Originally published Herald Sun, Saturday 8 April
Words: Brigid O’Connell
Every night before bed, three-year-old Isabelle Rundell would press her head to her mum’s stomach, giving it a kiss. “Goodnight, Baby,” she would say. “I can’t wait to meet you.” The sweet nightly gesture was the one constant during a pregnancy that risked being snatched away from Geelong parents Miranda and Luke at any stage. At 11 weeks gestation, Miranda started to bleed. At 16 weeks, an ultrasound showed the placenta was abnormal. The busy veterinarian nurse was put on strict rest for the rest of her pregnancy. On doctor’s orders she could no longer pick up Izzy, take walks, go to work or drive. “He was never going to go the distance,” Luke says. “It was just a matter of how long we could get him through.” They were aiming to reach 34 weeks, but on February 19 — at 29 weeks and four days gestation — the placenta started to separate and Louis needed to be delivered that day to save his life. “It was hard, but you do it for him. It was all worth it,” Miranda says.
The Newborn and paediatric Emergency Transport Service (NETS) ambulance took Louis from Geelong to the Royal Women’s Hospital, where he stayed for three weeks. For the first few days, with Miranda still in hospital and separated from her newborn, Luke wore a path along the Princes Hwy, ferrying breast milk between the hospitals and taking precious photos of their boy. It was soon discovered Louis had a growth in his throat, most likely caused from a nick by the breathing tubes needed to stabilise him for transport on his first day of life. After three weeks he was moved to the RCH, where it was found he had an incarcerated hernia. It’s a common scenario in premature boys, where the channel the testes travel down from the abdomen to the scrotum doesn’t close, so a hernia develops. Surgery for the hernia was done that first night, and he had surgery on his throat two weeks ago. “His lungs need to mature and get stronger, but there is now light at the end of the tunnel. We’re starting to feel that now,” Luke says. “He’s not as reliant on all the technologies he’s been on. He’s back on feeds.”
The family has moved from Geelong to Melbourne to be by their son’s bedside every day. Their dog is being looked after by family, and Miranda’s mum Liz O’Brien has taken leave from work to look after Izzy. The couple can hold Louis every second day, but also help with giving his feeds through the tube, changing his nappy and washing his face. Seeing her brother lying attached to drips and probes and tubes in an incubator, Izzy must think this is how all babies arrive into the world. “We used to get stressed about the monitors at the start, but now we’re a lot more relaxed about it,” Luke says. “In the beginning we’d spend all day by the bedside watching the monitor. “You’d go home, close your eyes of a night time and see it ticking over in your sleep.” The couple went almost two weeks without being able to hold Louis. In the meantime, Miranda relied on circling two fingers in gentle strokes on her baby’s head to soothe him. “He was just so sick. Now we can have a cuddle every second day,” she says. “We just need to let him get his strength back.”