Interview by Tracey Spicer, One2OneConversations.
Sophie Smith is a person whose story any person can relate to. Sophie faced the greatest of hurdles, loss and tragedy, yet her defiance, her courage; her practicality in each and every circumstance provides us all hope.
TRACEY SPICER: Sophie, thanks for joining us
SOPHIE: It's a pleasure
TRACEY: Now you have had an incredible life journey first of all, tell us when you fell pregnant with triplets.
most of all, be happy mummy, go on and live for me, it’s so important that you do, because it’s through your eyes I’ll see
SOPHIE: Well, in March 2006 my husband, Ash and I were absolutely delighted to find out we were pregnant and expecting a baby. We went along for an early ultrasound at about 6 weeks, because they had recorded that there had been a very high level of a pregnancy hormone in me, so they said come for an early ultrasound. We need to check that everything's ok. We went along for the ultrasound and were totally shocked, but delighted to see not one, not two but three little heart beats on the screen. And to be told that we were expecting triplets.
TRACEY: Good lord, what a shock!
SOPHIE: It was a shock, it was a shock but it was like I'd won the jackpot in pregnancy. I'd always wanted a big family and it was such an amazing blessing, and all I could think was that I was three times as lucky as anybody else to be having three babies. In the early ultrasound, they actually found that one of the little foetuses heart beat was a little bit slow and it was a little bit small, and they said to us "look there are three little foetuses with heart beats right now, but come back in two weeks time for another ultrasound and the chances are, there will more than likely only be two. This is something that happens in early pregnancy but because we usually don't often have a scan this early, we just don't know"
So we went off thinking "gosh are we having two or three babies?" We went back two or three weeks later, and there were all three of them all exactly the same size, the same heart beat, there were no problems at all. So from then on we were able to get excited about our instant family.
TRACEY: And how did the pregnancy progress after that point?
SOPHIE: The pregnancy progressed really well, I didn't have much morning sickness at all, I was absolutely fine and able to continue everything as normal - going to work, going to the gym in the early days. Everything was fine, we had regular scans to check on the development of the babies and everything was fine, they were fraternal triplets, which meant they each had their own sack and made them much less complicated than identical triplets. So yeah, everything was going well and, even though I knew carrying triplets was a high risk pregnancy, I never believed that I wouldn't be bringing home three babies and having three children.
TRACEY: And so what happened towards the end of the pregnancy then?
SOPHIE: Well we only made it as far as 21 weeks.
TRACEY: Oh dear
SOPHIE: And at 21 weeks I was in the supermarket when my waters broke. At the time I didn't really know that that's what had happened. I knew that something had happened, so I came up to the hospital and they confirmed that this was amniotic fluid. Ash was with me at the time and the doctor came in and said to us that my waters had broken and the chances are that we would be delivering our three babies within 24 hours.
TRACEY: Oh, how did you feel at that point?
SOPHIE: My whole world just came crashing down around me, I couldn't conceive of losing my babies. It was just so sudden; I couldn't imagine how this could have happened. I begged the doctor to do anything they could do to stop the labour progressing, but they said it was so early, that there was nothing they could do and my babies were too young to probably be born alive. They might live for a few minutes. There was nothing they could do and we just had to wait and let nature take its course.
So I was kept in hospital that night and I started to go into labour. However, the labour kind of stopped. The contractions stopped. It was five days before I delivered my first baby, Henry. In those five days, we started to get a glimmer of hope that everything might be ok. I remember asking one of the doctors after about three days "Is there any chance, any chance at all that all my three babies will be ok?" He said "there's maybe a 1% chance that might happen". At that time, when he said there was a 1% chance, I was so delighted, because to me 1% meant that they could all be ok. 1% is a greater chance than me falling pregnant with triplets, so I was clinging to this hope that everything would be ok. But it wasn't and after five days I gave birth to my first little boy, Henry.
Henry weighed 430gm. He was absolutely beautiful. He looked the spitting image of his dad. When he was born, he gave a little cry and lived for a whole hour, and in that time, now looking back, it was so great to have Henry for that hour that we had him. When that's all the time you're given, that's so valuable. So we held Henry, I held him on my chest. His tiny hands held onto our fingers. He squeezed our fingers, he wriggled a little bit and I felt his little heart beating against me. It does give me great comfort to know that I held my son Henry for his entire life. He died exactly one hour after he was born.
