Jodie Hollis-Tobin delivered five premature babies and suffered several miscarriages before discovering the unexpected truth about her rare medical condition.
The 23-year-old Brisbane mother learned she had an incompetent cervix after giving birth to her third premature child, Hudson. However it wasn't until January this year, when her son Vladimir was born at just 16-weeks gestation and passed away seven minutes after his birth, that doctors told her she had Uterus didelphys - or two uteruses.
"With my losses [before Vladimir] I was told that these things happen and wasn't really given answers apart from an eptopic pregnancy where I had to have surgery and almost lost a fallopian tube, Jodie tells Essential Baby.
"After losing Vladimir, I had a lot of tests, including an MRI and ultrasounds, which revealed two uteruses with a septum down the middle," she says.
"I didn't believe it at first - I was gutted in a way - but at the same time I'm so glad that our maternal fetal medicine specialist Dr Renuka Sekar [from Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital] decided that further tests were needed because we would never have known."
Although Jodie was completely shocked by the diagnosis, she was relieved to finally have answers about why her pregnancies were finishing dangerously early.
She adds, "I would've have kept blaming myself as I still do struggle to this day, with the kids coming early."
Uterus didelphys occurs in one in 3,000 women who often experience no symptoms. Many women with the condition have normal sex lives, pregnancies and deliveries, but a percentage experience miscarriage, premature birth, as well as fertility and kidney problems.
While grieving the loss of Vladimir, Jodie and her partner Christopher Swan quickly fell pregnant again.
Dr Sekar told Chris and Jodie that she would do her best to ensure this pregnancy got as close to full-term (37 weeks) as possible.
Velora Renuka, who was named after the doctor, was born at 27 weeks and two days gestation on September 24, after Jodie had been on bed rest with early contractions for a week.
After a crazy 24, almost 48 hours Chris and I are pleased to announce the safe yet early arrival of our rainbow baby 🌈 Velora Renuka Odyssey Hollis-Tobin. With a full head of dark hair too! Thank you for the love and support already, just please be patient as we go through this NICU journey but I will respond to messages as soon as I can ♡ . . . #Rainbowbaby #27weeker #NICU #Prematurebaby #royalbrisbaneandwomenshospital #Lifeafterloss #Photooftheday #Motherhood #Instalife #Mummyblogger #Contentcreator #NICUlife #Momlife
The family hopes to leave the Grantley Stable Neonatal Unit at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital by Christmas and celebrate at home with Jodie's other children from a previous relationship - Ariella Jayne, four, who was born at 33 weeks, Tobias, three, who was born at 25 weeks, and Hudson, two, who was born at just 23 weeks.
However, Jodie says that Velora has many milestones to reach before she can return home.
"She has to learn to breathe independently, gain weight, maintain her own temperature, and learn how to suck feed as she's currently fed through a feeding tube," she explains.
"She's been having a few hiccups with breathing but her due date was December 25, so we have everything crossed she'll be home for her first Christmas."
The Brisbane mum tells Essential Baby that she was inspired to volunteer for the Preterm Infants Parents Association (PIPA) after the amazing support she's received throughout her NICU journey.
"I've been volunteering for PIPA for a couple of years now and I've met some incredible families along the way," she says. "I absolutely love doing what I do and helping to support families."
"Women like Eileen Cooke who helped me out when I had the boys in the NICU has been amazing. The amount of compassion she shows for families counts for a lot as she understands what it's like having a premature baby - her son William was born at 29 weeks."
Jodie says that funding is scarce for the organisation and is urging people to donate.
"My biggest goal is to try and get as much funding for the organisation as we can, as we rely purely on the funding and support of volunteers," she says.
"I wish I could take the strain from every family having to experience the financial and emotional stress of the NICU."
Chris and Jodie with Velora. Photo: supplied