'I blamed myself': Sam Squiers opens up about 'beautiful and unique' new baby Elle

Sam Squires and baby Elle. Supplied
Sam Squires and baby Elle. Supplied 

When Sam Squires went in for her 19-week scan to check the progress of her second baby girl, she was holding her breath. 

The sports presenter had already been through a very traumatic ordeal with her first daughter Imogen in 2017. From midway through her pregnancy, Sam discovered her baby was measuring small and there was a very serious risk to both Sam and her precious child. 

Sam suffered from pre-eclampsia, which resulted in a placental abruption and baby Immi being delivered premature by emergency c-section at just 32 weeks.

Photo: Sam Squires, husband Ben and their two little girls, Elle and Immi. Supplied
Photo: Sam Squires, husband Ben and their two little girls, Elle and Immi. Supplied 

Weighing in at just 1.3 kilograms, Immi spent those first fragile days in the NICU fighting for her life while Squiers was ushered off to the adult ICU after suffering kidney failure and loss of vision - and her firefighter husband Ben had to fly from Sydney to be by her side.

"We really wanted to add to our family, and desperately wanted a sibling for Immi, but it took a long time for me to even have a conversation about it," she tells Essential Baby. 

"We were really excited when I fell pregnant, but I was so scared and anxious it could happen again." 

After lengthy discussions with their doctors, the couple took every possible precaution to ensure the risk of pre-eclampsia occurring again was minimal. 

"I was so focused on her size and whether the placenta had formed properly, we were blindsided by what happened next," Squires explains, adding that the 19-week scan is the first time you can assess the baby's size and placenta formation. 

The 37-year-old journalist recalls all the measurements being done and ticked off, and going into the next room, feeling utter relief.

"I remember thinking.. 'wow, everything is okay. We are on track. What was i worried about?'", she tells Essential baby. "That's when the sonographer said he wanted to get a 'proper shot' of the baby's face." 

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"As I lay there, he looked at me and said "Oh, your baby has a cleft."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Sam admits that at that moment, the couple were "crushed".

"We were devastated," Sam admits. "We desperately wanted a smooth pregnancy this time, one where we didn't have to deal with specialists and surgeons and hospitals every week."  

"I felt like I had a failed - and it brought back all those feelings I had with Immi. As a female, it was my job to grow her and nourish and nurture her and I didn't do my job properly. I had this terrible guilt that I had failed again."

"I didn't understand, I did everything right, why did this happen?"

About one in every 700 babies in Australia are born with a cleft - an abnormal gap in the the palate that occurs when some parts of the mouth fail to join together during early pregnancy. In most cases, just like baby Elle's, the cause is unknown. 

​Sam and her husband were referred onto the team at the Royal Women's and Sydney Kids Hospital. They were told that clefts can be linked to 40 different syndromes so she would need to undergo further testing. 

"At that point, there were just so many unknowns and we had so many questions. No one would even tell us what these possible syndromes were. I didn't know anyone with a cleft and had never even seen a cleft baby on social media."

"I felt really lonely and that terrible guilt and feeling of failure seized me again, just like it did with Immi."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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As a passionate journalist, Sam set to work researching clefts and their causes "obsessively", desperate to regain some sort of control.

"I blamed myself, fought torturous guilt and searched for an answer."

"My husband would find me at 3am, going over my diary and calendar, trying to recount where I was and what I ate during week four to six when clefts form. I even started going through my face products and googling every single inredient."

Sam admits that the residual guilt she felt from Immi contributed to her intense desire to know "why".

"I think i would have been okay if if this was the first baby where things hadn't gone smoothly."

"But you know what? Life doesn't work that way. I was never entitled to a smooth run just because of my experience with Immi, your odds of this happening don't recalculate just because you had a rough time before."

She adds: "And once I accepted that i felt so much better."

Photos: Supplied

Photos: Supplied

For the remainder of her pregnancy, Sam and Ben met with a team of specialists, medical professors and surgeons. Fortunately, an amniocentesis showed that Elle had no underlying syndrome and her cleft was purely structural.

As the pregnancy progressed, Sam recalls how they only ever saw Elle's cleft once during a scan, as she always had a hand covering her face.

"It made me so upset. I just wanted to say to her 'you dont have to cover your face baby girl.. you don't have to be ashamed."

When Sam reached 37 weeks, the decision was made to bring baby Elle into the world, and fortunately Sam's birth experience could not have been more different from the traumatic ordeal she went through with Immi.

"Ben was there this time, everyone was smiling and relaxed, the nurses were talking to one other and there was even music playing."

"And then there was the beautiful world-shifting moment I saw my little girl. As soon as I saw her, I knew everything was going to be okay. I didn't see a cleft just my beautiful strong girl and this powerful endless love.

"I held her and I didn't want to let her go."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sam Squiers (@samsquiers) on

Elle is now six-weeks-old and is a "happy, healthy and chilled" newborn - and her big sister Immi is also thriving. 

While Sam is disappointed she's unable to breastfeed (it's difficult for cleft babies to latch), the 'On Her Game' podcast presenter is currently pumping breastmilk which she feeds Immi through a special cleft bottle.

Baby Elle will have her first surgery at four months (to have her lip repaired), followed by a second surgery at nine to 12 months (to do the palette) and then at nine to 12 years when her adult teeth come through she will need a bone graft in her gum.

While there may be other hurdles along the way, including hearing and speech issues plus orthodontics when she is older, Sam reiterates how incredible the medical team are and how strong and healthy Elle is.

"I wish I could go back in time and give that Sam - who was so fearful and guilty - a big hug. To just give her 30 seconds with Elle to see how amazing she is. This is not a sad story, this is a happy story and I am so lucky to have another beautiful baby girl."

Sam is passionate about sharing her journey to help other new mums who may be struggling to deal with a cleft diagnosis. 

"A mother's love beats everything," she pleads. "Do not be afraid. Please take strength in knowing it's not your fault. You are stronger than you think. I promise."

Another reason Sam is telling Elle's story is to help normalise and celebrate difference, an issue she feels strongly about. 

"How our children see themselves in the world is shaped by us, not a mirror." 

She adds: "I never want Elle to think I shied away from showing her to the world. Her cleft is part of her story."

"She is unique and beautiful. And I am so happy and proud to be her mum."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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