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BIRTHING A RAINBOW BABY
A WOMAN’S INSPIRATIONAL JOURNEY FROM MAIDEN TO MOTHER
It was the year 2017, and at 30 years old, I received a positive pregnancy test. We have been happily married since 2013 and never intended to be pregnant as we wanted to travel around the world and enjoy each other’s company without family commitment. But when the positive pregnancy test returned, we were overjoyed and welcomed the journey.
We had heard many stories of young parents dealing with sleepless nights, stress, and financial challenges while raising their children, and we were undoubtedly unprepared.
I didn’t know I was pregnant initially. It was during Chinese New Year, and we were outstation with the family. The slightest clue at that time was implantation bleeding; it was very light and pinkish, which I passed off as menstrual then as I was due.
I did a test when we were back in Kuala Lumpur a week later, after which my “then menstrual” wasn’t the usual flow. After confirming the positive test result at a local General Practitioner, I returned to my routine. I didn’t eat well as I was having morning sickness, wasn’t on any supplements, and was relatively chill, thinking everything would be okay.
Unfortunately, when it was time to do the 10-week screening, I lost my baby because “no heartbeat” was detected.
First-trimester losses are very common, as we all know. I then had a dilation and curettage (D&C) done to remove the embryo. As it was still early in the pregnancy, it wasn’t too bad then, and I knew I would be pregnant again soon. So I started a journal and pasted my ultrasound photos, naming my baby Junior as I talked about my grief.
The pregnancy adventure continued in mid-2018 when I was pregnant once more at 31 years old. But, this time, I was feeling paranoid, albeit more prepared. I scheduled a visit to Maternal Fetal Specialist, did all the tests, diligently ate, rested, and prayed that all would be well.
However, I started leaking at 19 weeks. I rushed to the hospital and was told I had a short cervix. It is unfortunate that this condition, which could cause premature birth and infant death, is only detectable during the second trimester.
The doctors told me to terminate the pregnancy, but my maternal instinct told me no. Just a few weeks ago, I was showing off my baby bump and meeting friends who were so happy for me.
The chance of the pregnancy surviving until prematurity is 30%. The thought of losing my baby was surreal, as I didn’t anticipate this unfortunate predicament. So against the doctors’ wishes, I went for an emergency stitch to close the cervix, which was already dilating at 3 cm. I was on bed rest in the hospital for three weeks before I started developing infections and my water broke.
My baby girl was born at 21 weeks old, weighing only 350 grams. She didn’t last more than a few minutes, and I didn’t hold her, as I wasn’t in the right frame of mind and was feeling so hurt. We let the hospital handled all the necessary arrangements.
My world was crushed, and I felt like dying. We named her Cassandra Lee and acknowledged her as our first angel daughter, who was gone too soon.
In accordance with my family’s wishes, there were no prayers or funeral rites, but we mourn her death. After losing Cassandra, life was never the same for me, my husband, and my parents. We were all so devastated and distraught.
I retreated into a shell, unfollowed all who had or were going to have babies, avoided all family and kids’ events and activities, and stayed away.
I consulted a grief therapist who helped me emotionally, picked up some light yoga exercises, and tried to keep myself occupied. I broke down many times and went into depression as I couldn’t accept what had happened and was jealous of people around me who had kids.
About seven months after the loss of Cassandra, we became pregnant again in mid-2019. The same procedure kicked in — visits to the gynecologist, troubleshoot of the cervix, and more medications. A pessary was inserted at Week 13 this time, with the hope that it would work.
But as fate turned out, we also lost our baby boy, Joachim Lee. He was born on Christmas Day, weighed 450 grams, and was at 22 weeks.
I was shocked and too distraught to hold him. Joachim lasted two hours in his daddy’s arms while I recuperated in the operating theater. My heart was severely crushed this round because there was so much hope and expectation for his arrival.
Scientifically, we knew that the medical treatment didn’t work for us and that we needed to put in more effort for the next round. Emotionally, we were hoping that we could have made it to at least 24 weeks and 600 grams, where the chances for survival would be higher for infants born prematurely.
This time, I accepted that it was not my turn to be a momma and grew closer to the Creator. I attended grief therapy and several rounds of meditation while also continuing to search for medical treatment with a positive mindset.
