When a routine scan for a last chance pregnancy revealed that soon to be parents Lucy Sutherland and Daniel McPherson were expecting not one baby, but three, they were overwhelmed with surprise, joy and a hint of trepidation.
Little did they know the life and death challenges that were just weeks away – a journey that would start with another routine scan when Lucy was 18 weeks pregnant.
“I had such a small window to fall pregnant because of some other health issues I was experiencing, so you can only imagine the joy and surprise when we fell pregnant naturally with triplets,” Lucy said.
“Any pregnancy with triplets is classed as high-risk, so I was carefully monitored from the early stages of the pregnancy. At 18 weeks, the babies had moved into a position where there was a risk of me going into premature labour, so I was admitted to hospital for bed-rest.
“Progressively, the chances of an early labour became greater, to the point where I was permanently confined to bed and placed in a tilted position, with my head towards the ground and legs in the air so gravity would keep the babies in.”
The forces of nature were too great, however, and at 22 weeks, Lucy and Daniel welcomed their first child into the world – a baby daughter named Olive Louise who weighed just 400 grams. Sadly, Olive passed away at just three days old.
While losing their daughter was devastating for the couple, any grieving time was cut short by the battle to save the lives of their other two children.
“Soon after giving birth to Olive, I went into labour with one of our boys, who had punctured the amniotic fluid sack which was leaking,” Lucy said.
It was a labour that lasted and lasted – and after six days and with Lucy very sick, (her infection markers had risen into the 160s – for a healthy person it’s normally 8) both boys were delivered via emergency caesarean. At just 23 weeks, JoJo and Atticus were welcomed into the world – almost three months premature and weighing approximately 500 grams each.
“When you find out you’re expecting your first child, the neo-natal intensive care unit is the last place you think you’ll end up,” she said.
“As a mother, you’re already dealing with recovery from the birth and the physical and emotional changes that go along with having a baby. But at the same time, we had two very sick little boys, as well as mourning the loss of Olive.
“It was emotionally exhausting. We were just constantly terrified about what was around the corner, and always bracing for bad news. We were also very aware that these were the only children we had the possibility of having.”
In total, the family spent 119 days in hospital and when they left, only took home two of their three babies.
Just the beginning
While going home from the hospital was a symbolic event for the family, it certainly wasn’t the end of doctors’ visits or trips to the hospital.
“Both boys had been through a fight for life, and as a result, there have been ongoing health issues,” Lucy said.
Atticus is completely blind in his right eye but has some vision in his left – a result of a common issue for premature babies where blood vessels in the eye grow abnormally.
Soon after arriving home, he was re-admitted to intensive care with breathing difficulties and needed two large cysts removed from his throat. He also suffers a condition called central apnea, where the brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. While it is a condition he is likely to outgrow, at this age, it requires him to be connected to oxygen.
For JoJo, issues with muscle coordination, including permanently clenched fists and limited movement in his neck led to a diagnosis of severe cerebral palsy, a brain condition that affects muscle control.
Lucy said that since the diagnosis, she has done everything she can to brighten the outlook for JoJo.
“I worked on the theory that if adults can recover from brain injury, why can’t young children,” she said.
“I researched, got the right team of specialists around me and have been meticulous with physiotherapy. There’s a real likelihood that his diagnosis will now change to mild cerebral palsy.”
A & J’s first time at the beach! They loved it! But no going to lie it was hard going. We got sand in their oxygen cables. We had to disconnect them to go into the water. Which was super stressful. Your constantly looking for signs of increased work of breathing. Or blue around their lips. They couldn’t go very far on the sand as it pulls on their little faces and their eyes look like they could pop out of their head ? and then to top it all off all those lovely ‘cable free’ kids frolicking in the water. One year of home oxygen and today I finally cracked. Unfortunately the results of the last oximetry was- no improvement. Which is scary- your thoughts are “could they be on this forever?” As a parent you just want the best for your kids. So I vowed through my tears today to keep pushing on and making their life as ‘normal’ as possible despite the oxygen tanks!!! #23weeker #tinyheroes #preemiebaby #preemiemum #preemiemom #oxygen
Coping with the unexpected
Although the family had no choice but to cope with the cards they’d been dealt, Lucy said they put in place a range of coping mechanisms, including seeing a psychologist.
“We had to be strong for the children, so that meant putting time aside once a week to talk through our experiences or to vent. This enabled us to rationalise what was happening and kept us mentally strong,” she said.
Lucy’s other key tips for dealing with unexpected or life-changing circumstances are:
- Care for yourself – Among the endless hours of care, worry and support, Lucy said it’s important to make time for yourself, such as exercising or spending time with friends. This gives you a break from the stress of the situation, ensuring you stay mentally and/or physically healthy.
- Get the right team around you – Lucy said surrounding yourself with trusted people who add value to your situation is important in helping you cope with what’s at hand. Whether they’re a sounding board for decision-making, or technical experts who can provide professional guidance.
- Break it down – If the situation you’re facing is complex, Lucy said it’s important to ask questions so you clearly understand what is happening or what you’ve been told. She said medical professionals could sometimes talk in complex language or didn’t always have the answers, but questioning was the only way of establishing where things stood.
- Retain a sense of humour – If you can, Lucy encouraged anyone facing trying circumstances to keep a sense of humour throughout. A laugh from time to time can provide an outlet and a break from the tension and stress.
- Steal little moments – Lucy said one of her biggest regrets was being too sick with worry that she didn’t cherish some of the smaller, special moments with her children. She said that amongst all the worry and stress, try and find special moments to savour.
If you want to know more about the family’s story, visit tinyheroes3 on Instagram or their blog at tinyheroes.blog.
Lucy Sutherland and Daniel McPherson – Hessel Group Clients