with the constant school and kindy runs, so we were granted a carer for 15 hours a week for 12 months. This was a particularly difficult thing for me to do as I did not want a carer. I knew we needed one and I wasn’t coping with the demands of three young children and a high needs premature baby on my own, but I am a private person and did not want to open my home up to someone else.

But it’s as if I still hadn’t quite learnt my lesson about not accepting help.  Our carer, Jill, turned out to be the best thing that happened to us.  Her coming enabled me to spend more time with my other children, I hadn’t realised just how guilty I felt, not being there for them.  She also enabled me to rekindle my relationship with my husband as our experience had left us both exhausted and disconnected.   After nearly two years, we were finally on the same page.

Harlow is about to turn five!  I can easily say that our lives are changed because of our experience with him.  I learnt what it was like to hit rock bottom. I learnt to be accepting of help, to be humbled by the kindness of others, how important it is to stay positive, to appreciate my husband more and to hug my children each and every day.

I am grateful for the lessons life has brought me. I believe it makes you a stronger person, builds character and has helped make me the person I am today. I now choose to ‘pay it forward’, and I like to give back whenever I can, so if there is anyone who is needing help I’m usually around. I also give more time to charity, the Neonatal Trust being right at the top of my list!

If you’d like to know more about Harlow’s journey, Harlow’s Dad wrote a blog.

You can also read about Harlow, when he appeared in the Dominion Post, here.