Turia Pitt’s mir­a­cle baby:

“The joy of our preg­nancy against the odds”

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - NEWS - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY STYLING PETER BREW-BE­VAN RE­BECCA RAC

It doesn’t mat­ter how many times you might have dis­cussed it, or how long you might have wished it to be true – be­com­ing preg­nant is al­ways tinged with sur­prise and ex­cite­ment, and per­haps even a lit­tle shock.

For Turia Pitt, the young woman who sur­vived dev­as­tat­ing burns to 64 per cent of her body, that el­e­ment of shock came just over three months ago, as she was pre­par­ing for a de­mand­ing three-week hike to base camp on Mt Ever­est in Nepal.

“We had all these com­mit­ments, things we just had to do, places we had to be,” says Turia, 29, who suf­fered hor­rific burns dur­ing a fierce bush­fire while run­ning an ul­tra-marathon in the Kim­ber­ley re­gion of West­ern Aus­tralia in 2011.

“So, it wasn’t some­thing that we were ex­pect­ing. I was pack­ing to go to base camp. I had a thou­sand dif­fer­ent things on my mind, but fall­ing preg­nant was not one of them. I started to feel sick, which is some­thing that hardly ever hap­pens to me. I don’t know why – just a feel­ing, I guess – but I sensed some­thing was very dif­fer­ent.”

That dif­fer­ence, it turned out, was the first ir­re­sistible spark of life. Turia bought a preg­nancy test kit. It was pos­i­tive. “I thought, well, that can’t be right,” she re­calls, sit­ting at home with her fi­ancé, for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer Michael Hoskin, 32, the child­hood sweet­heart whose un­ceas­ing love helped reignite her will to sur­vive in the months after the fire.

“Michael and I have al­ways talked about hav­ing chil­dren. The plan was to start try­ing at the end of the year after all our com­mit­ments. Then, it just hap­pened a lot ear­lier... to my sur­prise. You cer­tainly don’t think you are go­ing to be preg­nant straight­away.”

Turia did an­other test. It, too,

One of the first ques­tions I asked was if I would still be able to have chil­dren.

proved pos­i­tive. And she did four more, just to make sure. “I was think­ing, ‘This is silly – preg­nancy tests are usu­ally ac­cu­rate.’ But I did the tests again any­way. I don’t know why. Part of me was saying, ‘This can’t be hap­pen­ing,’ but an­other was saying, ‘Wow, what if it is?’ I was re­ally happy, but sort of stunned, too. My mind went into over­drive.”

Turia’s doc­tor con­firmed the preg­nancy a few days later with a blood test and an ul­tra­sound that gave her a glimpse of the nat­u­ral mir­a­cle un­fold­ing in­side her. In that sin­gle, breath­tak­ing mo­ment, Turia’s emo­tions fi­nally caught up with her rac­ing mind. As she lay lis­ten­ing to the soft rhyth­mic beat of her child’s heart, she felt an ir­re­sistible flood of ex­cite­ment and joy.

“It was hard to be­lieve when it was just a preg­nancy stick, but when we had the scan, I was so over the moon,” says Turia. “I was stoked, so happy I didn’t re­ally know what to say.

There were all these emo­tions and feel­ings whirling around in­side. It was just an in­cred­i­ble mo­ment.”

In­deed, Turia’s life since that near fa­tal fire six years ago has been a se­ries of in­cred­i­ble mo­ments. She was so se­verely burned that doc­tors ini­tially doubted she would live. More than that, her rav­aged body also had to deal with a post-trauma in­fec­tion so se­vere that it alone ought to have claimed her life. Yet, de­spite the mas­sive odds against her, Turia man­aged what others de­scribe as a mir­a­cle of sur­vival, a mir­a­cle of tenac­ity and hope. And she has worn that de­ter­mi­na­tion like a badge of hon­our ever since, un­der­tak­ing a se­ries of in­cred­i­bly de­mand­ing phys­i­cal chal­lenges to raise funds for char­i­ties and push­ing her­self to the bound­aries of her phys­i­cal and emo­tional lim­its.

Yet, not far be­neath that hardy, en­er­getic and some­times bois­ter­ous ex­te­rior is a deeply emo­tional woman who has longed for the op­por­tu­nity to be a mother, some­one who al­ways yearned to feel the warmth of her own child cra­dled in her arms.

In fact, it was that yearn­ing, cou­pled with Michael’s de­voted love, which helped her live through the night­mare of her over­whelm­ing in­juries.

