When she was pregnant with her second child, Dewi Singgih had to visit her gynaecologist every five days.
Thirty-two weeks into that pregnancy, Dewi was presented with the grim news that her blood pressure was sky-rocketing, her daughter’s heart rate was dropping, and the baby was in distress. “My gynae looked very worried and said that I had to go to hospital straight away and deliver the baby soon,” recounted the mother of two.
She described this as “a repeated nightmare” as it recalled the delivery of her firstborn under similar circumstances two-and-a-half years ago, at exactly the same gestational age. Dewi suffered from a condition known as pre-eclampsia during both pregnancies.
The First Time
Dewi was 32 when she was expecting her first child, Darryl. As she had high blood pressure, the doctor advised her to get plenty of rest and proper nutrition, and to reduce her salt intake. She was also advised to keep her stress level low. She continued to manage her hypertension by taking suitable medication.
Apart from this, everything was smooth. However, in the sixth month of her pregnancy, Dewi’s ankles swelled. She was advised to monitor her blood pressure daily.
At 32 weeks into her pregnancy, she felt uneasy. The foetus was hardly moving, and her tummy felt “lighter”. Her gynaecologist ordered a scan, which revealed that Darryl was undersized for his gestational age. There were also signs of foetal distress.
As her blood pressure was also elevated, Dewi was rushed to the hospital. Labour was induced and subsequently, she had a Caesarean section. “Everything happened so quickly that I didn’t even have time to feel scared or inform my family!” she recalled.
Since pre-eclampsia reduces the flow of blood to the placenta, Darryl had not been receiving sufficient oxygen and nutrients while in the womb. Hence his growth was restricted.
At 1.2 kg, he was the smallest baby in the neonatal ICU (Intensive Care Unit). Darryl’s weight fell to one kg within days. He also had respiratory problems. He did not take regular breaths and would stop breathing for 15 to twenty seconds at times.
“Sensors were placed on his chest and the sole of his foot to monitor his breathing and heart rate. When he stopped breathing, an alarm would beep and the nurse would stimulate him to start breathing again by patting him,” recounted Dewi.
A few days after Darryl was born, another problem was detected. He had a hole in his heart. This condition is known as Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA). Before birth, a foetus’ blood goes through a passageway from one blood vessel to another, instead of through the lungs, because the lungs are not in use yet.
In most newborns, this passageway closes soon after birth. However, in Darryl’s case, this did not happen. In order to avoid surgery on such a tiny baby, doctors started Darryl on medication and oxygen treatment. During that time, Dewi and her husband William were on tenterhooks, jumping each time the phone rang, and hoping for good news about Darryl’s progress.
Through the Glass Only
It was a painful time for Dewi as she could only look at her son through the glass of the incubator. She was unable to hold or breastfeed him because he was still too fragile. She would express her breast milk, and this was fed to Darryl using a tube that was directed to his stomach through his mouth.
“When I saw all the women who had just delivered their babies taking pictures together, visited by their relatives and friends, breastfeeding their babies, I just broke down and asked ‘Why me?’,” Dewi said.
During that time, her husband William provided much-needed emotional support. Friends and relatives also encouraged the couple with their prayers, visits and practical help.
Darryl responded well to the treatment. The hole in his heart eventually closed and he started to gain weight. He was discharged when his weight reached two kg, after spending the first six weeks of his life in the hospital.
Almost two years later, Dewi was pregnant again.
Reliving the Ordeal
Because of her medical history, and the fact that pre-eclampsia can progress rapidly, Dewi’s gynaecologist monitored her very closely during her second pregnancy.
“I can’t even remember how many blood tests, scans and CTGs (cardiotocography, a method of measuring foetal heart rate) were done. The last two weeks before I delivered Darilyn, my boss let me work from home so that I could rest.”
Despite all these precautions, Dewi’s second child Darilyn was also born premature. Unlike her brother though, Darilyn was healthy. She only had a hernia, which was operated upon when she was one and a half months old.
Dewi however, was not out of the woods yet. The day after delivering Darilyn, her blood pressure remained high and she was not allowed to leave her bed. That afternoon, she experienced sudden palpitations — fast and irregular beating of the heart.
“So many doctors and nurses came to check and they all looked so worried. My gynae told me that pre-eclampsia could still happen even after I had delivered the baby, so my life was still in danger then. I thought I was not going to make it,” she recalled. Dewi was given medication and her blood pressure has since returned to normal.
Counting Her Blessings
Darilyn had to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for almost two months. But instead of having another “why me?” episode, Dewi and William relied on their faith to help them get through the episode.
Whenever they visited Darilyn in the NICU, Dewi shared, “William, Darryl and I would have these big smiles on our faces every time we saw her cute face inside the incubator.
“I asked myself, ‘Shouldn’t we feel sad? Shouldn’t we feel worried about her? Shouldn’t we feel worried about the hospital bills?’ But we never thought that way, we knew our faith would help us.”
Today, Darryl, aged five, and Darilyn, aged two, are happy, healthy and active kids.