HAPPY END­ING

RUGBY PLAYER DEAN MUMM AND WIFE SARAH LOST TWO OF THEIR BA­BIES TO PRE­MA­TURE BIRTH. NOW HAP­PILY RAIS­ING SON AL­FIE, THEY RE­TRACE THEIR HEART­BREAK­ING ROAD TO PAR­ENT­HOOD

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy SAM RUT­TYN Words ALICE WASLEY

Their jour­ney to par­ent­hood was marred by tragedy, but now Dean Mumm and his wife Sarah have the fam­ily they’ve al­ways yearned for.

It’s a driz­zly win­ter af­ter­noon, but Sarah Mumm is ra­di­at­ing light as she teases her rugby player hus­band about his awk­ward at­tempts to woo her when they first met. Dean Mumm, a team mem­ber of the Wal­la­bies and the New South Wales Waratahs, is next to her at the kitchen ta­ble in­side his par­ents’ home on Syd­ney’s North Shore. The cou­ple are stay­ing here while they ren­o­vate their house nearby; as such, he is sur­rounded by vis­ual re­minders of his un­gainly youth.

Sheep­ishly, he points out a fam­ily por­trait from his teenage years. The shot is dom­i­nated by hair. Hair with a lot of prod­uct. And its lib­eral use helps paint a pic­ture of a dif­fer­ent Dean. “Twenty-year-old boys and their pick-up at­tempts are al­ways amus­ing,” Sarah says with a laugh. “Though clearly, it worked!”

The two first met as teenagers when Sarah, 32, went to a for­mal with a mate of Dean’s. But it took a few years for Dean, 33, to work his magic. “Two of our friends got mar­ried when they were 20, so that brought us back to­gether,” he says as he looks at Sarah. “Then I tried to sweep you off your feet… awk­wardly.”

YOU MIGHT SAY rugby – more than bad flirt­ing – brought the two to­gether. New Zealand-born Dean has played the game since he was five; cor­po­rate lawyer Sarah grew up in a fam­ily of Waratahs sup­port­ers, which came in handy when Dean made his de­but for the club in 2004.

The two did not marry un­til Jan­uary 2012; eight months later, they moved to Eng­land so Dean could play for the Ex­eter Chiefs. It was an ex­cit­ing time for the new­ly­weds, who planned for the new chap­ter in Dean’s ca­reer to co­in­cide with the start of a fam­ily. By the time they left Aus­tralia, Sarah was just over three months preg­nant.

Then, as the preg­nancy pro­gressed, so did the signs that some­thing was ter­ri­bly wrong. At 21 weeks, she be­gan bleed­ing. “I went to hos­pi­tal,” Sarah

says, “and it be­came ap­par­ent we were in a pretty se­ri­ous po­si­tion. We were po­ten­tially go­ing to lose the baby.” De­spite all ef­forts to sal­vage what had quickly be­come a dan­ger­ous

“it can make or break a cou­ple ”

preg­nancy, Sarah’s wa­ters broke. She had to de­liver the baby.

Apart from the early labour, the baby – a girl named So­phie – was oth­er­wise healthy. “But at 21 weeks,” Sarah says, “your lungs aren’t go­ing to be able to de­velop. A baby can’t sur­vive. There was noth­ing we could do.” What should have been one of a young cou­ple’s hap­pi­est mile­stones had turned into a night­mare.

“I will al­ways re­mem­ber that phone call from Sarah,” Dean says. “I was at train­ing and she was on her way to the hos­pi­tal – she ba­si­cally told me over the line that we were go­ing to lose her.

The pe­riod that fol­lowed – spent in shock, re­cov­er­ing in an un­fa­mil­iar home with a lim­ited net­work of friends and fam­ily to of­fer sup­port – was tough. “For a while that was the dark­est I’ve seen Sarah,” Dean says.

Ul­ti­mately, though, their shared grief brought them closer. “It can make or break a lot of cou­ples and we were re­ally lucky,” Sarah says. “It united us. I wouldn’t have made it through without the sup­port Dean gave me.”

