As her young daughter danced on the stage of the Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch mum Selena Croft watched on from backstage with tears streaming down her face.
A dance teacher herself, she’s seen many performances but watching Erica, who entered the world at just 26 weeks, was extra special.
“I was just in awe at how she could once fit in one arm, and now there she was just beaming and smiling on the stage. I was bawling my eyes out,” Selena (36) remembers.
Erica made the pages of the Weekly in 2011 as a tiny earthquake survivor after Selena went into premature labour following the violent shake in February.
Shortly after it struck, the pregnant mother-to-be felt a tightening in her stomach, then hours later, the contractions.
On February 24, Erica was delivered by emergency Caesarean section, miraculously showing all the signs of a healthy baby. But due to the earthquake, there was a high demand for beds and the pair were flown to Auckland City Hospital.
“There was also so much support from the community. A beautiful crochet lace shawl and wee crochet doll were sent to the hospital for Erica – we still have them,” Selena says fondly.
After two months, Erica and Selena returned to Christchurch Hospital, but spent another three months in care after Erica’s lungs and the rest of her body shut down, and she stopped breathing three times due to reflux.
There were other setbacks too – over three consecutive winters, Erica suffered from pneumonia. But despite it all, Selena says they’re actually really lucky.
Almost five, Erica will be a similar height and size as her classmates at Isleworth School.
“On her first school visit, she was a rock star! She was so confident, it wasn’t what I expected. She even told me I could go home,” Selena laughs.
The only evidence of her rough start to life is a scar on her hand where her IV line once was. Erica’s seen the pictures of herself in hospital with her hand bandaged and she has a curiosity, rather than anxiety, about the earthquakes.
“She’ll often ask about what will happen if there’s another one,” Selena tells. “When she was about three years old, she was obsessed with the broken buildings, and we had to go around and see them all.”
Selena admits, for her and partner Peter (34), their ordeal meant it took a long time to get in the right headspace to have another baby. But just five months ago, they welcomed little Juliet without any worries.
“Having Juliet was therapeutic for both of us. After my planned C-section, Peter asked the midwife, ‘Where does Juliet go now?’, and she told him, ‘She goes with you – you can have your baby.’
It was so vastly different to having Erica.”
For Selena, the textbook pregnancy and delivery is all the proof she needs that it was stress from the earthquake that caused her to go into premature labour, although there’s no sure way to tell the first time around. For now, the family are enjoying watching their little girl grow up in a city that’s growing with her.
“The anniversaries are a time of reflection, so I think Erica and I will take a walk around this week. The earthquakes are a part of Christchurch that she has always known and she loves the new buildings, especially the museum. It’s exciting, but it’s also bittersweet.”