“One of the first ques­tions I asked after I came out of the coma was if I would still be able to have chil­dren,” says Turia. “I al­ways get asked if I can have chil­dren. People as­sume that I can­not be­cause I have been burned, but the doc­tors never said, ‘You’re go­ing to strug­gle,’ never said I had to ad­just my ex­pec­ta­tions. On the in­side, ev­ery­thing is fine.

“The fact was that Michael and I hadn’t tried to have chil­dren be­fore the fire, so there was no ab­so­lute way of know­ing whether we could. But be­cause there was no in­ter­nal dam­age, the doc­tors said there was ev­ery chance I could still con­ceive nat­u­rally, that in the nor­mal course of things it shouldn’t be a prob­lem.” Of course, says Michael, the pri­or­ity was her sur­vival. “Get­ting Turia bet­ter was our fo­cus, but it was re­as­sur­ing to know that we still had that in our fu­ture,” he says.

That knowl­edge, com­bined with Michael’s sup­port and love, re­in­forced her will to live.

“In many ways,” she says, “that was one of the main things that helped me keep go­ing dur­ing the re­cov­ery and helped me find the will to keep go­ing. Hav­ing Michael there be­side me was so im­por­tant, but so was the thought that we could have chil­dren. That thought gave me hope that, one day, Michael and I would have a fam­ily.”

The truth is that while Turia and Michael al­ways had chil­dren in their sights, if they had not been able to have any, they would still be to­gether, no mat­ter what. “It wasn’t a deal

I’m con­scious there is an­other life in­side me now. And that’s the most im­por­tant thing.

breaker for us,” says Turia. “We talked a lot about it. Some cou­ples split up if they can­not have kids, but we would have found some­thing else. We might have adopted or pushed our en­ergy in an­other di­rec­tion. Ob­vi­ously, if you can’t do some­thing that you want to do, it’s dis­ap­point­ing, but you’ve just got to find that in­ner strength to keep go­ing and try to hold to your path and re­build your life.”

Her preg­nancy, Turia says, will be just like most others. While her legs and up­per body are deeply scarred, her stomach some­how es­caped the blaze that dis­fig­ured her.

“My stomach wasn’t burned at all in the fire,” she says. “That part of me re­mained com­pletely un­touched. I didn’t have any in­ter­nal in­juries, no dam­age from smoke in­hala­tion or any­thing else. When it came to find­ing donor skin to graft on to the burns, my doc­tors took that skin from my stomach. So while I have some scar­ring in the area, it’s rel­a­tively light com­pared to other ar­eas.”

Im­por­tantly, it is not af­fected by con­trac­tures, a re­stric­tive con­di­tion that can af­flict the heavy scar­ring that fol­lows ex­ten­sive third-de­gree burns.

The baby is ex­pected to de­velop nor­mally dur­ing the re­main­der of her term and the skin around her stomach will ex­pand as the foe­tus grows.

Fam­ily is cen­tral to both Turia and Michael. She is Tahi­tian-born and has three older broth­ers and he has three broth­ers and a sis­ter. “There are lots of boys in that mix,” says Michael, laugh­ing. He knows the sex of their baby, but is keep­ing it a se­cret, even from Turia, who prefers not to know un­til their child is born.

“I don’t know if that [the num­ber of boys] means any­thing,” he says, “but we’ve both grown up in sub­stan­tial fam­i­lies, so we know what it’s like to have chil­dren around. I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to meet­ing this baby. I want to be a dad and it seems the most nat­u­ral thing in the world.”

Even so, both Michael and Turia ad­mit to be­ing slightly ner­vous about the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of their new role. “I’m a bit naïve about the par­ent­ing thing, I think,” he says. “What it is that you ac­tu­ally do, I won’t know what that re­al­ity is like un­til our child is born. It will be a new world, I think, chang­ing nap­pies and putting them in and out of the car. The world will not just be about Turia any more – it will be about the baby, too. It’s all a learn­ing process, but we are will­ing to em­brace that.”

Be­cause of the in­juries to her hands – Turia is miss­ing all the fin­gers and thumb on her right hand, but has more dex­ter­ity in her left – she will need to adapt, some­thing she has be­come very skilled at do­ing.

“Is that go­ing to be an is­sue?” asks Turia, who taught her­self to drive again. “No, I don’t think so. Ev­ery­thing else in life that I need to do, I just fig­ure out a way to do it. I might do it dif­fer­ently to other people, but I get the job done. With chang­ing a nappy, per­haps I won’t get it right the first time, but re­ally, who does? Then, after enough prac­tice, I will fig­ure out my own way to do it.

