Grace Findlay: Born 2 March, 2001, 24 weeks, 650g

Nobody really knows what to expect when you’re having your first baby.  No amount of self-help books, real life stories or life long dreams ever fit the bill. Especially when your baby is born prematurely, as our daughter, Grace, was in 2001. I’m not talking a few weeks, either. I’m talking four months, 16 weeks. For my husband, Bill, and I it was one of the scariest and most confronting things that we had ever faced. 

Not only did Grace decide to arrive early, she tried to make an entrance at 22 weeks, when my waters broke while we were on holiday in Byron Bay.  After 10 days’ bed rest in Lismore hospital, amazingly sensitive care and, thankfully, with two steroid shots on board to fast track her lung development, Grace would wait no more. The contractions started and we were sent, via air ambulance, back to Sydney and into the arms of The Royal. 

Grace was born the following morning on 2 March, 2001, at 24 weeks and three days, weighing only 650 grams. So began the rollercoaster ride that became our life for the next three and a half months as Grace fought to grow and simply survive the many hurdles that life as an extremely premature baby threw her way. Breathing issues, lung disease, infections and complications from prolonged ventilation.

The Royal’s Newborn Care Centre became Grace’s temporary home. The continuous care Grace received from each and every doctor and nurse who looked after her was amazing. Unbelievable. Not to mention the support we received, every day. The nurses spend as much time looking after the parents’ emotions and worries as they do the babies’ wellbeing. They become your friends, and they truly understand what you’re going through.

Under the careful guidance of Dr Howard Chilton, Grace moved through the Newborn Care Centre, with her fair share of hiccups along the way. It was a time of one step forwards, two steps back. There were times when I saw her stop breathing, very sick from infection, bloated from steroids to help her put on weight and so full of tubes and cannulas that it was hard to see what our little girl really looked like. It was a constant battle to stay positive. Born that early, you’re at The Royal for a while, so you see babies come and go, some good stories, some not so great. But you keep going, because you have to, taking one hour at a time at first, then one day at a time. There’s no luxury of looking further ahead, despite a desperate need to, just to know that all will be ok. 

Despite terrible odds (50% survival rate) Grace survived and arrived home two days before her due date weighing 2.1 kgs. What a giant! And breathing all on her own, without any ventilation. What a miracle.

Now 15, Grace has had her fair share of medical challenges throughout her life, struggling with gastrointestinal issues not necessarily connected to her prematurity. But she’s a living miracle, surviving her very early start to life relatively unscathed with no sight, hearing, speech or learning difficulties. Now a healthy girl in Year 9, Grace is smart, funny, caring, kind and very gentle, but with a strong will that we know definitely helped her to survive. There is nothing Grace loves better than reading, baking and hanging out with Molly, her happy little Cavoodle.

I still catch myself looking at Grace at non-descript times and doing a double take when she does ordinary, everyday things that most parents take for granted, realising how very lucky we are. Was she really not much bigger than a pen, with eyes closed and translucent skin at birth?
So that’s why I joined Sophie’s Running for Premature Babies Group.  Not to get fit and not just because I love to run. I do it for Grace to celebrate her life and to be as brave as I’ve seen her be in her 15 years, with the many medical challenges she’s faced. And she’s had plenty.

I do it for the hospital. Fifteen years ago, without The Royal, its doctors, nurses and equipment, there would probably be no Grace. Words won’t ever be enough to describe the gratitude Bill and I feel towards The Royal. It’s amazing. It personifies care and absolute dedication. It’s positively charged, but in a realistic way. And without its state of the art equipment, I shudder to think what may have been. It’s a thought I can’t bear to imagine. It means so much to both of us to be able to ‘give something back’.

And, I do it to help the hundreds of premature babies that will be born in the years to come. To give them the chance at life that Grace has been given. And to give parents the chance to see their tiny, helpless baby eventually grow into the strong, happy and healthy child they were secretly expecting.

BELINDA FINDLAY (run on our team 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016)