WARNING: Story contains mentions of preterm birth and associated health complications.
Chrissy Gronbek was only 25 weeks pregnant when she started to experience severe cramping and was rushed to a speciality hospital in Brisbane. She was closely monitored for the best part of a week, but despite days of anxious anticipation, her labour lasted mere minutes.
"Wyatt came flying into the world in a grand total of 16 minutes," she told Yahoo News Australia. "It only took three pushes."
Her son was categorised as a "micro-prem" — weighing only 794 grams — and had to be resuscitated before being whisked away to the neonatal intensive care unit for urgent medical attention, leaving Chrissy alone without so much as seeing her baby.
"I remember putting my hand up. And I didn't realise I'd done that, but I was reaching out. And one of the midwives was like 'someone hold mum's hand'," she said.
'Unfathomable' fear of losing her newborn son
Chrissy said the birth of her son was nothing like she had imagined it would be and the possibility of losing him was "unfathomable".
"The first time I ever saw him was a picture on my husband's phone and he was about the size of my husband's phone," she said.
Wyatt underwent emergency surgery after it was confirmed he had a perforated bowel, and Chrissy watched as doctors put her five-day-old baby in a portable incubator to be transported to another hospital.
Thankfully, the surgery was a success — allowing Chrissy to hold her baby for the first time six days after her labour. And after four months in hospital, Chrissy and husband Matthew were finally given the green light to take their son home to meet his big brother Acklen.
1 in every 10 babies born premature in Australia
More than 26,000 babies are born premature every year in Australia — equating to one in every 10 babies — but the severity in which preterm birth can impact a baby's long-term health is still relatively unspoken about, with Chrissy admitting she knew little about it until she experienced the situation first-hand.
"I think there's a lot of information out there that creates fear, and there's a lot of unknown when you're going through it for the first time," she said. "It's such a hard journey but you can get through it. There is support."
Premature babies are at a heightened risk of long-term health issues compared to full-term babies including increased risk in cerebral palsy, infections and compromises in learning and development.
Prematurity Day to promote awareness of family support
Today, November 17, marks Prematurity Day. Chrissy was eager to share her story in the hope it would equip other families who find themselves in a similar situation to her. She became an ambassador for Life's Little Treasure's Foundation, a charity which support families with premature babies.
"You are thrust into a world you never thought you would be a part of, worrying about what your baby's heart rate or oxygen rate... I guess spreading awareness and getting my story out there is kind of showing, 'Hey, you're bringing your baby home on oxygen? I did too'," she said.
Now at 10-months-old Wyatt is slowly being weaned off his gastrointestinal tube which supports his feeding, and is now "thriving, smiling and rolling".
Despite acknowledging every journey with a premature baby is unique, Chrissy hopes sharing her story will give other mum's momentary hope when they are doom scrolling like she did for many, many hours after her son was born.
"People go through a huge varying degree of different issues but there is a great community out there willing to help."
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