Sophia Chadwick remembers the chaos of her emergency C-section at Victoria General, but is grateful for the great care she and her baby received

When Sophia Chadwick re-visits the intensive care unit at Victoria General Hospital she is overcome by the “mixed bag” of memories of the chaotic medical interventions and warm human connections that kept her and her son going.

Chadwick’s son Rally was born via emergency Cesarean section in June 2020 at 30 weeks — more than two months before the typical gestation period of 40 weeks.

Weighing just three-pounds, five ounces, or 1.5 kilograms, Rally was placed in the neonatal intensive care unit or NICU, and hooked up to all manner of monitors checking his heart rate and breathing, and tubes to feed him.

Chadwick felt a range of emotions Thursday as she gathered with other NICU parents and staff for an annual picnic for families and graduates of the unit, at the Jeneece Place patio at Victoria General Hospital. The event started in 1984 and was cancelled for two years during the pandemic

“You get this rush of feelings,” said Chadwick. “You block out all of the alarms and the poking and prodding and procedures; you just sort of completely forget about that until you go back there and you see the nurses who did the procedures or helped you through those difficult times.”

Returning to Victoria General, Chadwick said her “heart starts racing a little bit more” but outside of that setting, she remembers more of “the positive times and the relationships that I made whether it was with other families going through a similar thing or the nurses that were there to normalize the experience for me.”

The NICU provides specialized medical and nursing care to approximately 500 babies each year, says Island Health. The VGH pediatric unit delivers just over 3,000 babies per year. Donors to the Victoria Hospitals Foundation fund 80 per cent of the neonatal unit’s equipment.

Chadwick said her emergency C-section was physically difficult and emotionally traumatizing. She was in hospital for a week recovering. Meanwhile, she was on a strict breast-pumping schedule — every two hours day and night — to feed her son her milk. Her major surgery meant she could barely move and her infant couldn’t be beside her bed for feedings because he had to be in the special unit.

Son Rally was also born amid the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic meaning over the seven weeks until Rally was discharged, the family couldn’t be together in Chadwick’s room. Only one parent could be at the infant’s side at a time. No other visitors were allowed.

Despite the pain from the surgery and her slow recovery, she felt compelled on occasion to follow her instinct and look in on her child overnight to ensure he was breathing and safe.

“I was physically so in pain and I remember standing next to his little incubator … and blood just running down my legs because I was not healing, because I was just wanting to get up and see him all the time.”

When Chadwick was home she didn’t feel much better given she again couldn’t feed or check in on her newborn baby. She’d awake at 3 a.m. worrying if he was OK.

“I remember one night just panicking completely thinking something had gone wrong,” she said. “I called at about 2:30 in the morning and they immediately put me through to the nurse who was looking after him and they were like, ‘no, he’s here and everything’s fine,’ ” she said.

Chadwick remembers a nurse holding her as she sobbed, nurses who gave her permission to rest and not to feel guilt. The annual picnics allow her to again recognize and thank the essential and compassionate staff.

“I look forward to it every year just going and connecting whether it’s families going through it now or newly out of it or seeing the nurses who were there holding my hand — some of them who even cradled me.”

Chadwick and husband Brian McArdle now have three children six-year-old Maeve, three-year-old Rally, and son Oisin, 16 months. Oisin was also born via an emergency C-section at 36 weeks, but only had to spend three days in the NICU. By that point, the NICU setting was familiar for Chadwick.

Of her three children, there’s no ignoring the fact that Rally, a red-headed middle child, was born a fighter.

That’s both a blessing, said Chadwick, and a challenge.

The peace and quiet that Chadwick had been longing for after leaving the hospital was short-lived.

“Every day is a blessing. We are so lucky to have him,” she said.

“From his start of life, he just has always been a bit feisty, a fighter, and so yes, I do try to remind myself how lucky we are to have him as healthy as he is but his personality does make it challenging at times,” she joked.

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