At that time, we were waiting for his brothers. At that stage I didn't know we were having three boys. The doctors said that probably I would continue to give birth to my other children. However, I didn't give birth to Evan and Jasper at that time. By this stage I was 21 weeks pregnant and intervention is not given to babies born before 24 weeks gestation. So we were a long way off the time when my babies would be able to be helped. At that point, I don't think anyone had any hope for the other two boys.
The doctors were very concerned that I would get an infection, which would be life threatening to me as well as my babies. So I was monitored very closely, and if my temperature was high, or if I had high blood pressure, or anything wasn't right, they were going to have to induce me to make sure I did actually give birth. Amazingly, I never developed an infection. Everything settled down, my cervix closed and I was still holding Evan and Jasper. I still had a long way to go and I knew I had to get to 24 weeks gestation. I don't think many people thought we'd make it that far.
But then the days past, each day that past our hope grew and we made it to 23 weeks and then it was so terrifying because I didn't want to get to just nearly 24 weeks. We made it to the 24 week mark, everything was fine. There was no sign of my babies coming. I was settled into my room in the hospital and looked after very well by all the midwives and doctors. There were thoughts of being there another 10 more weeks, but then at 24 - weeks, Jasper's little foot slipped through my cervix. I went in for an emergency caesarean and the little boys had to be born. So Evan and Jasper were born at 24 weeks gestation. At their birth, Ash and I were both full of hope for the future with Evan and Jasper.
TRACEY: And what was their condition when they were born?
SOPHIE: Their condition was good. Evan weighed 630gm and Jasper weighed 760gm. They were immediately intubated as their lungs were too underdeveloped and they couldn't breathe by themselves. They were put straight into the highest level of intensive care. They coped really well with the birth; they coped with all the handling that they had to go through with the birth.
We were told that the first four days would be critical. And with babies extremely premature, as in the case of mine, often complications would arise in the first four days. So that was the first milestone we had to get to. After four days, everything was perfect. Both Evan and Jasper were taking my milk through a tube into their stomach. I was expressing milk and things were going well. So we had great hope for them.
After nine days, I was discharged from hospital. I had been in hospital for four weeks or so. I got home, went to bed and received a phone call in the middle of the night asking me to come in quickly as Evan was very ill. We came in, and poor little Evan had developed pneumonia as well as another infection. It was too much for him. We sat with him through the night and he began to get very pale. In the morning they did a brain scan which confirmed that he had had a very high brain haemorrhage.
We were told that we had no choice but to remove him from his life support and let him go. It was at that point that I got to hold him for the first time. Ash and I both held Evan, and cuddled him and kissed him and told him how much we loved him, and he died in our arms while we were holding him. That was a very difficult and tragic moment having to say goodbye to Evan.
After Evan died, Jasper continued to do very well.
TRACEY: Did you still have high hopes for Jasper at this point?
SOPHIE: Oh yes, even the day Evan died, we asked the priest to come in and baptise Evan. The priest asked me if I wanted him to baptise both Evan and Jasper. I said "no no, we can have a proper baptism for Jasper when he comes home". Ash said "lets baptise them together so that we can tell Jasper that's something he did with his brother" So we had both Evan and Jasper baptised.
Before Evan died, we hadn't really been able to touch our boys because they were so premature, they needed to have the time within their humidicrib not being disturbed or handled. But after Evan died, Jasper started to get a little bit stronger. Over the 58 days that Jasper lived we do have some really special and happy times and memories of things that we did together. Amidst the nightmare and the worry and the stress and the middle-of-the-night phone calls (Jasper included), I like to remember the happy times that we had. One of them was on his 12th day, two days after Evan died. Jasper opened his eyes for the first time. When they are born so premature their eyes are still sealed.
On that day, we were turning him over from his tummy onto his back, as we turned him over, we suddenly saw, his right eye, and this one big bright blue eye staring back at us. We had no idea his eye was going to be open as we turned him over and he was looking back at us. We were so excited, cheering and clapping. And the rest of that day Ash and I sat looking at Jasper, talking to him and talking about this beautiful soul that we could see through this little eye and we kind of connected with him on a whole new level after we could look at each other.