We found a specialist who deals with recurrent miscarriages and high-risk pregnancies. It was 2020, and the pandemic happened. Everything was uncertain but we remained optimistic and in late 2020, I underwent a procedure to clean up my uterus, remove a few polyps, etc.
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In February 2021, we became pregnant. This time, we monitored closely; I had a cervical cerclage placed at 15 weeks, battled a few infections, and breezed through the second trimester. My doctors were good as they were experienced in this cervix issue, advised on supplements, controlled my sugar, etc. I made it through the final week of the second trimester, finally!
At my 23-week checkup, the doctor noticed that my water bag was funneling down, and I was immediately admitted for bedrest with close monitoring.
It was the height of the pandemic, and I was alone in my hospital room; I had to lie down 98% of the time as I couldn’t pressure the cervix even though a stitch was already in place. My doctor visited me daily to check on me and give me moral support.
My husband visited once a week and gave me my weekly showers, and the three-hour weekly visit was something that I looked forward to. I spent my days in the room: reading, doing some work, watching Netflix, and resting. The days became weeks, and my confidence grew as I passed the 25th, 27th, and finally, the 28th week.
Everything was going well, and the plan was to remove the stitch between 34 to 36 weeks for a normal birth. Of course, my doctor didn’t condone bed rest, but we did all we could given the situation. I went to great lengths to wear embolism stockings to prevent blood clots; I even wore a maternity belt to avoid pressure on the cervix, drank Cranberry juice to prevent infection, and so on.
It was a Friday night, August 13, 2021, 50 days into bed rest. I was about to sleep when I noticed that I was leaking. I called the nurse, and I was emitting a yellow discharge. The doctor was called, and I was told I had an infection that required the baby to be induced.
With the baby being nearly 30 weeks old and weighing 1.4 kg, the survival rate was 85%, and I was reassured that everything would be fine. I was given medication and injections to mature the baby’s lungs and prevent brain bleeding.
I was briefed on the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) procedure and estimated charges, depending on the baby’s situation. At this point, I was all out to save the baby and willing to use my entire savings for her NICU bill. On the morning of August 14, 2021, hubby rushed over to undergo a COVID test, as required by the hospital, in order to be my stay-in companion during birth.
My Rainbow Baby
At 7.30 p.m. on August 14, 2021, Abigail Lee Yi Wen, weighing 1.3 kg, was born through normal vaginal delivery. She came out crying and was placed on me for 10 seconds before being whisked into the NICU. My rainbow baby came at last.
The NICU team and Ward 2A of Sunway Hospital was like my second home as I traveled daily and went through roadblocks during the Movement Control Order to bring her pumped milk and to do “kangaroo care” with her for three to four hours each time. Abigail was in the NICU for 50 days. Not a single day goes by that I fail to call the NICU twice to check on her, even after visiting her.
Abigail graduated from the NICU at 2.3 kg. The day we brought her home was such a blessing, as it was a dream come true for me; to hold and have a baby at home, where we will grow with her.
The months passed with so much precaution and care as she was a preemie. So no visitations were allowed except for immediate family members. Neither did I dine out or go out much, as it was during the COVID pandemic. As a parent, you want only the best for your kid, and you will do anything to ensure their safety and health.
Fast forward to today, and I am happy that Abigail is a thriving and strong 17-month-old without any prematurity complications. I’d like to express my gratitude to the following for this successful journey:
- Dr Patrick of Aseana Pregnancy
- Dr Vijayan of Aseana Pregnancy
- Dr Janani of Sunway Medical
- Ward 2A Nurses of Sunway Medical
- NICU team of Sunway Medical
- Dr Cheong Shu Meng of Sunway Medical
- Husband, Bernard Lee
- Parents, sister and family members
- Friends, colleagues and superiors at work
- Dr Edmund and Pauline, Grief Therapist
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Joanne Lee is a proud mama to a 17-month-old rainbow baby. She has gone through three pregnancy losses, persevered over the years in overcoming grief, and successfully researched pregnancy-related medical issues to conceive her daughter. Her day job is as a retail marketer, and she has been in the industry for over a decade. Joanne dedicates her time to parenting and helping mothers with pregnancy losses through local support cell groups during her free time. She believes that all women should be given a chance to go through motherhood. Contact Joanne at firstname.lastname@example.org