On the wall of Kara and Andrew Brown’s living room are three wooden plaques - each one bearing the date, weight, and other details of a baby’s birth.
Three plaques for three children - Bentley, aged 5, Lincoln, 2, and McKinley, 11 weeks.
While the wall art gives some numbers, the emotions and overall “rollercoaster” of the three siblings’ arrivals can’t be summed up in a couple of numbers or words, says Kara.
The Inglewood couple’s two sons were both born after fertility treatment, a journey Kara and Andrew shared with Stratford Press readers a couple of years ago. At the time, Kara said she wanted people to understand that getting pregnant isn’t always as easy as people might think, and she wanted to normalise conversations about fertility.
Now, two years later Bentley and Lincoln have a little sister - McKinley - who was “a talked about surprise”, says Kara.
“She was conceived naturally. We weren’t expecting it to happen, but we certainly were more than happy to have a third child, we just hadn’t expected it to happen without more fertility treatment.”
While McKinley’s arrival might seem to be a happy ending to a long struggle with fertility for the couple, and it certainly was in many ways, Kara says being pregnant with her was also an introduction to a whole new world of worry and fear.
“I think, just as we don’t talk about fertility problems, we also maybe don’t talk enough about high-risk pregnancies. And McKinley was a very high-risk pregnancy.”
So high risk in fact, that Kara couldn’t have her in Taranaki.
“We had to go to Wellington because the hospital here wasn’t equipped to deal with the diagnosis I had.”
That diagnosis was placenta accreta, a rare complication of pregnancy which occurs when the placenta grows into the uterine wall during pregnancy. It can cause excessive blood loss before, during or after delivery and results in pre-term delivery in the majority of cases.
It was a condition Kara had never heard of before.
“I knew about placenta previa, where the placenta positions itself in such a way it prevents a ‘natural’ birth meaning you have to have a c-section, because we had that with Bentley. What I didn’t know was that having had previous c-sections is one of the causes of the much rarer placenta accreta. If I had known, I might have been a little bit more prepared mentally for what this was going to be like.”
What it was going to be like was very, very hard, says Kara.
“A high-risk pregnancy is really scary. You are so worried about doing something wrong, so trying to rest, and to be gentle on myself, but at the same time, having two boys to look after.”
Having to move to Wellington before the baby was due was another hard part of it all, she says.
“It meant being away from everything I knew. It was very hard being away from Andrew and the boys. I felt I had lost my mum arm in a way, a piece of me was missing. I knew I was in the safest place possible, but it was still very hard. Knowing they were four hours away so if something happened, they couldn’t be here in time.”
Andrew’s mother flew up from the South Island to help with the boys, which was a real help, says Kara.
“It meant he could still work and then they would all come down at the weekend, that made a real difference. The Ronald McDonald House by the Wellington hospital was great, it is such a wicked thing to have to help keep families together during stressful times like this was.”
The stressful time wasn’t over when it was time for McKinley to arrive. A high risk pregancy is also a high risk birth, and while Kara was no stranger to c-sections, having had them with both their sons, this one was very different.
“We knew there was a chance it could go quite dramatically wrong, and I might need to be put fully under, which worried me - it was really important to me to be awake during the birth, and I am really grateful I was able to be in the end. There was a chance I would need an urgent hysterectomy, which again luckily I didn’t, but all these things had to be thought about and were adding to the emotional stress.”
Kara lost a large amount of blood during the birth - about six litres, she says.
“They literally had to go and get more blood to replace what I was losing. But everyone in the room was so calm, which really helped my own feelings of stress and worry, even as I could actually see the blood pooling.”
McKinley’s birth was dramatic, but you wouldn’t know it when you see her sleeping peacefully in her bassinet surrounded by the bustle of a three-child household.
The plaque on the wall, just like her brothers’, records her birth weight (8lbs2) and date (September 19).
Not recorded on the plaques are the places of birth, which would have shown a clear difference between the two boys and their sister. It’s a difference Kara still finds jarring almost three months after McKinley’s arrival.
“I never expected one of my children not to be born in Taranaki. I liked the idea of them all starting life here. But her birth place is Wellington. I know it seems minor, but in a way it represents everything that can be taken away by conditions like placenta accreta. I think it would have helped me to know more about conditions like this and the risks before I was pregnant, but people tend not to tell you the negatives or the scary bits. I think we need to change that.”
In fact, while McKinley was a “talked about surprise”, high-risk pregnancy should be a talked about reality, not a surprise, says Kara.
“I really want more people to talk about things like this, because for expectant parents facing it, it can feel very lonely.”