Real Life

Too scared to love my baby

The pregnancy complication pre-eclampsia meant Aucklander Karyn Clare’s baby was born nine weeks too soon – and she so small, Karyn was afraid to love her in case she never came home.

oost mums will tell you about the overwhelming love they feel when their baby is born. But when our daughter was delivered by emergency Caesarean, all I felt was shock.

She came out looking like a tiny purple frog and was absolutely silent. There was a hushed scurrying as the nurses hurried her away. My husband Gareth stayed by my side, stunned at the sight of the tiny daughter he thought couldn’t possibly survive.

Lexie was nine weeks premature, weighed just 1kg and was not much longer than a ballpoint pen the doctors had placed next to her. She was so tiny that I was amazed she was mine – and frightened of all the things that could be wrong with her. I felt too scared to love her in case I wouldn’t be taking her home.

Like most first-time parents-to-be, Gareth and I thought everything would go smoothly. My pregnancy seemed normal. I did get a lot of headaches but I’ve always had migraines. I was used to having a whopper of a headache about four times a year so when I started getting them two or three times a month, I dismissed them. And the books I read said headaches were common in pregnancy.

I went to a specialist for the usual checks and everything seemed fine. At the 20-week scan, we were told our baby was a bit on the small side but that was no surprise – I’m small, and Gareth is fine-boned, too.

It wasn’t until I reached 28 weeks that we had any signs things weren’t progressing as they should. My doctor said the baby’s growth had slowed down, and we should have a more detailed scan.

But even then, we weren’t concerned because I felt healthy. A week later, we went for a Doppler scan, where the blood flow is measured through the placenta. That’s when we got our biggest shock.

The radiologist said to Gareth, “If she was my wife, I wouldn’t let her go back to work.” oy obstetrician warned me to take it easy. He explained that the placenta was working poorly and our baby wasn’t getting the oxygen and nutrients she needed to grow.

We were starting to worry, but I still didn’t realise how bad things were.

The next week, the obstetrician sent us to National Women’s Hospital for an assessment. I expected to go home that night. But the midwife told me I wasn’t going anywhere – I had pre-eclampsia.

I knew I was in great hands but the worrying was awful. Would the baby be brain-damaged? or survive an early birth? We were so worried about the baby, I wasn’t concerned about my own health. I didn’t know that every year 68,000 mothers and around 300,000 babies around the world die of pre-eclampsia.

Finally, my obstetrician told us I had to deliver the baby – a blood test showed something was going wrong with my liver. It got worse through the day and by the time Lexie was born, I felt like someone had a vice around my chest and was cranking it in.

Surprisingly, I felt quite calm. I wanted to get the show on the road so we could begin to deal with what was to come.

over the next six weeks of Lexie’s stay in hospital, we allowed ourselves to get to know her. We named her Alexandra – a Greek name that means “defender”. We knew she had a battle ahead of her. Her hands were so tiny they could fit through Gareth’s wedding band.

Lexie was 36 weeks old when we took her home. She weighed just 1.53kg and was the smallest baby ever discharged from National Women’s Hospital. For weeks we had been ticking off milestones, thinking we might be one of the lucky ones to take home a healthy, if tiny, child.

Lexie had overcome a serious infection, had no hearing loss, wasn’t blind and her brain hadn’t haemorrhaged. Later, doctor’s checked if she could sit up, recognise faces, crawl, walk and talk. We were so grateful – for some parents in our situation, the news isn’t so good.

Lexie has just turned two and Gareth and I are keen to have another child. But I’m concerned. There’s a 25% chance my next pregnancy will result in pre-eclampsia too. I have been advised to take low-dose aspirin to reduce the risk of it happening again and I will see my doctor fortnightly from 24 weeks on.

We think of Lexie as our little miracle. What she lacks in size, she makes up for in spirit and willpower. But that’s not a surprise after the battle she has survived. As told to Jenny Forsyth

  • For further information on pre-eclampsia, visit (New Zealand Action on Pre-eclampsia)

What is pre-eclampsia? Pre-eclampsia is a complication that occurs during pregnancy. Symptoms include high blood pressure, swelling, weight gain and, sometimes, disturbed vision or headaches. The only known treatment is delivery. Pre-eclampsia can result in premature delivery or even the death of the mother and/or her baby.

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