Pregnancy & Birth

Australian bush fire survivor Turia Pitt can't wait to be a mum

Turia gave birth to her beautiful baby boy Hakavai in early December. We look back on our interview with her in August about her hopes for her unborn baby.

It doesn't matter how many times you might have discussed it, or how long you might have wished it to be true - becoming pregnant is always tinged with surprise and excitement, and perhaps even a little shock.
For Turia Pitt, the young woman who survived devastating burns to 64 per cent of her body, that element of shock came earlier this year, as she was preparing for a demanding three-week hike to base camp on Mt Everest in Nepal.
"We had all these commitments, things we just had to do, places we had to be," says Turia, 29, who suffered horrific burns during a fierce bush fire while running an ultra-marathon in the Kimberley region of Western Australia in 2011.
"So, it wasn't something that we were expecting. I was packing to go to base camp. I had a thousand different things on my mind, but falling pregnant was not one of them. I started to feel sick, which is something that hardly ever happens to me. I don't know why - just a feeling, I guess - but I sensed something was very different."
Turia's baby scan.
That difference, it turned out, was the first irresistible spark of life. Turia bought a pregnancy test kit. It was positive. "I thought, well, that can't be right," she recalls, sitting at home with her fiancé, former police officer Michael Hoskin, 32, the childhood sweetheart whose unceasing love helped reignite her will to survive in the months after the fire.
"Michael and I have always talked about having children. The plan was to start trying at the end of the year after all our commitments. Then, it just happened a lot earlier... to my surprise. You certainly don't think you are going to be pregnant straight away."
Turia did another test. It, too, proved positive. And she did four more, just to make sure. "I was thinking, 'This is silly - pregnancy tests are usually accurate.' But I did the tests again anyway. I don't know why. Part of me was saying, 'This can't be happening,' but another was saying, 'Wow, what if it is?' I was really happy, but sort of stunned, too. My mind went into overdrive."
Turia's doctor confirmed the pregnancy a few days later with a blood test and an ultrasound that gave her a glimpse of the natural miracle unfolding inside her. In that single, breathtaking moment, Turia's emotions finally caught up with her racing mind. As she lay listening to the soft rhythmic beat of her child's heart, she felt an irresistible flood of excitement and joy.
"It was hard to believe when it was just a pregnancy stick, but when we had the scan, I was so over the moon," says Turia. "I was stoked, so happy I didn't really know what to say. There were all these emotions and feelings whirling around inside. It was just an incredible moment."
Indeed, Turia's life since that near fatal fire six years ago has been a series of incredible moments. She was so severely burned that doctors initially doubted she would live. More than that, her ravaged body also had to deal with a post-trauma infection so severe that it alone ought to have claimed her life.
Yet, despite the massive odds against her, Turia managed what others describe as a miracle of survival, a miracle of tenacity and hope. And she has worn that determination like a badge of honour ever since, undertaking a series of incredibly demanding physical challenges to raise funds for charities and pushing herself to the boundaries of her physical and emotional limits.
Yet, not far beneath that hardy, energetic and sometimes boisterous exterior is a deeply emotional woman who has longed for the opportunity to be a mother, someone who always yearned to feel the warmth of her own child cradled in her arms.
In fact, it was that yearning, coupled with Michael's devoted love, which helped her live through the nightmare of her overwhelming injuries.
"One of the first questions I asked after I came out of the coma was if I would still be able to have children," says Turia. "I always get asked if I can have children. People assume that I cannot because I have been burned, but the doctors never said, 'You're going to struggle,' never said I had to adjust my expectations. On the inside, everything is fine.
"The fact was that Michael and I hadn't tried to have children before the fire, so there was no absolute way of knowing whether we could. But because there was no internal damage, the doctors said there was every chance I could still conceive naturally, that in the normal course of things it shouldn't be a problem."
Of course, says Michael, the priority was her survival. "Getting Turia better was our focus, but it was reassuring to know that we still had that in our future," he says.
That knowledge, combined with Michael's support and love, reinforced her will to live.
"In many ways," she says, "that was one of the main things that helped me keep going during the recovery and helped me find the will to keep going. Having Michael there beside me was so important, but so was the thought that we could have children. That thought gave me hope that, one day, Michael and I would have a family."
The truth is that while Turia and Michael always had children in their sights, if they had not been able to have any, they would still be together, no matter what. "It wasn't a deal breaker for us," says Turia.
"We talked a lot about it. Some couples split up if they cannot have kids, but we would have found something else. We might have adopted or pushed our energy in another direction. Obviously, if you can't do something that you want to do, it's disappointing, but you've just got to find that inner strength to keep going and try to hold to your path and rebuild your life."
Her pregnancy, Turia says, will be just like most others. While her legs and upper body are deeply scarred, her stomach somehow escaped the blaze that disfigured her.