The com­pli­ca­tions around So­phie’s birth were caused by what is known as an in­com­pe­tent cervix, which caused Sarah’s cervix to di­late too early. When she fell preg­nant again the fol­low­ing

year, doc­tors put in a su­ture to pre­vent it hap­pen­ing again. But once more, prob­lems oc­curred. The first su­ture pulled through at 19 weeks; when a sec­ond was put in, Sarah was placed on bed rest. By 28 weeks, she had a pla­cen­tal bleed that again sent her into pre­ma­ture labour. After what each of them calls a “high-stress” labour that lasted seven hours, a son named Henry was born on Jan­uary 17, 2014.

“For all in­tents and pur­poses,” Dean says, “he was do­ing pretty well on the first day. [But with] a pre­ma­ture birth there are no mo­ments of hap­pi­ness and joy, be­cause the baby’s straight out and within a minute they put a tube down his throat. You don’t get to hold him.”

Im­me­di­ately after his de­liv­ery, Sarah asked the doc­tors if Henry was alive. “He was about one and a half ki­los, so in the scheme of pre­ma­ture ba­bies, that’s ac­tu­ally quite a good weight,” she says. “[But] it be­came ap­par­ent by the end of the sec­ond or third day that he had con­tracted an in­fec­tion dur­ing labour. He was fight­ing, but un­for­tu­nately he just got sicker and sicker.”

Once more, the Mumms were faced with the death of a new­born. Henry’s or­gans be­gan to shut down, his heart weak­ened and, as Sarah puts it, “the in­fec­tion just took over”. When the pair fi­nally did get to hold their son shortly be­fore he died, it was bit­ter­sweet. Sarah’s rec­ol­lec­tion is wrench­ing in its em­pa­thy and de­tail.

“It was a re­ally spe­cial mo­ment,” she tells Stel­lar, her voice fill­ing with emo­tion. “Be­cause we’d ob­vi­ously been wait­ing for it. He’d been wait­ing for it. But when we held him, his eyes opened. And he knew who I was, that I was his mum. And his heart rate set­tled for a while, his breath­ing re­laxed and he stared at me and looked happy for the first time in nine days.”

Adds Dean, “I think that im­por­tantly, he knew when he died that he was loved. It was one of the most spe­cial mo­ments of my life. It al­ways will be – we’ll never for­get it. It’s in­cred­i­ble what you learn about life from some­one who lived for nine days.” EACH YEAR, 15 mil­lion ba­bies are born pre­ma­turely world­wide; of those, one mil­lion die. Pro­fes­sor Mark John­son is a world-lead­ing ob­ste­tri­cian and ex­pert in the is­sue based at Chelsea and West­min­ster Hos­pi­tal in Lon­don. He is also the founder of Borne, a re­search or­gan­i­sa­tion com­mit­ted to bring­ing those num­bers down dra­mat­i­cally.

De­spite their heartache, Sarah and Dean re­fused to give up on their dream of start­ing a fam­ily. When they de­cided to try for a third time, they were put in touch with John­son, who helped them de­velop a strat­egy. Across reg­u­lar ap­point­ments with John­son, Sarah had dif­fer­ent su­tures put into place. She ul­ti­mately fell preg­nant again, and on Septem­ber 25, 2015, gave birth to a baby boy named Al­fie. He ar­rived at 36 weeks. In gen­eral, ba­bies are con­sid­ered full-term at 37 weeks and be­yond.

Dean al­most didn’t make it to the hos­pi­tal in time for his son’s ar­rival. He was based in Bath, pre­par­ing to cap­tain the Wal­la­bies in their World Cup match against Uruguay a few days later. He re­calls be­ing awak­ened by Sarah at 3.45am, and says he was in “a flap” try­ing to pack his bag. “I had my phone torch on, try­ing to find things,” he says, laugh­ing at the mem­ory. “And then my room­mate goes, ‘Mate, you’re hav­ing a kid, just turn the lights on!’”

Al­fie’s birth was not to­tally dra­mafree: he had some breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties and went into in­ten­sive care for 24 hours. But he re­mained sta­ble, and soon the Mumms were able to take him home. For Sarah, that first step – one they never got to take with So­phie or Henry – pro­vided over­whelm­ing peace. “Get­ting to wake up ev­ery two hours to feed him was awe­some,” she says. “I wasn’t hav­ing to ex­press through a tube be­fore he got fed, or speak to a nurse be­fore I could touch him. I could pick him up, feed him and change him. I could just be a mum.”

