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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Franklin

As seen in... Kidspot - 'If I hadn't trusted my gut, my son would've died in his sleep'



I was 36 weeks pregnant with my first baby when my waters broke and my perfect birth plan was thrown into complete disarray.


You see, although my waters had broken, my labour refused to start.


Being a bit of a go-hard, I’d read every pregnancy and baby book I could get my hands on and done numerous courses, including Calm Birth, which had taught me my body was mine, as was my birth. So when the hospital suggested an induction, I dug my heels in and said no.


I wanted a completely natural birth with no intervention. My obstetrician agreed that as long as I visited the hospital every day for a check up, he’d allow me a few days grace to get to 37 weeks (which is considered full-term), and possibly go into labour naturally.


I did everything at my disposal to bring my labour on, from long walks, to hot curries, to daily acupuncture – all conducted with a steady stream of amniotic fluid leaking out of me. I don’t know if it was my sheer determination, or something else, but five days later my contractions finally started.


My eldest son was born over the Australia Day long weekend. I’d pushed my way through a twelve hour, completely natural birth, and was basking in the afterglow of my success, completely in love with my new baby boy.



"I couldn't shake a niggling feeling"

But as beautiful and seemingly perfect as Xavier was, I couldn’t shake a strange niggling feeling in the pit of my stomach that something wasn’t right. And this feeling would continue to grow.


We were due to stay in hospital for four days post birth, so nurses were constantly coming and going from our room. With each harried new nurse who entered my room, I repeated the question, ‘Can you please check my baby, I think there’s something wrong with him.’

Over and over they gave him a cursory once over then assured me he was fine, that he was a normal newborn, and in the nicest way possible, intimated I was the problem, an overwhelmed first time mother who didn’t know the first thing about newborns.


But still that feeling in my gut grew. Something wasn’t right with my beautiful new baby. But nobody seemed to agree.


Finally the day came for us to be discharged. My husband had popped back to the office for a meeting so my mum had come to help me pack up to go home.


Just before we left, our paediatrician came by to see us. Although I was feeling pretty foolish by this stage, and despite my son having no apparent physical symptoms, that now throbbing gut feeling overrode that and forced me to ask one more time  ̶  ‘Please look at my baby, something isn’t right'.


A lovely, caring, elderly gentleman with decades of experience, the doctor took my concerns seriously and spent a long time carefully examining Xavier.


As he did so, he grew paler and paler, his expression more and more grim. Finally, he gave me a reassuring smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, then left the room, closing the door firmly behind him.


Not even the door could muffle the sound of him approaching the nurses station, demanding to know why he hadn’t been called in days ago to see this child.


"I had no idea what was going on"


He returned to calmly let us know Xavier was being transferred to the ICU, where a paediatric cardiologist was waiting to examine him. I was advised to call my husband at work and get him here immediately.


In the ICU, Xavier was poked and prodded by a team of doctors. I stood to one side sobbing, full of hormones, having no idea what was going on.


I think part of me assumed they’d come and tell me Xavier was fine, confirming the suggestion I was an hysterical new mum who was overreacting.


But they didn’t.


My husband John arrived just as the doctor was sitting Mum and me down, a serious expression on his face. He explained an ambulance was coming right now to urgently transport Xavier to the Children’s Hospital for immediate open-heart surgery.


He had a coarctation of the aorta, and would soon be too sick to travel. John vomited. I went into numb denial.


Xavier was transferred out to Westmead where he underwent cardiac surgery the next morning. And so our nightmare began  ̶  weeks of hospital wards and antiseptic smells and bleeping monitors and our tiny baby hooked up to so many machines and wires I wasn’t able to hold him.


All I remember thinking is that if my baby were to die, I would want to die too.


As a mother, all I wanted was to hold my baby in my arms and make it all better for him, but I wasn’t allowed, he was just too sick.


"He simply would have gone to sleep and not woken up"


We sat by his crib day and night, touching him when we were permitted, me pumping as much breast milk as I could as that was all I could do for him at that point.


The doctors and nurses of the Grace Ward were beyond amazing  ̶  such wonderfully dedicated, caring people with hearts of gold, who went above and beyond for us. They saved our beautiful boy’s life, and words cannot express how very grateful I am to them, then, now and always.


In a lucid moment, I recall asking what would have happened had no one diagnosed Xavier and I’d  taken him home. ‘He simply would have gone to sleep and not woken up’, they told me.


This time it wasn’t John who vomited.


The day Xavier graduated from the ICU to the low dependency unit John and I celebrated with a picnic on the hospital lawn delivered by my mum, who sat with Xavier while we got some fresh air.


The day Xavier was finally allowed to come home was the best day of our lives.


Today, at fifteen years of age, Xavier towers over me at six foot one, and is a rugby-loving, rowing-mad, gym-junkie. He had to have further heart surgery late last year, but this time they went in through his femoral artery and put in a stent.


He’s a typical teenager, moody and grunty, but happy and healthy. Despite all its scars and broken bits, he has a really beautiful, kind heart. And aside from annual visits to his cardiologist, he is a normal boy.


"It's a mummy superpower"


In the years that followed his initial heart surgery, people often asked me how I knew something was wrong with him. And when I really took the time to think about it, the only answer I could come up with was mother’s intuition.


So, what is mother’s intuition? We hear the term thrown around here and there whenever a woman has a strong feeling regarding her child. A bad vibe. A gut feeling.


Is it a physical thing, or is it something more ethereal, more other-worldly?


For me, over the last fifteen years having had four children, it’s arisen a few more times, that strong feeling deep down that something isn’t right. And I’ve always acted on it without question.


It’s a mummy superpower. And the minute I tell John I just have a bad feeling about this or that, he immediately sits up and takes notice.


"Listen to your gut, and advocate for your baby"


Some claim mother’s intuition is a primal thing that starts in the womb, caused by gestational hormones mixed with an increase of oxytocin during labour which prime mothers for responsiveness.


Others suggest it’s nothing more than anxiety. Apparently new mothers are overly emotional and full of fear, and hence they worry way too much.


If I’d listened to this supposition, Xavier wouldn’t be with us today.


Whenever a woman asks me for advice on birth and mothering, I always tell her the same thing – listen to your gut, and advocate for your baby, no matter who thinks you’re crazy.


I know I’d rather be labelled as hysterical and overbearing than be meek and mild at the expense of my child.


At the end of the day, whether its hormonal, or something more supernatural, there is definitely something to mother’s intuition. All I can say, is that if I hadn’t listen to my mine, I’d be a mother of three, not four.


To donate to the wonderful Grace Ward at the Children's Hospital at Westmead go to www.schf.org.au/support-us/donate-to-chw

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