The Bertola family consists of mum Katy, dad Gabriele, four-year-old Giorgia and 10-month-old Florence. Katy is a paediatric occupational therapist, and Gabriele is an electrician who relocated from Italy 11 years ago; they reside in sunny Hawkes Bay. The family stayed at Ronald McDonald House in Wellington when Florence arrived early, at just 26 weeks 2 days’ gestation. Being born 10 days prior to Christmas meant the family spent the festive season at Ronald McDonald House. Katy shares their story below.
My pregnancy with Florence was very much wanted and long-awaited, however it wasn’t straight forward with complications from the beginning. At our 20-week anatomy scan the baby was difficult to scan due to the position she was in, so it was suggested we come back in 3 weeks’ time. We returned when I was 23 weeks pregnant, and the results of the scan were concerning. After the scan my midwife told me to come straight to the hospital and that I would no longer be working! We saw a wonderful obstetrician and her further investigations uncovered that the baby had severe intrauterine growth restriction due to poor blood flow through the umbilical cord.
On the 7th of December at 25 weeks’ pregnant I was transferred to Wellington Hospital to be an inpatient until the baby was born. My husband came with me while my parents looked after Giorgia. I had close monitoring with regular blood tests (my arm was like a pin cushion!), ultrasounds and CTG scans. On the 15th of December at 26 weeks and 2 days pregnant I woke up had a feeling that something was wrong, so I rang my husband to come across to the hospital. I had some monitoring on the CTG and the consultant came to check on me; everything looked okay. After the consultant left the baby's heart rate dropped on the CTG, the midwife rang the emergency bell and all of a sudden the room was full with people. It was terrifying. The decision was made that the baby needed to come straight away, so I had a general anaesthetic and baby Florence Elisabetta Lupa Bertola arrived, at 9:57am weighing 570 grams via c section. From the beginning Florence showed us that she was a fighter and was fierce, hence her middle name Lupa - it means wolf in Italian. We spent 119 days in NICU before being transferred back to SCBU in Hawkes Bay.
The thing we loved most about the House was the support from the staff that worked there. There was always a friendly face at reception, and they always had time to talk and offer support and help in any way they could. Whether it was chilly bins to pack frozen breast milk to send home, cafe recommendations or a hug and a listening ear on days that were just really hard and tough emotionally. The convenience of Ronald McDonald House being across the road from the hospital meant that I could spend most of my time at the hospital and pop back for meals and to sleep. Due to COVID and the Omicron outbreak protocols were constantly changing but it was so well managed by the staff. There were the little things too: a box of chocolates occasionally outside our door, a care package on my birthday. I was often on my own as my husband had to go back to work and look after Giorgia, but I always felt really safe within the building. I found the House really cozy with a “home away from home” feel to it. When my daughter and husband could come and stay, the House was brilliant in providing buggies, car seats and passes to the zoo - the playground was a hit with Giorgia too!
We certainly didn’t expect to be away from home for Christmas and therefore we were not well prepared! My parents came down with Giorgia and stayed at a hotel next door. The House was so festive and beautifully decorated - Giorgia was in awe of the huge Christmas tree in reception and the gifts both Giorgia and Florence received on Christmas day were beyond generous. The Christmas meal was delicious and despite the circumstances it really was a happy and memorable day.
Florence is amazing. She is so happy and meeting her milestones in her own time. She loves her big sister and we feel so happy and blessed to have her home with us, our family is complete. Once she was transferred from NICU to SCBU in Hawkes Bay Florence spent just under three weeks there before being discharged home. Initially we had lots of medical and follow up appointments, but these have become less and less as time as gone on.
We are truly grateful for Ronald McDonald House and the support they provided us with Florence's early arrival. We are so lucky this service is available to families in need throughout NZ. The staff are amazing people who really helped us in what was the most difficult and challenging time of our lives.
To support families like the Bertolas who will be staying at one of our programmes this Christmas, please donate at rmhc.org.nz/christmas/