After a few days, Jasper could recognise my voice so when I walked into the ward and over to his crib and started talking, his eyes would be shut and you could see that he'd heard my voice and his eyes would open and he would turn around look up and look towards where I was. So that was really lovely to have that connection and to know that he knew his mum and would look for me when I came in.
We got to change his nappy in the morning and in the evening. So Ash would change one nappy and I would change one nappy a day. It was always a special time. I would spend hours sitting by his bed and just putting my hand through the window of the crib and stroking his head and holding his hand and talking to him and singing to him and just willing and praying that he would continue to do so well.
TRACEY: And he seemed to be going so well.
SOPHIE: He did for a couple of weeks. He did seem to be going very well. And during that time we organised to bury Evan and Henry together. Over the time of planning Evan and Henry's funeral, Jasper was doing so well. We even were allowed to take him out of his crib to hold him. In his whole life I held him four times. Ash held him three times.
One of those times that I held him, which was particularly special, was the day after Evan and Henry's funeral. He got to have his only breast feed. It wasn't a real breast feed in that he had a tube into his stomach so he couldn't actually really swallow but I got to hold him on my boob and he latched on and took three strong sucks.
TRACEY: Did he?
SOPHIE: Yeah, it was amazing, three strong sucks. I just couldn't believe that he knew what to do. He was such a premature baby. And he was staring up into my eyes and it was just a really beautiful moment. I have a lovely photograph of me while I was breastfeeding him.
After that Jasper's developed chronic lung disease, which is so typical of such premature babies. His lungs just seemed to be getting worse. He was growing himself; he actually nearly doubled his birth weight and grew into a tiny little strap of a thing. He was 760gm at birth and 1.4kg by the end. He grew, but it was his lungs that worried everybody I think for quite a long time. I would cling to every little thing.
I remember the doctor saying once that "his lungs are so bad that possibly when he goes home he'll most probably be on oxygen" All I could hear there was "when he goes home!" And I was thinking "when he goes home"; that's fine we'll cope with oxygen. They talked about developmental delay, etc. I was just like "whatever". We will deal with whatever happens. Jasper was coming home and I was just clinging to this.
From about 50 days, Jasper's lungs started collapsing. Each time his lungs would collapse, we'd rush into the hospital and think that we're going to lose him but then he'd fight back. He was such a fighter and so strong. The nurses and the doctors couldn't believe it. Each time we'd have a terrible moment, and then everything would be ok again, and you think everything's going to be fine. Then when he was 58 days old, his lungs collapsed again and this time there was nothing the doctors could do to help him. And again for the third time, thankfully we were there, the doctors took Jasper out of his crib and I held him, and again later with Ash while he died.
TRACEY: So, how were you two by this stage? You must have been a wreck.
SOPHIE: I had hope, right up until the time that Jasper actually died. Even when they took him out of the crib and said "you can hold him now, there's nothing more we can do, he's slipping away" Even at that point I believed that again suddenly he's going to amaze everybody and everyone will go "Wow Jasper". And when he grows up I'll be able to tell him about the time that I really thought we'd lost him.
TRACEY: Where did you find the strength to go on?
SOPHIE: I definitely found the strength from babies, from Henry, Evan and Jasper. After Jasper died, and after Jasper's funeral I had these memories of these three amazing little boys who I made with my husband and who I had given birth to and who I had met. I knew each of my babies, and I knew they had struggled so hard to live and so hard to be with us. Even tiny little Henry, who we were told would only live a few minutes, all by himself, without any intervention, breathed for a whole hour. To give us that, and give us that memory.
Evan and Jasper had put in such an incredible fight. And I think it was that fight, spirit and love that I had felt for them. As a first time mother, that incredible love that a mother has for her baby and her child, as you would know having children yourself, you would know that feeling of how much you love that baby and how that love will be with you forever until there's a day that you die. For me, while my babies have died, my love for them was still as 'real' as your love for your children, or any mothers' love for their children.
