Fighting spirit a lifesaver for little one born too early
IT'S been almost three years since Alicia Stanley watched an entire season pass by from a hospital bed.
She remembers feeling like she was in jail, locked behind bars just waiting for her chance to be set free.
It was meant to have been the happiest time of her life but it had somehow morphed into a nightmare of stress, fear and isolation.
"If felt like forever but what is worse is the fear that we weren't going to make it," she said.
Alicia has an incomplete cervix.
"What a funny term, like it 'failed' cervix school," she laughed.
"It means that instead of being a standard 40mm long, at 20 weeks it was only 9mm long.
"Which means 9mm left 'til the cervix opens and the baby wouldn't have the 'seal' to stop it falling out."
Alicia previously lost a baby at 20 weeks in 2008. She is sure it is because of her incomplete cervix.
"My waters broke at 20 weeks with this baby, I assume because my cervix had opened, and an infection killed him. He was stillborn at Gladstone Hospital."
When she became pregnant with her daughter Sakura she begged her doctor for a cervical stitch.
"The obstetrician gave me a list of reasons not to have it - it was unconfirmed that I had an incompetent cervix at this stage, the risk of anaesthetic, the risk of infection to the baby," Alicia said.
"But he did offer an earlier scan than the standard 20-week morphology scan."
After an internal ultrasound, her cervix was found to be 9mm.
"I've since learnt that that means automatic hospitalisation if it's below 10mm," Alicia said.
Alicia was told to go straight to hospital.
"I wasn't even allowed to go home and get clothes or a toothbrush and that was it," she said.
"I had the stitch in a few hours later and spent the next two months in jail, I mean hospital, on strict bed rest."
She remembers being scared the baby would just fall out every time she went to the toilet.
The nurse asked her three times a day if she was bleeding or having contractions or had trouble breathing or felt any pain.
Alicia's partner Jamie changed his shifts to spend every possible moment he could with her.
"That was some of the loveliest times we have had together though."
After two months she was allowed home on modified bed rest.
"I was 28 weeks and medically, the risk of having a premmie baby was lower and if she did come, the complications were less."
Alicia remembers arriving home as like a "burst of fresh air".
"Just to feel like a human being again and not an incubator...," she said.
"It was a lot less stressful too with the feeling that she was so much safer now. So that was the pregnancy."
But at 34 weeks and five days she awoke suddenly in the middle of the night.
"When I stood up my waters broke."
Alicia was rushed to hospital, her stitch was removed and her baby daughter was born a few hours later.
"I got to hold her briefly," she said.
"It was so hard to let her go, so very hard; I desperately just needed to touch my baby."
Baby born healthy despite complications
Sakura was born breathing by herself, completely healthy.
"So after the pregnancy, it was a relief to know that we'd made it to a point where she was safe and well. Despite her being premmie, I felt like we had won."
Sakura was put into the special care unit of the maternity ward.
"It was sad to see her in the humidity crib straight after she was born. We were only allowed to touch her on the top of her head," Alicia said.
"It was very weird having to visit your baby, and go home every night and set an alarm to express milk."
But Sakura was doing well and she was only in the humidly crib for a couple of days.
"To hold her was amazing," Alicia said.
"To see Jamie's reaction to holding her takes my breath away."
After three weeks, Alicia and Jamie were able to take their new baby girl home.
Weighing only 2.5kg, she was so small they could cradle her in their hands.
"It was amazing her strength and spirit, not once did I feel like I had a sick baby. What a relief," Alicia said.
For her first year of life, Sakura's development was much slower.
"At nine months I got sent to 'rolling' school," Alicia said.
"Funnily enough, the following week she rolled by herself. She missed crawling and went straight to walking by the time she was one."
Two-and-a-half years later, Alicia is still overwhelmed by it all.
"But I feel like we got off almost scot free," she said.
"I feel for families that have complications.
"After the stress of the pregnancy, I'm so glad the birth marked the end of the stress, not the beginning."
Alicia has since had a second baby but, this time, he was overdue.