Polly’s delivery suite hell
I nearly lost my girls!
Polly Gillespie describes 2017 as a year of two halves. At the beginning, our Woman’sDay columnist and her ex-husband Grant Kereama left their longstanding radio gig on The Hits.
With no regular income, the mother-of-three struggled to pay the bills for her inner-city Wellington apartment and an old family home where her elderly mum lived.
But by July, life was looking up. The radio dream team were back on the airwaves on More FM and Rova, Polly had her children, her beau Tim and their menagerie of pets happily living under one roof in Island Bay, and to top it all off, her daughter Katherine, 23, was due to give birth to her first grandchild.
Indeed, when Woman’sDay arrives at Polly’s abode, the brand-new “Mini” – her chosen name instead of Grandma – couldn’t look more content as she and Katherine dote on Roseanna, trying to coax a smile out of their blue-eyed cherub. “It’s her latest trick,” beams one very proud Polly.
But on August 26, the day Katherine was being induced, Polly’s newfound happiness was very nearly taken from her.
After nine hours of labour, calm turned to catastrophe when complications arose that put Katherine and her baby’s life in serious jeopardy. Without a moment’s notice, the expectant mum was whisked away for an emergency “crash” Caesarean section under a general anaesthetic, leaving a distraught Polly agonising over whether she’d ever see them alive again.
“I was absolutely terrified,” tells Polly. “I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know if Katherine was going to die or if the baby was going to make it. I’ve never felt fear like it.”
Just minutes earlier, while Katherine’s partner Larry Roth had stepped out for a cup of tea, the mother-daughter duo were laughing and being silly, but suddenly the midwife sounded an alarm which sent the birthing suite into chaos.
Polly recalls, “All of a sudden, there were flashing lights and a dozen nurses, midwives and doctors stormed into the room,
putting on their scrubs and masks as they sprinted by. There were people yelling, ‘Do you consent to us giving Katherine a general anaesthetic? Do you consent to this, to that?’ Katherine’s looking at me, asking, ‘Mum, what’s going on?’
“As calmly as I could, I kept saying, ‘Everything’s fine. This is completely standard – everything’s going to be OK,’ but as she got wheeled out of sight on her way to theatre, I collapsed into the midwife’s arms. It didn’t feel like real life. It was like being in an episode of
“Had it been under any other circumstances, it would have been
incredible to watch. But by the time Larry got back, he walked into an empty room and me bawling my eyes out.”
Polly realised that a crash C-section was no standard occurrence. “I knew what was happening to Katherine was completely not normal. I’d had an emergency Caesarean and it didn’t look anything like this. I was calm for her, but panicking inside!”
The hospital staff told Polly the emergency procedure is so rare that only one in 300 women nationwide will require one each year. They practise dummy runs twice a year to be prepared.
Katherine’s heart had been set on a calm, relaxed birth with her mum and boyfriend of two years at her side, but when Roseanna managed to squash her umbilical cord, cutting off her blood supply and causing her heart rate to plummet, doctors had no choice but to operate on the spot. It took seven minutes from sounding the alarm to Roseanna’s birth at 7.30pm.
“Mum remembers it better than me,” tells Katherine. “I was in shock as it all happened so quickly. I do recall being really scared at first, but when the doctors told me they were going to put me to sleep, I felt so much better – the thought of being cut open while my baby was being pulled out of me freaked me out.
“When I woke up, Larry was there. I wasn’t allowed to see Rosie yet, but he and Mum had taken heaps of photos. I wanted to cuddle her so much, but just to be able to see her and know she was OK was enough – everything about her was perfect.”
Polly felt the same rush of relief in the neonatal unit, where she met her granddaughter, who at a bonny 4.5kg “looked big enough to eat all the other babies there”, she laughs. “I took one look at that chubbycheeked little cherub and fell instantly in love. She was having trouble breathing at first, but was doing well and Katherine was safe too. I can’t tell you how lucky and how grateful I felt. It could’ve been a completely different story.”
After five days in hospital, as Roseanna gained strength and Katherine recovered from surgery, the family-of-three returned home to the granny flat they share at Polly’s place.
“It’s more like my commune,” says Polly, who also shares sons Tom, 24, and McGregor, 19, with Grant. “We have me and Tim living here, my youngest boy and his girlfriend Liv, a nurse, who often stays. There’s Katherine, Larry and now little Rosie. We have our dog Scrumbles, their dog Toast and kitten Valentina, and my mother’s cat Barack Obama. Mum’s now living in a gorgeous flat that she loves. It’s brand-new and perfect for her, and she has such a busy social life.
“It’s not how I imagined my life would be, with a baby in the house again, but it’s just so lovely. I adore this place. I know it needs heaps of work, but it’s filled with all the things that truly matter. This lifestyle seems to be becoming the norm,” she adds, “especially in places like Auckland and Wellington, where it’s so expensive to rent. Everyone ends up coming back home.”
While a bustling house means more mouths to feed, enough washing to sink a small ship and countless fights over the TV remote, Polly wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“Katherine’s naturally a wonderful mum. She has such an enormous heart and way with Rosie. I love watching them together – they’re inseparable.
“It’s nice to be Mini too. I’m bursting with this wonderful unconditional love that lacks a bit of responsibility. When you have babies, especially your first one, there’s a certain amount of fear involved and you feel like your only job in life is to raise that baby. I remember that feeling after my first baby, when it felt like my world had tipped on its axis. One of the best things about having Katherine so close is I’m there for all the good mummy times and the tough mummy times.
“At one stage, Katherine’s Caesarean got an infection, she had mastitis, her boobs hurt, she could hardly walk and she sat in my room crying, ‘I can’t do this.’ I just remember saying, ‘Yes, you can. We can.’”
Indeed, the young mum insists she couldn’t have survived the first two months of motherhood without Polly and Roseanna’s koro Grant, who married his new partner Lisa in September.
“I don’t know how people do it without their mums,” says Katherine, who has relied heavily on the extra help since her boyfriend returned to his job as a chef. “Rosie’s blessed with two mummies! Mum’s my go-to for everything parenting – feeding, sleeping, routine. My surgery means I can barely lift, but Mum’s insisted on cleaning and cooking, so I hardly have to lift a finger.
“As for Dad, don’t even get me started on him. Every time I go around there, he doesn’t let anyone hold her except him. He wouldn’t let my stepmum have a cuddle – he’ll be more protective than Larry.”
While parenting has had its challenges, Katherine says having Roseanna has brought the young lovebirds closer. “Our world revolves around her now,” she says. “It’s definitely a little weird to be Mum and Dad, and it’s easy to get frustrated with each other at times, but when you have a little baby to care for, it’s also really easy to get over the little things and focus on the bigger picture.
“I always thought I’d go to university and have a proper job before I had a baby, but now my focus is Rosie and making sure she grows up knowing she’s loved and adored, and capable of conquering the world,” says Katherine. “And if we have a relationship that even comes close to what Mum and I have, then I’ll know I’ve done something right.”
In the midst of being overwhelmed with relief and so hugely grateful that Katherine and little Rosie were safe and well, Polly fell “instantly in love” with her adorable granddaughter.
“C’mon darling, Mini wants a cuddle!” Proud Polly just can’t get enough of sweet Rosie.