DOROTHY Neist’s happy place is in the arms of her doting parents, but for the first 11 weeks of her life a soothing cuddle wasn’t always possible.
The “miracle” baby to Amelia Acland and Jeff Neist was born at 28 weeks and six days, or 78 days premature, caused by her mum’s preeclampsia diagnosis.
For 11 weeks Dorothy was being monitored in an intensive care cot at the Neonatal Critical Care Unit at Mater Mothers’ Hospital, in Brisbane, where she was born.
Her medical condition meant she couldn’t always be picked up if she was distressed or upset, so the tiny newborn learnt to be comforted by the smell of her parents on a Cuddle Heart.
Made up of two heart-shaped soft fabrics sewn together, Cuddle Hearts help establish the bond between premature babies and their parents through sharing each other’s scent.
Ms Acland has been wearing one near her chest since Dorothy was born, while another is placed next to Dorothy to pick up her scent.
The hearts have been a comfort for both mum and daughter, particularly during unsettling moments and when Ms Acland needs to express breastmilk.
Ms Acland said she used one heart during a recent nappy change and saw her daughter go from crying to sighing in a matter of seconds.
She has also seen her daughter on NCCU’s monitoring cameras “grab hold of it and tuck it in, literally cuddling it”.
“So it definitely works and helps calm them down and makes them feel safe and secure in a very different environment for a little baby,” Ms Acland said.
The Cuddle Hearts became Dorothy’s only connection to her parents when her mum was discharged from the hospital and unable to stay the night, a thought that still makes her mum teary.
“For her, when we leave each day, she gets left with something that has our scent on it and is calming,” Ms Acland said.
Life with a premature baby has been a “rollercoaster of emotions” for the first-time mum, who was diagnosed with preeclampsia just before her third trimester.
Dorothy was expected to enter the world three weeks ago on September 13, but blood tests taken in June showed Ms Acland’s blood pressure levels were “catastrophic”, her kidneys were not functioning and, to make matters worse, she was asymptomatic.
“The three weeks I was in (hospital) before she was born, I was having scans nearly every day to monitor the cord flow and her movement and fluid as well as all my symptoms were being managed as well,” she said.
“It got to a point where my body was shutting down so she had to be delivered.”
Dorothy was born 78 days early on June 27 at Mater hospital.
Her birth was an emotional moment for her parents, who were told by doctors that their chances of having children “were very slim”.
Ms Acland has had a long history with endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome, and Dorothy’s father had undergone severe treatment for cancer eight years ago, raising questions about his fertility.
But the couple was given an unexpected surprise during fertility treatment.
“When we started fertility treatment, we found that he actually had live sperm so we didn’t need to go through IVF, it was just assisted with a gynaecologist and hormone injections,” Ms Acland said.
“So we’d had a miscarriage in 2019, and then fell pregnant with Dorothy at the end of last year and we were expecting her (on September 13), and she arrived at the end of June.”
The tiny newborn did all her major growing outside the womb for what would have been her mum’s third trimester.
“We’ve had an extra 11 weeks with her and getting to know her, time we wouldn’t have had at all,” Ms Acland said.
“All babies are special but we feel she’s a bit extra special.”
Dorothy was expected to go home with her parents last week.
She will need to be on a low flow of oxygen for up to six months due to having chronic premature lung disease, but has no other major complications.
“We’ve been very, very blessed,” Ms Acland said.