I grew up being told I wouldn’t live past my 12th birthday.
Definitely not long enough to have children – so don’t worry about it.
If I did live long enough, I would have fertility challenges and wouldn’t be able to have children.
But I did live past that age, and I did fall pregnant.
This is my story of how – thanks to the help of many medical specialists – I defied odds and came to be the mum of three gorgeous kids.
Content warning: This is my story of heavily monitored pregnancies, miscarriages, and the anxieties of being a mum with a heart condition. There are parts that may be triggering to some.
Part one: My eldest son enters the world.
I learned I was pregnant two days after my 30th birthday – a couple of days before Christmas. Me and my fiancé at the time were feeling so many different emotions – amazement, fear, but mainly excitement.
We knew there was significant risk I could die during pregnancy or labour. We were also told the child might not survive.
I found out that I was carrying twins, but sadly I miscarried one of my babies at 10-and-a-half weeks. Then I got told I was having a threatened miscarriage, so it was more than likely I was going to lose the other twin.
During all this stress and uncertainty, I was planning a wedding down to the very last detail. A week after we were told we were having a threatened miscarriage, we got married in Hawke’s Bay.
I had to give up work at 24 weeks. At 28 weeks, I started leaking some fluid, so I was sent to hospital.
At 31 weeks, I was experiencing some pain in my back which was the early signs of labour. I needed to go on bedrest. I got preeclampsia and so I stayed in hospital. I was allowed home on the weekends.
We had just bought a house and I remember everybody unpacking boxes around me and I wasn’t allowed to do anything. The nursery was set up before the preeclampsia and my heart got to the stage where we couldn’t do anything.
Induced at 34 weeks.
At 34 weeks, it wasn’t safe for me to be pregnant any longer, so I was induced. They gave me an epidural because we weren’t sure how my heart would cope with contractions.
Unfortunately, because of a new shift and a change in midwifery staff, my epidural levels went from being beautifully controlled to suddenly feeling contractions. My heart couldn’t cope. I was struggling and so was my baby.
We ended up in theatre, but we had to manage the contractions.
My son was also in a posterior position. He had to be internally rotated twice to try and get him into the right position.
I was only meant to be in labour for 10 hours or less, but it turned into 24 hours. It was teetering on extremely dangerous.
The doctors nearly had to resort to an emergency C-section which was the worst scenario for my heart. Eventually my eldest son was born with the help of ventouse.
Here he was. I had given birth to my very first prem little boy.
The whole experience was stressful yet deeply magical.
My son was taken to the neonatal ward. I was allowed to stay in hospital because they wanted to monitor my heart.
When my boy was 10 days old, we got to go home. My eldest son was born with a healthy heart.
Part two: My middle boy and heart-child.
We thought that falling pregnant and giving birth to our boy was a one-off. That we wouldn’t get to have any more children.
But I got pregnant again. And with twins. Sadly, the same thing happened – I lost the twin and was told we’d have a threatened miscarriage.
At the 18-week scan, I noticed that the baby’s heart looked like mine – something must be up if I’m recognising the similarities, I thought. The pregnancy became very high-risk.
I was carefully monitored and in and out of hospital. My heart wasn’t coping, and I fell very sick.
Again, I was induced at 34 weeks.
This time was different – we knew he had a heart condition. We weren’t sure if he needed heart surgery straightaway, and if he would be airlifted to Starship. I was told if I had a C-section, I had to stay behind. My team were doing everything in their power to not go down that route.
Starship helicopter and my specialist team.
The labour progressed. I was fully dilated but I couldn’t push for three hours. We had to wait for the Starship helicopter and the neonatal ward to be ready for us. We also had to wait for my cardiologist and obstetrician to be in the same room so everything could progress as safely as possible.
When I was finally told I could push, he arrived within three pushes. But I was told I couldn’t hold him. They took my boy away and had a look at him. I couldn’t cuddle him before he went to the neonatal unit.
Unfortunately, I haemorrhaged which meant I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere for some time. I was not happy with this! I kicked up a stink and asked them to pack me so I could go and see him.
They took me up to see him. He was in a special part of neonates because of his heart condition. My new son shared the same cardiologist as me. While I felt deeply anxious to have a child with a heart condition, I felt incredibly grateful that I had the same team I knew and trusted caring for me and my baby.
My boy had open-heart surgery when he was 10 months old.
Part three: My daughter.
After my son’s open-heart surgery, we got him home and I fell pregnant again. Unfortunately, I miscarried this baby.
But not long after this, I fell pregnant again. This was the only pregnancy where I didn’t bleed. I got to enjoy the pregnancy a bit more.
Although I do remember being hypervigilant about bleeding – I would go to the toilet and check for spotting and bleeding. I was also worried about whether this baby would have a heart condition too.
I was tired and my heart was deteriorating with every pregnancy and labour. Some specialists were telling me it wasn’t wise to have another baby. But I wanted to continue with this pregnancy.
I remember going in at 35 weeks for a normal scan and the obstetricians saying I was doing great – I could make it to 37 or 38 weeks this time.
Two days later I was in labour. My daughter arrived at 35 weeks!
Thankfully she was well. She didn’t need to go to neonates, and we only stayed one night in the hospital before coming home.
I was told I probably wouldn’t be able to breastfeed because of my heart condition and the stress of the pregnancies and labours would impact my ability to produce enough milk.
But I was lucky that even though they were premature, they latched on, and I could breastfeed each of them successfully.
Part four: Fear for my health and what this means for my kids.
My daughter was born in February and in November of that year I had a procedure called Melody™ transcatheter pulmonary valve (TPV) – where they inserted a catheter through a vein in my leg which they then guided to my heart. This procedure was instead of the more invasive open-heart surgery, and I was told it would buy me two or three years until the specialists figured out another more long-term solution to my deteriorating heart.
There was a high risk it could go horribly wrong, and I wouldn’t wake up.
This was an incredibly hard feeling to swallow being a mum to three young children. I wrote them all letters telling them how much I loved them. I also bought early Christmas presents, just in case.
Thank goodness, I didn’t need to do that. I’m here, the procedure was successful, and I haven’t had surgery since.
Every day I’m grateful to be a mum and see them grow.
People told me I wouldn’t make it past my 12th birthday. That I wouldn’t have kids.
This all meant I was heavily monitored. Each of my pregnancies were medically controlled for which I’m extremely grateful. My amazing friend, an anaesthetist at Wellington Hospital, helped pull together a perfect medical team for me who did the research to keep me as safe as possible.
I didn’t find out the sex of my babies until they were born – I think waiting to find out if I was going to have a boy or a girl helped me get past the finish line in a way.
Now I have three kids – they give me so much purpose. I don’t think I would still be here – thriving – if it wasn’t for my children.
Finally, I wanted to share this story to help other parents feel less alone.
Often, we see other people’s highlight reels, or we don’t always understand the struggles that largely remain hidden because we are told we need to present ourselves in a certain way, or that showing vulnerability is a weakness. We don’t talk enough about miscarriage, infertility, infant loss, or birth trauma, so we don’t know how common these experiences are, or we minimise the real and prolonged grief we experience.
I think it’s so vital to talk about our journey to parenthood and beyond, so we don’t feel isolated or like there’s nowhere for the pain to go. I strongly believe that we need to nurture more safe spaces to process these experiences, lift others up, and help each other feel supported and safe – this is good for the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and our communities.