I am not even wor­ried about that.

“I have done this so many times in my jour­ney – fig­ur­ing out how to brush my hair, how to put my hair up, fig­ur­ing out how to drive again. I’ve taken all these lit­tle steps in re­claim­ing my life and, with a child, it will be ex­actly the same. I re­ally

be­lieve you can work out a way to do any­thing. Hav­ing said that, friends have shown me how to use the car seat and that looks re­ally hard even when you have 10 fin­gers. We’ll just have to test them all out and see which one is the best.”

Turia has thought deeply about what moth­er­hood will be like and how her par­ents raised her, most of­ten com­par­ing her­self to her mother Ce­les­tine, 50, who lives five min­utes down the road from the cou­ple’s house on the NSW South Coast and her fa­ther, Michael Pitt. “Dad never tol­er­ated us whinge­ing or com­plain­ing about any­thing, so hope­fully I will be able to give that to my kids be­cause I think that was re­ally for­ma­tive for me,” she says.

“I’ll also prob­a­bly be most like my mum, who’s lov­ing and very over­board about it. She’s al­ways there for you, no mat­ter what. If I was like Mum, that would be re­ally cool.”

Ce­les­tine has her own take on what this child will mean for her daugh­ter. “This is a mir­a­cle,” she says. “It’s a mir­a­cle for Turia and a mir­a­cle for Michael. This child is the rea­son she sur­vived. This child is the pur­pose that God had in mind.” Ce­les­tine says she’s al­ready started singing to the baby in Turia’s womb. “Turia is a strong woman, I am a strong woman – we have our clashes from time to time,” she says. “But hav­ing this baby be­tween us is bring­ing us even closer than we were. Turia is ask­ing me, ‘Were you like that, Mum?’ or ‘How did you feel?’ Sud­denly, I am not just Mum, I am a woman who was once preg­nant, like her. His­tory is re­peat­ing it­self and I am feel­ing very lucky. I love the way we cud­dle up to each other in bed. And I sing songs – I even sing to the baby. When she was in hos­pi­tal re­cov­er­ing, I used to sing to her, but then she’d look at me and say, ‘Mum, enough with the singing.’ But now she lets me sing to the baby. In my cul­ture, when you turn 50, you be­come etua, which is men­tor. I see this as a beau­ti­ful chance to teach good strong skills and help it be­come a good per­son and strong friend.”

For Ce­les­tine, there’s no deny­ing what brought this child into the world. “This child is a re­sult of love – the best kind of love – be­tween Turia and Michael, who have shown that there are so many facets to love other than just the phys­i­cal. I have been hop­ing for so long that she would get preg­nant and now it has hap­pened. Turia is al­ready softer, hap­pier and there is a pride in be­ing a mum, of car­ry­ing this lit­tle baby. It has re­leased so much love into the uni­verse, so much love. There is love ev­ery­where. Others might think that’s ex­ag­ger­at­ing, but it is the truth.”

Turia is a lit­tle more prag­matic. “I love Mum and that’s the way she sees the uni­verse. But I don’t see it that way. There are lots of rea­sons why I sur­vived – sci­en­tific, emo­tional, a lot of luck. That’s not to say that I’m not ex­cited, be­cause I am. But per­haps Mum is just a lit­tle overex­cited.”

Turia is now en­ter­ing her se­cond trimester. She hasn’t suf­fered any morn­ing sick­ness, she says, but has started feel­ing tired. “I have to lie down and have a nana nap in the af­ter­noon now,” she says. “Any­one who knows me knows that is so not like me. I run at a hun­dred miles an hour and never stop. So, al­ready the baby is hav­ing an ef­fect and I’m very con­scious of that. I’m con­scious that there is an­other life in­side me now. And that’s the most im­por­tant thing there is.”

I re­ally be­lieve you can work out a way to do any­thing.

Michael Hoskin and Turia Pitt, pho­tographed at their home on the NSW South Coast, were thrilled when the ul­tra­sound (in­set) con­firmed they were ex­pect­ing.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: They al­ways loved the beach – a young Turia with brother Genji and mother Ce­les­tine on the NSW South Coast; Turia, who was born in Tahiti, with her mum as a tod­dler; fast-for­ward two decades and the mother-daugh­ter bond is still clear to see.

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