'It was a devastating drive': heavily pregnant woman's bushfire zone dash to deliver baby

Baby Leelah made a speedy arrival as bushfire threatened her family's home town.
Baby Leelah made a speedy arrival as bushfire threatened her family's home town.  Photo: Supplied

If there's one thing that's predictable about babies, it's how unpredictable they can be. They play by their own baby rules and live by their own baby clocks – especially when it comes to their arrival.

Having experienced this with the birth of her daughter, who arrived following a 90-minute labour, Bec Grasso, from the NSW South Coast, knew there was a chance she'd have little warning when recently preparing to deliver her second baby girl who was due to arrive over the New Year period.

Unfortunately, with the closure of the birthing unit at Bec's local hospital, she would need to travel almost 60km to Nowra for her delivery. This factor, combined with Bec's gestational diabetes meant that at her New Year's Eve checkup, an induction was deemed to be the safest option.

However, bushfires were simultaneously sweeping through the NSW South Coast region, where Bec lives in Milton with her partner, Luke, and their children, Zeb and Gracie. The coming weekend was predicted to be catastrophic, leaving them with a much bigger picture to consider in the impending delivery.

"We prepared the backyard the day before the bad forecast by moving all objects away from the house, cleaning all the leaves and wood up, and having a few buckets of water out on the deck," Bec explains. "Listening to the scanner was horrible. There was such devastation happening all around, people losing homes, and fires spreading."

Electricity and telecommunications were frequently down in the area and road closures had Bec cut off from hospital access. However, as the fires spread, it was clear that staying home wasn't an option either. "A grass fire got close to home, so my partner, Luke, drove to the top of the hill and rang to tell me to get the kids in the car and go. Dad and my brother-in-law, Nathan, soon drove over to help Luke prepare for the possibility of the fire or embers spreading closer towards the house before the fire brigade told them to leave. Firies were already spread far too thin helping with a lot of worse fires in the area, but a local water tanker was able to get the fire out."

Bec fled to her sister Jess's house with the children in the neighbouring town of Ulladulla.

However, the fires continued to spread and they all remained on standby. "My main concern was all of us being together in case phone reception and power went down again,"

Bec says. "We had a plan that if things ended up getting too close again to all meet at a beach in Mollymook."

Advertisement

Unlike many others, the family made it through the night safely, and still had to face decisions about the delivery as the fires continued to ravage the area. Residents and tourists continued to evacuate whenever possible, roads were choked, and Bec and Luke had to decide on an action plan.

"Even if the roads did open and I would be able to get to Nowra, I was worried I would get cut off from my other two children with the road closures and more bad weather predicted in the coming week," Bec says. "We had our cars packed with all our emergency belongings and all the baby stuff, as everyone else did, because no one was sure to be safe and we didn't know when and where the fire could spread next."

It was decided that they needed to get to the hospital while they could, with the kids staying with Bec's dad and his partner. "We ended up being able to travel to Nowra on the Tuesday as the roads were open for the time being, but could close at any time, as trees could fall or spark ups might happen. It was a devastating drive seeing burnt bush for miles. We could see straight through what was once thick bush, and all the burnt signs. We were so lucky compared to the poor areas that it burnt and damaged."

A plan was made at the hospital and things started moving along. "I had to stay in the hospital for the night to be induced early the next morning," Bec says. "Jess and Luke stayed in a hotel in Nowra just in case they weren't able to get back up the next day. This meant Jess also had to bring her baby boy, Nash, in case she got stuck up there as she's breastfeeding and couldn't be separated from him."

Thankfully, joy followed the chaos as baby Leelah decided she was ready for the world to meet her. "I ended up going into natural labour at 2.30 in the morning," Bec explains. "She was born at 3.56am, a perfect 7 pound 8."