A mother from Perth has opened up on the heartbreak of giving birth to three premature babies in the hope her story can help others who might be struggling.
Cassandra Ballantyne, 40, has lived through the difficulty of watching all her babies being born prematurely, and losing her first because he was simply too young to survive.
It’s a situation that’s all too common in Australia with figures showing each year 27,000 babies are born premature and up to 1,000 lose their fight for life.
Speaking to FEMAIL, Ms Ballantyne shared how at 20, she was a newly married army wife, eagerly awaiting the birth of her first child Caleb, when she suddenly went into labour at 22 weeks.
Cassandra Ballantyne (pictured) has opened up on how all three of her babies were born premature
She explained that in June 1998, she been visiting her husband in the small country town of Aubury, Wadonga, when her waters broke.
‘I went into labour when I was there, and I’m not sure they were equipped to deal with premature babies,’ Ms Ballantyne said.
‘He was my first so I didn’t even know I was going to have problems having children until that point.
‘They did try to stop my labour by putting a cervical stitch in but it didn’t hold.’
Though the 22 week old baby survived the labour, he was pronounced dead not long after he was born.
Ms Ballantyne’s first baby, Calab, was born at 22 weeks old but sadly he didn’t survive
The pair returned to Perth to bury their baby, but army commitments forced them apart, leaving the grieving mother who said she’d only ever wanted to be a mum, to reconcile her loss alone.
She said she’d found it difficult to return to a life she’d been preparing, and added the couple had struggled to get pregnant and had been on fertility treatment.
A couple of months later in October, in a surprise twist of fate, Ms Ballantyne revealed she found herself unexpectedly pregnant again.
Her son Jaiden was born weighing just 660 grams and measured just 22 centimetres
‘The first thing we did was hunt out a specialist with the Royal Women’s Hospital in Brisbane.
‘There was anxiety there,’ she continued, ‘but I told myself this time it was going to be different.
‘At 14 weeks they put a cervical stitch in my cervix – and because they put the stitch in quite early I felt quite safe.’
Her son Jaiden spent nearly four months in NICU and was on tube feeds until he was two-years-old
Though Ms Ballantyne had no real indications there were issues with carrying to term, she did reveal that she’d been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) when she was younger, and that she’d been told by doctors the disease could cause an incompetent cervix.
Despite her hyper vigilance around this pregnancy, her waters broke when she was 23 weeks pregnant and she was rushed to hospital.
‘Obviously my waters broke with Caleb so I knew the signs, and I knew what was happening. I was absolutely terrified.’
Ms Ballantyne shared that over the course of the 132 days Jaiden spent at the intensive care nursery, she barely left his side
She said her medical team did all they could to try and stop the labour, including a Ventolin drip, and confining her to bed rest.
At 25 weeks, Ms Ballantyne gave birth to her son naturally – tiny son weighed just 660 grams and measured 26 centimetres.
‘The first thing through out minds were “Is he going to be alive?”, she said.
Within moments of being born, Jaiden was taken away so doctors could work on him, an experience Ms Ballantyne described as ‘such an anxious wait, that felt like forever.
‘Then the door opened and we were waiting to hear the news. He was bagged and in a little crib and they said they were going to take him to the intensive care nursery.’
A touching moment: Ms Ballantyne and Jaiden’s first Mother’s Day together
All up their new son would spend 132 days in NICU, and it would be 10 days before the new mother even had a chance to hold her son.
While the couple were overjoyed their boy had survived his birth, he’d had a ‘terrible time going through the nursery’, Ms Ballantyne said.
‘He’d had a brain hemorrhage, he had to have a surgery on his heart for a PVA procedure, it was a very rocky ride.
Jaiden’s sister Chelsea was also born premature at 23 weeks and also spend close to four months in NICU recovering
‘We felt so incredibly happy that we had him however even back then when we held him for that first time they couldn’t tell us he was going to survive.
‘Looking back now we were very selfish as parents because we didn’t care what was wrong with him, we just wanted to have a baby we could take home.’
When Jaiden was a toddler, he would be diagnosed with mild Cerebral palsy – a disability related to his premature birth.
Her third child would also be born prematurely at 23 weeks – and though she noted there had huge advances in medical procedures between her birth and her son’s – and her daughter, Chelsea, would also spend nearly four months in NICU recovering.
Ms Ballantyne revealed she was terrified baby Chelsea wouldn’t survive her premature birth
Ms Ballantyne (pictured right) with her late husband Warren (pictured) left and their ‘perfect family’
‘I don’t think she was breathing when she came out, and I remember she was wrapped in plastic and she didn’t look good. She looked a lot like Caleb did.’
Though her time with Chelsea in the NICU had been difficult, she said her daughter ‘breezed’ through it compared to her son, and was bought home without any issues.
The family was again beset by tragedy when her husband Warren was killed in a traffic accident after a returning from a tour of duty in Iraq in October 2003. Both Warren and her son Caleb are buried together, she revealed emotionally.
While her story is one of heartbreak, and hope, it’s one she believes can shed a light on a situation which happens every day, and urge Australians to support Miracle Babies’ Foundation – a cause that’s close to her heart.
The mother-of-two exhorts families who may be struggling to trust their medical team and to not give up
‘I didn’t realise how many people had premature babies until I had Jaiden. I didn’t realise this happens every day,’ Ms Ballantyne said.
The mother-of-two exhorts families who may be struggling trust their medical team, and to not give up.
‘You have to have faith and hope these little babies are fighters and they are so strong.
‘I don’t think any parent can give up on their child.
‘My kids are so amazing and I feel completely blessed every day,’ she concluded.