When Tracy Dupuis was nineteen weeks pregnant, she and her husband Matt went to her anatomy scan hoping to learn the gender of their baby. “We were excited to find out it was another girl,” says Tracy, who already had Lucy, then 22 months. “But the tone of the appointment quickly changed when they got to the measurement of my cervix.” The couple learned that Tracy had very little cervical length, called an incompetent cervix, which put her at risk of going into premature labour. They were sent home with a prescription for bedrest and progesterone suppositories, but her doctors weren’t optimistic: “I’d been on bedrest in my first pregnancy, also for an incompetent cervix, but it started later. I was on bedrest from week 30 and I managed to make it to 37 weeks,” Tracy says. This was a different situation, and they were warned they would likely lose the baby.
The following week, Tracy visited her doctor again. The baby’s heartbeat was strong but the cervix measurement hadn’t improved and there was evidence of “funnelling” (which means amniotic membranes are protruding into the cervix). At that point, she was admitted to the High Risk Pregnancy Unit at McMaster Hospital in Hamilton, Ont. She was given washroom and shower privileges only. The rest of the time, she had to lie flat. Doctors even went a step further, in an effort to keep Tracy from going into labour: She was placed in the Trendelenburg position, where her feet were always 15 to 30 degrees higher than her head, unless she was in the bathroom or eating. The hope was that gravity would help to keep the baby in. Matt travelled back and forth from their home in Guelph, Ont., every day while Lucy stayed with his parents.
Aside from describing the physical effects of this situation—the stiffness that comes with inactivity and headaches from the incline—Tracy has no words to explain how she was feeling during this time. “Terrified doesn’t even begin to cover it,” she says. She kept a journal to pass the time and quiet her mind, with each entry conveying her anxiety, loneliness and despair.
“I try to pretend I’m someone else. Like this isn’t really happening to me. I’ve been told again and again we will likely lose her. I’m just so pissed off at the world, but I think it’s okay to be. I try to sleep as much as I can so I’m not awake to think or feel. Please, God, don’t take her from me. Let her be a part of our lives. Let her become family, to be one of us. Bring her strength. Make her strong. Don’t let her be in pain. Bring her comfort. Let me take her home one day.”
She wrote about missing Matt and Lucy, about worrying Lucy would change so much and she wouldn’t be there to see it. She both loved and dreaded days that Lucy would visit.
“Try convincing a one-and-a-half-year-old to just stay still and cuddle. I feel so much guilt for disrupting her world. My body and mind are fighting between sadness for the daughter I have and the one I have not yet met.”
Three weeks into her hospital stay, Tracy started to experience cramping. “I’d had a baby before, so I knew it wasn’t right,” she says. Concerned labour was imminent, she started to push for steroid shots to speed up the baby’s lung development, but at 23 weeks, she was told it was too soon, and that she would have to wait until 24 weeks. Five days later, Tracy knew without a doubt the baby was coming. She was given the steroids, but in all likelihood, they didn’t help. On July 10, 2010, Eloise Frances was born, weighing only one pound, eight ounces. She was classified as a micro-preemie, her tiny life uncertain.
“The early days were extremely touch and go,” Tracy says. “She was so fragile, and we knew we could lose her at any moment. We were allowed to put our hands into the incubator to touch her, but we couldn’t hold her until weeks later. That was incredibly hard.” On day two, Eloise, or Ella as they called her, was diagnosed with a substantial hemorrhage on the left side of her brain, and a lesser bleed on the right; her parents were advised that the bleeding had to stop on its own soon or a decision would need to be made about continuing care. By day four, the bleeding had stemmed. That was just the first of many major obstacles for little Ella, who remained in hospital for more than six months.
She was discharged just in time for Christmas. Ella met her big sister for the first time on December 23 when they took her home, six months after she was born. “I was so worried about leaving the hospital with her, but it was the happiest day of my life,” Tracy says. The journey was far from over, but having her home brought immense joy.
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at one, Ella, now four, has proven her miracle status over and over again. She walks when experts weren’t sure she ever would; she tells hilarious stories when her occupational therapists didn’t know if she’d ever speak; and she loves her mom, dad and sister fiercely. And so she should. Her mom literally hung upside down to save her life.
A version of this article appeared in the May 2015 issue with the headline "Pregnancies from HELL," pp. 84-88
Want to read about more pregnancies from hell? Pregnancies from hell: hypertension, hydramnios and more Pregnancies from hell: Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome
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