At that time, I was on the internet and I came across a poem. It was just a random poem and it was called 'Mummy'. The final verse of the poem jumped out at me and I couldn't get it out of my head. The last verse says "most of all, be happy mummy, go on and live for me, it's so important that you do, because it's through your eyes I'll see". I would find myself saying it in my head and various times during the day this little rhyme would come into my mind. First thing in the morning when I woke up and I would feel so sad and so empty, this little poem would come into my mind and I would think "yes". It gave me the strength to carry on for my boys, to honour their lives. I'm their mother, I have no choice.
TRACEY: And as part of that moving on, you got the courage to try and start a family again.
SOPHIE: Yes, I am 24 - weeks pregnant. I am the same gestation as when Evan and Jasper were born so it brings up a lot of feelings for Evan, Henry and Jasper and how much I miss them. But we are so happy to be having our fourth baby. It doesn't take away, or lessen the loss of our first three but we feel blessed and excited to have another baby.
TRACEY: And in memory of your three boys who you lost, tell us about the half marathon that you ran.
SOPHIE: Not long after Jasper's funeral, when I was contemplating the terrible few months ahead and wondering what on earth I was going to do to fill my time, and having so many months beforehand to get ready for this life that wouldn't give me any time at all. I would be up to my neck in dirty nappies and crying babies, suddenly I was in an empty quiet house. I didn't know what to do. Ash said "why don't you get fit?" I used to love running; I hadn't run for a long time. That gave me an idea to start running and I'll run a half marathon. I knew there was a half marathon coming up in May, so I thought I'll train for the half marathon and run it in Henry, Jasper and Evan's memory and try and raise some money for the intensive care unit at the hospital as a memorial to Henry, Jasper and Evan.
The idea quickly snowballed, and I wanted to see if any of my friends wanted to do it with me. So I put a few flyers out in some local cafes around Coogee and Randwick to see if there was anybody that would like to run with me and help me raise money. The response I received was absolutely overwhelming. I still can't believe the response that I got. Basically, my goal was to raise $20,000. That's what the cost of a humidicrib is and I thought it would be lovely to buy a new humidicrib in the hospital in memory of my little boys.
The phone started ringing, emails started flooding in and before I knew it I had a team of 98 runners. It was phenomenal! Everybody who contacted me had either their own story or a personal reason for running. One girl, who was the first person to join my team, Hayley, had identical twin daughters that had died shortly after their birth ten years earlier. I had people who told me they had children who spent their first weeks and months here in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit due to their sickness or prematurity. They felt so grateful to have their children, and they wanted to give something back to the hospital so they wanted to run with me.
I had people tell me that they themselves were premature babies. Many people told me that it was my baby boys and their great struggle to live that actually inspired them to train and run the half marathon with me. It was a fantastic event, and our team raised $80,000 for the hospital.
TRACEY: How did that make you feel?
SOPHIE: I was so touched that so many people, most of them complete strangers, had been moved by Henry, Jasper and Evan. And their lives, being so brief yet so extraordinary, had inspired people to go out after a hard days work to train to run 21 km. I had people on the team that had probably never run more than 3-4km in their lives. Everybody completed the half marathon.
It was at that stage I was talking with Penelope and saying that I'd like to do this every year. Penelope then helped me to set up the trust fund here at the hospital in Henry, Jasper and Evan's name. That's a permanent trust fund that will continue to raise money especially for the purposes of life saving equipment for the highest level of newborn intensive care.
TRACEY: It must make you so proud to have that legacy in their names
SOPHIE: It makes me so proud to be their mum. I am in the middle of organising the team for this year's run. So far we have 110 runners, 23 of which ran with us last year and the rest are all new runners. Obviously I am not able to run myself this year, but I will definitely run every year until I am too old to run half marathons, or I'm pregnant.
I don't know what I would have done without the half marathon and organising the team. It gives me an excuse to talk about Henry, Jasper and Evan to anybody that wants to know about them. To tell them about how brave and strong and sweet and beautiful they were. Having the trust fund helps to keep their memory alive. Their lives may have been very very brief, but they'll never be forgotten.
Interview courtesy of One2OneConversations. In the event you enjoyed this conversation, visit their web site at www.one2oneconversations.com
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Donate to the Half Marathon Appeal for the Henry, Jasper and Evan Smith Trust Fund. This Trust Fund raises funds for life-saving equipment for premature and critically ill babies in intensive care. Donate here
UPDATE: We spoke to Sophie in 2012 about her growing half marathon events and the births of two more sons.