TVNZ reporter Joy Reid’s traumatic birth experience: ‘I had to fight for my baby’

Joy Reid has always been one to live up to her name, but the perennially upbeat journalist is the first to admit the past few months have been extremely tough. It’s only now, with 4-month-old baby Annabelle in her front-pack as she jiggles her to sleep at her Christchurch home, that the mum-of-three finally feels she’s “coming up for air”.

Today, while her older children Jonny, 7, and Stella, 5, are at school, Joy and her baby can finally enjoy the precious one-on-one bonding time that Annabelle’s health issues robbed them of in the days following her birth.

Jonny had a traumatic birth, too ,and Joy’s husband Geoffrey had been gravely ill for four months following Stella’s arrival. Surely she’d catch a break third time around, thought Joy.

“I had dreams of newborn cuddles on the couch all day,” says the 1 News former European correspondent. “And it didn’t end up to be what I expected.”

Because Jonny hadn’t been breathing when he was born, Joy elected to have a Caesarean for Annabelle, who arrived on February 17, at Christchurch Hospital, weighing a very healthy 4.26kg.

Yet within minutes, the baby was experiencing respiratory problems and had started to turn blue.

“It just feels so wrong to have your baby taken off you,” says Joy, 36, of the moment doctors whisked her newborn daughter away. “I hadn’t even got to hold her and they were talking about emergency surgery.”

Joy soon found herself alone in a recovery ward, surrounded by other mothers and their newborns, relying on the photos her husband sent from the neonatal intensive care unit to see what her little girl looked like. It wasn’t until six or seven hours later that she finally got to see her up close.

“I thought because I’d been there before, I’d find it easier,” explains Joy. “I knew my baby was getting excellent care, but it was a really lonely, vulnerable experience. It just felt unfair that I had to go through it again. You never get those newborn moments back.”

Doctors told Joy it appeared Annabelle had a narrow nostril that was causing the breathing problems, but they didn’t believe surgery would be necessary. So after a four-day stay, Joy and Geoffrey were finally able to bring their baby home.

But the family’s trials weren’t over as Annabelle struggled to feed. The determined parents tried everything, from breast to bottles and supplementary feeding-tube nursing, but Joy says: “It wasn’t a supply issue as much that she would only feed a few sucks and then go to sleep. She wasn’t gaining any weight at all.

“Your main job as a mother is to protect and care for your baby, and when you can’t do that … I just felt really disappointed that I couldn’t provide her the necessities of life. We needed a helping hand, but I really felt like I had to fight for her.”

After just a week at home, Joy and Annabelle headed back to hospital for what they thought would be a 24-hour stay. Instead, they spent another 10 days there, so Annabelle could continue to get the calories she needed. Meanwhile, Covid-19 meant Joy’s kids weren’t able to visit for much of the stay and Geoffrey, who was busy holding down the fort at home, couldn’t easily pop in either.

A week into the ordeal, Joy made a few posts about her experience on Instagram, one revealing the early days of motherhood may not be as magical as many on the social media platform make out.

Adamant she didn’t want a “pity party”, the usually private reporter nonetheless felt the urge to show honesty, drawing positive messages from mums who’d been through similar experiences.

Joy also appreciated how powerful that support from other mothers can be when she saw first-hand the impact of the charity she and friend Christina Buckland set up in 2016.
One Mother to Another provides gift bags to mums and carers whose children are in hospital. A day before she was back in the hospital herself, Joy had actually dropped off a haul of goodies to nurses.

Inside each bag is a collection of donated items meant to bring a little pleasure to what she already knew could be a scary and isolating experience. Along with products, like snacks and hand lotion, is a hand-written note from other mums on the team who understand what it’s like to watch your child ill.

Joy says she’d often wished she could be a fly on the wall to see how the gift bags were received.

“This time, I actually was a fly! The nurse didn’t realise that I had any association at all with the gift bags. I saw one given to a woman who was in quite a broken state. She was alone, grieving without her family, and I just heard her response of shock and gratitude.
“I saw her cry over the fact someone would think about her in a moment like that. I realised the power of having a complete stranger say, ‘I see you. I hear you. We’re with you.’ It was quite humbling.”

After that long stretch in hospital, returning home a second time was nerve-wracking.

“I suddenly realised I didn’t have the hospital behind me and we’d taken the feeding tube out at that point, hoping we’d get her to take a bottle.”

Another “very difficult” three weeks went by, during which time Annabelle continued to resist feeding, and Joy and Geoffrey had great difficulty getting enough milk in.
One day, Plunket visited and expressed alarm at their desperate technique. And once again, Joy and Annabelle found themselves in hospital, this time for five days.

When Joy finally brought her baby home for the third time, a nasal gastric feeding tube had been inserted – and it remained in place for two months. “That was a lot easier because we could guarantee she was getting the nutrition she needed without having to cause so much distress,” tells Joy. “We really started to see her flourish.”

Although the cause of Annabelle’s painful feeding issues was never completely resolved, Joy says it was possibly caused by reflux, a condition that had spiralled as Annabelle wouldn’t have had enough energy to feed even if she’d wanted to.

Reflux medication has since helped to ease her distress, and now that she’s put on weight and continues to show signs she’s thriving, their busy household of five is a contented one. Jonny and Stella squabble over who gets to play with their younger sister.

“It’s like she’s a real-life doll,” smiles Joy. “They have conversations over who can get the best smiles and Annabelle just loves the attention. Jonny and Stella are really helpful, which has made my life a lot easier. The one thing I wasn’t prepared for was realising how much my heart would swell seeing the siblings love the newborn. It actually took me by surprise.”

Also helping to get Joy through those tough early days was her TVNZ buddy Ali Pugh, whose third daughter Jemima was born a day before Annabelle. The two Christchurch mums had job-shared their part-time reporting role and bonded over what can only be described as serendipity.

Both Joy and Ali announced they were expecting their third babies around the same time, but little did they know they also had the exact same due date – and they’d booked the same midwife! Thankfully, the fortuitous timing continued, with Jemima arriving the day before Annabelle’s scheduled appearance.

“I always joke with Ali that she has these serene, beautiful home births and mine are the complete opposite,” Joy laughs. “But it was wonderful going through pregnancy together, supporting one another and counting down the days.”

Joy says she’ll eventually return to work once her maternity leave is over, but she’s in no hurry to leave the comforts of home, where she’s finally getting those blissful snuggles on the couch. It’s also given her the opportunity to see that, despite her rough start to life, Annabelle has a naturally sunny disposition.

It makes sense that her full name is Annabelle Lydia Koa Reid. The name “Koa” was gifted to Joy by her cousin of Te Āti Awa descent and is short for Harikoa, which means “joy” in te reo.

“She’s just got this really joyful nature that we’re finally starting to see now,” says her proud mum, smiling. “She really is full of joy.”

•For more information on Joy’s charity and how you can help, visit onemothertoanother.org.nz.

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