When Boitumelo Nxumalo’s daughter was born at just 25 weeks, doctors said that she risked becoming blind, deaf and suffering brain damage. But she beat the odds and has grown into a bouncing, healthy two-year-old

I called my daughter Omphile, which means ‘God has given me’ in Setswana – a fitting name, because it really felt as if He’d given me a gift by granting me a second chance to become a mother. In 2014 I lost a baby girl. I gave birth to her at 24 weeks, but her lungs were so weak that she died just a few hours later. So when I found out I was pregnant a second time, I was surprised, as I’d thought it would be difficult to conceive again. I prayed that I wouldn’t go through the same pain and trauma I’d suffered the first time.

My obstetrician gynaecologist said that it was a high-risk pregnancy and I needed to take it easy

When I went for my first appointment at six weeks, I was bleeding. My obstetrician gynaecologist said that it was a high-risk pregnancy and I needed to take it easy. I was then booked off for three weeks.

Things went well for the next few months – until my routine check-up at 24 weeks. My doctor found that I had cervical funnelling (when the cervical canal starts opening too early, which could cause a miscarriage) and I was immediately admitted to hospital. I was dismayed and thought: ‘It’s happening again!’ I had a huge lump in my throat and just burst into tears.

I was given steroids in hospital to try to buy time until the delivery: the target was to reach at least 28 weeks, because the baby would weigh at least 1kg by then and have better-developed lungs. However, just one week later, I gave birth to Omphile, who weighed only 780g.

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Unlike most mothers who hold their babies immediately after giving birth, I didn’t get that first bonding session, as my child was hurriedly placed on a ventilator. I sat on my hospital bed crying as the neonatologist told me about all the conditions my baby could face because of her premature birth. I was told that if she survived, it would be a long and difficult journey and that she risked going blind and deaf, suffering brain damage and developing cerebral palsy.

I was devastated; I felt as if my world had crashed down around me

I thought about the quality of life she’d have and that she’d never get to be a normal child who goes to school, learns to read, makes friends and plays sport. She’d never have the opportunity to choose what she wanted to become one day. Instead, her life’s course had already been determined for her. It felt terribly unfair.

My family became my pillars of strength; we prayed day and night for my daughter. Their support was tremendous.

Omphile underwent heart surgery, a laser operation on her eyes and multiple blood transfusions. She’d have so many needles in her head for these transfusions that it was unbearable watching her go through it. Each day I entered the neonatal intensive care unit to express milk for her and be at her side. I’d sing to her, hoping that she’d learn to recognise my voice. She remained in the unit for four gruelling months before she was deemed healthy enough to come home.

That was two years ago…

Omphile’s now a bouncing toddler. She gets flu from time to time, but is otherwise healthy, playful, full of life, energetic – and very intelligent. We take her to occupational therapy once a month to help her stay on track with her peers. This has been wonderful for her, as she’s not behind in any aspect of her development.

I’m beyond proud of my little girl. Her courage, strength and resilience are inspiring and the reason I keep going every day.

I’m amazed that I gave birth to such a strong baby and I hope other women with pregnancy health scares or premature babies read this story and draw courage and hope from it.

Although it’s been an emotionally draining journey that’s required all the strength I could muster, I know Omphile’s alive for a reason and will grow up to be an amazing woman. She’s my heroine!

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