"My stomach wasn't burned at all in the fire," she says. "That part of me remained completely untouched. I didn't have any internal injuries, no damage from smoke inhalation or anything else. When it came to finding donor skin to graft on to the burns, my doctors took that skin from my stomach. So while I have some scarring in the area, it's relatively light compared to other areas."
Importantly, it is not affected by contractures, a restrictive condition that can afflict the heavy scarring that follows extensive third-degree burns.
The baby is expected to develop normally during the remainder of her term and the skin around her stomach will expand as the foetus grows.
They always loved the beach - a young Turia with brother Genji and mother Celestine on the NSW South Coast.
Family is central to both Turia and Michael. She is Tahitian-born and has three older brothers and he has three brothers and a sister.
"There are lots of boys in that mix," says Michael, laughing.
He knows the sex of their baby, but is keeping it a secret, even from Turia, who prefers not to know until their child is born.
"I don't know if that [the number of boys] means anything," he says, "but we've both grown up in substantial families, so we know what it's like to have children around. I'm really looking forward to meeting this baby. I want to be a dad and it seems the most natural thing in the world."
Even so, both Michael and Turia admit to being slightly nervous about the responsibilities of their new role.
"I'm a bit naïve about the parenting thing, I think," he says. "What it is that you actually do, I won't know what that reality is like until our child is born. It will be a new world, I think, changing nappies and putting them in and out of the car. The world will not just be about Turia any more - it will be about the baby, too. It's all a learning process, but we are willing to embrace that."
Because of the injuries to her hands - Turia is missing all the fingers and thumb on her right hand, but has more dexterity in her left - she will need to adapt, something she has become very skilled at doing.
"Is that going to be an issue?" asks Turia, who taught herself to drive again. "No, I don't think so. Everything else in life that I need to do, I just figure out a way to do it. I might do it differently to other people, but I get the job done. With changing a nappy, perhaps I won't get it right the first time, but really, who does? Then, after enough practice, I will figure out my own way to do it. I am not even worried about that.
"I have done this so many times in my journey - figuring out how to brush my hair, how to put my hair up, figuring out how to drive again.
"I've taken all these little steps in reclaiming my life and, with a child, it will be exactly the same. I really believe you can work out a way to do anything. Having said that, friends have shown me how to use the car seat and that looks really hard even when you have 10 fingers. We'll just have to test them all out and see which one is the best."
Turia, who was born in Tahiti, with her mum as a toddler.
Turia has thought deeply about what motherhood will be like and how her parents raised her, most often comparing herself to her mother Celestine, 50, who lives five minutes down the road from the couple's house on the NSW South Coast and her father, Michael Pitt.
"Dad never tolerated us whingeing or complaining about anything, so hopefully I will be able to give that to my kids because I think that was really formative for me," she says.
"I'll also probably be most like my mum, who's loving and very overboard about it. She's always there for you, no matter what. If I was like Mum, that would be really cool."
Celestine has her own take on what this child will mean for her daughter.
"This is a miracle," she says.
"It's a miracle for Turia and a miracle for Michael. This child is the reason she survived. This child is the purpose that God had in mind." Celestine says she's already started singing to the baby in Turia's womb.
"Turia is a strong woman, I am a strong woman - we have our clashes from time to time," she says.
"But having this baby between us is bringing us even closer than we were. Turia is asking me, 'Were you like that, Mum?' or 'How did you feel?' Suddenly, I am not just Mum. I am a woman who was once pregnant, like her. History is repeating itself and I am feeling very lucky. I love the way we cuddle up to each other in bed. And I sing songs - I even sing to the baby."
Fast-forward two decades and the mother-daughter bond is still clear to see.
"When she was in hospital recovering, I used to sing to her, but then she'd look at me and say, 'Mum, enough with the singing.' But now she lets me sing to the baby. In my culture, when you turn 50, you become etua, which is mentor. I see this as a beautiful chance to teach good strong skills and help it become a good person and strong friend."
For Celestine, there's no denying what brought this child into the world.
"This child is a result of love - the best kind of love - between Turia and Michael, who have shown that there are so many facets to love other than just the physical. I have been hoping for so long that she would get pregnant and now it has happened. Turia is already softer, happier and there is a pride in being a mum, of carrying this little baby. It has released so much love into the universe, so much love. There is love everywhere. Others might think that's exaggerating, but it is the truth."
Turia is a little more pragmatic.
"I love Mum and that's the way she sees the universe. But I don't see it that way. There are lots of reasons why I survived - scientific, emotional, a lot of luck. That's not to say that I'm not excited, because I am. But perhaps Mum is just a little overexcited."
Turia hasn't suffered any morning sickness, she says, but has started feeling tired.
"I have to lie down and have a nana nap in the afternoon now," she says. "Anyone who knows me knows that is so not like me. I run at a hundred miles an hour and never stop. So, the baby is having an effect and I'm very conscious of that. I'm conscious that there is another life inside me now. And that's the most important thing there is."
Words Michael Sheather

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