Kayla dons her swimmers and goggles, and within seconds, she is off. She shouts “thanks mum” as she propels herself to the waters edge at an almost gallop. She is at home in the water, and she jumps in completely fearless.
She jumps in just as many other 8 year olds would.
Watching her now, you would be forgiven for assuming she has lived on this planet the same way as those other 8 year olds. She is taller than the other girls in her class, says some of the ‘darnedest things’ and lights up any room that she walks in to.
Little do many know, Kayla entered this world differently. She arrived much earlier than she was meant to.
A little after the 23 week mark of Kayla’s mum’s pregnancy something unexpected happened and Rachael was sent off to hospital. She was placed on an inverted bed with her pelvis raised and told to hold on for as long as she could, as every day longer that this baby was held inside the womb was a day closer to survival.
I am Kayla’s aunt. I was away at the time my sister was sent to hospital and had no real understanding of what was happening back home in Perth. I got updates from family for the 3 days that Rachael held on, but still didn’t understand just what all of this meant. Hearing stories of Kayla’s dad, Brian, sitting with Rach and talking about them being able to give it another try someday, absolutely broke my heart.
In this situation, there was no need for ‘next time’. Kayla came in to this world at 23 weeks and 5 days gestation and Rachael and Brian became 2 of the luckiest parents in Australia. There were not many hospitals in this country that would ventilate a baby born this early and Kayla’s family thank their lucky stars every day that King Edward Memorial in Subiaco is one of them. She was just 605 grams in weight and 30 centimetres long.
The first time I went to visit the hospital I was blown away at just how many babies were this tiny, this sick and this cared for. The unit where Kayla was first placed, was only one of the intensive care units for neonatal babies. I soon learnt that there were 3 levels, and 3 times the amount of babies as I had originally seen. It blew my mind and still does to this day. The battle I watched my sister go through is happening every day to many families, and this was only one of the hospitals like this.
As Kayla’s Aunty I visited as much as I could, to visit my niece yes, but mainly to be part of Rachael and Brian’s support group. Daily trips to the hospital become trying, but having family around is how people get through times like this. There was sometimes no words, there didn’t have to be, just being around meant the emotional burden was shared.
Young Kayla was 9 days old when her mum first got to hold her.
The skin on skin bonding between child and parent vital, but she had been too fragile before this point to be moved. It was an emotional time for all and such a different experience for Rachael compared to other mothers. There were nurses, a doctor. Somewhere beyond the tubes and fuss was the grandparents. Kayla could be held in one hand, but despite the oddity of the situation, Rachael held her baby and cried maternal tears no different to every mother before her.
As trying as it was then, when midnight phone calls turned in to some of the hardest decisions parents will ever have to make, weeks turned in to months and Kayla grew. She started to flourish and finally she was moving from one NICU ward to the next. Slowly her required care lessened and the hope of taking her home grew.
She was almost 4 months old and still in hospital when I got my first Aunty Erry cuddle.
It was a very proud moment, not only for me, but for her mum too. Stress from nurses around handling Kayla were lessening and the risk of infections decreasing. Knowing family and close friends were now able to hold their little miracle meant surely it was nearly time to come home!
Through 122 daily visits to the NICU, midnight phone calls, heart wrenching decisions and moments of feeling it was too much, they made it. Rachael and Brian took their little girl home at about the same time she would have been born, had things gone to plan. Kayla had her own plan then and now, which involves lighting up the world around her with her infectious smile, the same smile she wore on the day they left the hospital, when first put in her car seat.