When Juliana Moore finally took her newborn daughter into her arms, she pulled her close and whispered in her ear, “Mia Moore, we have already been through so much. Now it is time to have some fun!”
The tiny girl – whose name sounds like the Portuguese phrase “mi amor”, meaning “my love” – had already shared her mother’s brave battle for life while in utero.
Looking across at husband Peter and gently kissing the top of her daughter’s head, the Brazilian-born mum, 33, known to friends as Ju, says, “We had waited so long to meet her. Now she’s here, we can finally relax. She’s perfect.”
Ju’s first and much-longed-for pregnancy was both the happiest and saddest time of their life. She and Peter, 38, married in Queenstown in January 2016 and were preparing for their belated honeymoon in the groom’s native Scotland when Ju felt a burning sensation in her chest.
Doctors delivered a bombshell – Ju had aggressive stage-three breast cancer. And just a day after the devastating diagnosis, the shell-shocked newlyweds were told she was also pregnant and that this could be her only chance to become a mother as her cancer treatment could wipe out her fertility. There wasn’t time to freeze her eggs.
Because radiotherapy was too risky for her unborn baby, Ju had a partial mastectomy and then began chemotherapy once she was through the delicate first trimester. “Choosing between the life of my child or treatment for cancer wasn’t an option,” tells Ju. “I wanted both.”
While doctors assured her and Peter the chemotherapy drugs were unlikely to cross the placenta, naturally, they still worried.
“I was terrified of chemo – to me, it was like poison going into her veins,” says Peter, a quarantine officer at Queenstown Airport. “But Ju wanted to fight the cancer with everything she had.”
For the tight-knit couple, it was a harrowing journey to first-time parenthood. They set up the Facebook page “Help Ju Through” so their families and friends could be part of the journey. Each week of the pregnancy was a milestone celebrated with another new post of Ju with a growing belly and diminishing hair but always a smile on her face.
The couple did their own research and reached out to other mothers who had walked the same path. Despite her specialist’s assurances, Ju says she couldn’t help but fret. “Every time I had chemo, I could feel her moving in my belly and I would worry about her being affected by the drugs.”
In the first trimester, the couple made a late-night dash into the Lakes District Hospital when Ju began bleeding, but thankfully a tiny heartbeat was detected. After that, it was a scary 20-week wait to feel her daughter move.
Last October, doctors stopped Ju’s chemotherapy to give her body time to recover for the planned birth in January. The couple tried their best to relax at their rented cottage on the outskirts of Arrowtown and focused on bringing their long-awaited baby home. Ju told herself, “It’s happening and soon I will have my little girl in my arms.”
But when she was 35 weeks pregnant, a check-up detected an erratic heartbeat. After two nights under observation at Southland Hospital, her specialist decided the safest thing to do was deliver Ju and Peter’s precious daughter by Caesarean section three weeks early on December 20.
The news was too much for Peter. Ju recalls, “Peter was so stressed out, and he doesn’t like blood and hospitals, so he waited outside the operating theatre.” Ju’s mother Marli Almeida de Freitas, 60, flew out from Brazil to support her daughter, but was still en route to Invercargill when the C-section went ahead.
Unfazed by the idea of giving birth without a support person, brave Ju headed into theatre alone. “I was so excited,” she says. “I just wanted to meet my baby.”
Mia weighed just 2.5kg at birth and didn’t cry like most newborns, but a quick check-up showed she was healthy.
Ju recalls, “When Peter came to meet her, he was over the moon. I hadn’t seen him smile like that for months.”
Back home at their picturesque cottage, Mia is putting on weight, and proving to be a calm and smiley baby.
Ju laughs, “People try to tell me it’s wind, but it’s just Mia – she’s perfect.”
Ju will wean her at six months so she can begin another year of chemotherapy. In the meantime, though, she and Peter are enjoying every single moment with their sweet wee bundle.
“My biggest dream was to be a mum and that was almost taken away,” says Ju. “No matter how tired I am, I will never complain. Every day I have with Peter and Mia is a blessing.”
If you would like to help the Moore family, you can visit their Givealittle page here