Miracle baby arrives as Australia locks down

Miracle baby arrives as Australia locks down

The world turned to chaos for Brisbane parents Stuart and Sophie Ballinger, when they learned their baby would be born prematurely at 25 weeks. 

Weighing 860 grams, smaller than a 1L bottle of milk, their tiny miracle, Xanthe, was delivered by caesarean section at Mater Mothers’ Hospital on 22 March 2020, a day before the global pandemic led Australia into its first nation-wide shutdown.

During a routine 24-week scan at Mater Mothers’ Hospital, Mrs Ballinger was told her cervix had started to dilate. Five days later, she gave birth to Xanthe.

“Before to the routine scan at 24 weeks, we had no idea that we could expect to give birth to our baby prematurely,” Mr Ballinger said.   

After the birth, tiny Xanthe was immediately transferred to Mater Mothers’ Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where doctors and nurses provided emergency support for her breathing. Because she was born 15 weeks premature, Xanthe’s lungs were underdeveloped, and without the intervention, she would have struggled to breathe independently. 

In addition to close observation and around the clock care, Xanthe required regular brain scans and blood tests after being born. Her first milk feed was a tiny 0.5 ml of milk, which was fed to her via a tube inserted in her mouth.

Director of Neonatal Critical Care Unit at Mater Mothers’ Hospital, Dr Pita Birch said babies born before 37 weeks were considered premature. Those who arrived even earlier could experience some complications.

“During the last stages of pregnancy, a developing baby undergoes important growth and maturity in preparation for birth. In the final weeks, many organs are still developing, so to be born prematurely means there are often complications,” Dr Birch said.

Mr Ballinger said it was confronting to hold Xanthe when she was first born because she weighed less than one third of an average full-term baby.

“I remember feeling uncomfortable holding her without help from nurses for the first two and a half months after she was born, purely because of her size and fragility. She was tiny,” Mr Ballinger said.  

“There were lots of highs and lows after she was born.

“There were many moments where it felt like one step forward, two steps back.

“We were dealing with things like blood transfusions, ventilation, various observation machines and alarms. It was all quite overwhelming at times.  

“We couldn’t fault our experience at Mater Mothers’ Hospital though.

“The hospital staff were great. The nurses were there to answer all our questions, day and night.”

Mr Ballinger said he was not aware of critical care units for babies before Xanthe was born.

“I didn’t know what a NICU was. I didn’t know it existed,” he said.

“It’s one of those things—once you need it, you’re grateful it exists.”

Xanthe spent her first 100 days of life at Mater Mothers’ Hospital, firstly in intensive care before transitioning to the Special Care Nursery (SCN). She received some extra care and support before heading home for the first time.    

Mrs Ballinger said, “At this point, our three eldest children were yet to meet their new baby sister.

“Under normal circumstances, we would have been allowed to bring them up to the hospital to meet Xanthe, but because of COVID-19 visitor restrictions, we were unable to do this.”

“So, our three eldest children knew that they had a baby sister and they noticed that mum and dad weren’t at home as much because we were at the hospital, but they didn’t physically meet Xanthe until she was discharged from hospital more than three months after she was born.”

Mr Ballinger said he wished he had filmed the moment that he and his eldest daughter arrived at Mater Mothers’ Hospital to pick up Mrs Ballinger after visiting Xanthe in hospital.  

“I pulled up into the pick-up zone with my eldest daughter and Sophie was inside the hospital with Xanthe.

“Sophie held Xanthe up to the window – like a scene from Lion King - and our daughter, Ottilie, started jumping up and down like it was Christmas morning. She was so excited.

“It was such a beautiful and emotional moment,” Mr Ballinger said.  

When Xanthe was allowed home on day 100, one week before her actual due date, her sister and brothers showered her with love.

Xanthe required 24-hour oxygen support for the first three months at home until such time her lungs were strong enough to work independently.

“She is now 19 months old, walking, running and happily interacting with her older sister and brothers. She runs our house and we wouldn’t have it any other way,” Mr Ballinger said.  

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For urgent assessment at any stage of your pregnancy, please present to your nearest emergency centre or Mater Mothers’ 24/7 Pregnancy Assessment Centre in South Brisbane.

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