Twelve weeks after Al­fie was born, the Mumms re­turned to Aus­tralia. They are now the proud par­ents of a healthy, cheeky 21-month-old who loves Thomas The Tank En­gine and play­ing with balls of any kind. “We were walk­ing down the street hold­ing hands with him be­tween us the other day and that’s all you want,” Dean says. “You just want lit­tle, in­ti­mate mo­ments; that’s the stuff you never want to take for granted.”

In 2016, due to ca­reer com­mit­ments, roughly half of Dean’s life was spent

“he knew when he died he was loved”

on the road. Or, as he puts it, “half of a one-year-old’s life”. Time away from his son was a driver in his de­ci­sion to re­tire from rugby at the end of this year. “I was pumped to play for Aus­tralia, let alone to play a num­ber of times, and to cap­tain the team was well be­yond my scope of dream­ing,” he says. “From that end, it’s very sat­is­fy­ing.”

Be­sides, Dean wants to give back, and next March he will trek to the North Pole on a 16-day ex­pe­di­tion to raise money for Borne. Al­though, he ad­mits, he wasn’t quick to agree as his ex­pe­ri­ence is lim­ited to a few treks in his school days. “[But] since hav­ing Al­fie, I got so caught up in day-to-day life that I didn’t stop and think, ‘How am I go­ing to give some­thing back?’ We des­per­ately wanted to, and this presents a great op­por­tu­nity.” He adds jok­ingly, “And if I have to give a toe to it, then hope­fully it’s my pinkie.”

John­son will be part of the 10-per­son team on the ex­pe­di­tion, and tells Stel­lar, “We are de­lighted Dean will be join­ing [us] on our trek to the North Pole to raise funds for Borne’s life-sav­ing re­search. Our vi­sion is a world in which a child’s first day on Earth won’t have to be their hard­est. Through our pi­o­neer­ing re­search, we can make that vi­sion a re­al­ity.”

It is un­der­stand­ably dif­fi­cult for the Mumms to re­live their losses, but they be­lieve it is more im­por­tant to have an open, hon­est di­a­logue about pre­ma­ture birth. “It’s re­ally hard,” says Sarah, “[but] when peo­ple ask me how many chil­dren I have, I say one be­cause it’s not ap­pro­pri­ate to say to some­one you don’t know, ‘Oh, I have three chil­dren but two of them are dead.’ I’m a mother of three, I just un­for­tu­nately only get to raise one. But my other two chil­dren are my chil­dren; they are not re­placed by Al­fie. We will al­ways grieve for the two chil­dren that have died.”

Do they mark the dates So­phie and Henry passed away? “We ab­so­lutely mark and re­mem­ber it ev­ery year,” Sarah says. “I re­mem­ber them al­ways. I don’t want [other] par­ents to have to spend the first 4–12 weeks star­ing at their child through a per­spex box. It’s hor­rific when all you want to do is cud­dle your baby to com­fort it and you can’t – it’s nightmarish.”

Sarah and Dean re­main op­ti­mistic as they dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­ity of try­ing to ex­pand their fam­ily. But they’re also philo­soph­i­cal. “We found out that life can be pretty rub­bish,” Dean ad­mits. “It will throw some re­ally, re­ally poor mo­ments at you. But ul­ti­mately there’s a choice – I had to take Sarah’s hand so we could get through it to­gether. There’s only one way through, and that’s to turn up to to­mor­row and keep go­ing. Be­cause if we kept look­ing back, we wouldn’t have had Al­fie.

“Every­one has their own bat­tles and this was ours. We had great mo­ments and we had bad ones. Now we want to give back, to make sure that what hap­pened to us hap­pens to far less peo­ple in the fu­ture.”

“you have to turn up and keep go­ing ”

GRIT & GLORY (clock­wise from top) Dean Mumm dur­ing 2016’s Ar­gentina vs Aus­tralia match in Lon­don; the rugby star (mid­dle) with his NSW Waratahs team­mates; the cou­ple on their wed­ding day; an ec­static Dean with

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