Marley Dawn is a special baby. Firstly I must say – of course – all the little people I shoot as a Sydney newborn photographer are precious but little Marley has a unique story that I am so pleased her Mum is happy to share with us.
After several false starts with premature labour Marley was born with cancer of the kidney. Her kidney function was failing and this tiny little girl began life with some very big challenges. In this amazing tale her prognosis ends in wonderful news and she is now dealing with ‘every day’ little girl stuff… growing, being adorable, charming everyone she meets, putting stuff in her mouth… just regular baby life!
Initially I was going to tell Marley’s story in my own words but her journey as told by her Mum can’t be improved upon so please read on…
I went into labour for the first time at 29w5d. My stomach was measuring 38 weeks but was actually just full of excess fluid. We rushed to North Shore and they managed to stop labour progressing further. The next day I had a scan that revealed my baby had an enlarged kidney, but they wouldn’t know more until after birth. Of course this is when the worrying escalated!
Labour started again at 30w1d, but once again the hospital managed to stop it progressing further. I finally went home after a 6-day stay.
Again, I went back into labour at 31w2d. Again we rushed to North Shore. They desperately tried stopping contractions again, but labour continued progressing. Since Marley was breech, I had to have a Caesar once I reached 5cm. Our baby was born at 1.05am on 22nd March, at 31w3d. 2.038kg, 46.5cm long. She sounds tiny but this is actually huge for that gestation.
I wasn’t allowed to hold her until the following day once she was off respiratory support. She spent the next 3 weeks in the NICU at North Shore before transferring to Mona Vale hospital special care nursery for another 3 weeks. During that time it was all about growing and feeding. The goal was that we needed her to be 2.5kg minimum. Babies born that early haven’t developed the sucking reflex so it was really hard for her to learn how to breastfeed, very exhausting, so most feeds by tube with 1 or 2 practice feeds a day, gradually ramping up until she was good to go home.
Once we were home we had to start going to the Sydney Children’s Hospital at Randwick for all sorts of different tests to work out what was actually wrong with the kidney. Investigations revealed that the bad kidney performed almost no function and the good one was already doing all of the work. They still weren’t sure what was wrong with the kidney but were then worried that if it kept enlarging it may damage surrounding organs. The decision was made to remove the bad kidney and she was operated on when she was 10weeks old.
After surgery the doctors were able to give us a preliminary diagnosis – mesoblastic nephroma – a very rare type of kidney tumour. The odds of this diagnosis were 1 in 30,000. Of those statistics, only 30% are cancerous but we had to wait for pathology results to confirm.
2 weeks later we found out the kidney was cancerous, and had to wait to see whether or not the oncologists were recommending chemo or to just monitor her and only do treatment if they find anything. The decision was finally made, due to surgery success (tumour didn’t rupture during removal) and her age at diagnosis that the odds of recurrence were slim and we would avoid chemotherapy.
For now we have monthly ultrasounds on the kidney bed to see if there’s anything coming back. We also now have 6 monthly CT Scans on Marley’s lungs to check for spread. So far she’s been in remission now for 3 months, with no sign of cancer anywhere. Moving forward we must wait for 5 years to pass before getting a final official ‘all clear’. Overall she’s recovered brilliantly, and is growing up to be an otherwise perfectly healthy baby meeting all her development milestones…
I’m so pleased to be able to share Marley’s beautiful images with you today. Her nickname as a new little being is ‘Smiley’ and in the serendipitous way that life often works out her Mum has since found out that her name Marley means smile in Fijian, the place where they married and a country they have a deep connection with. Some things are just meant to be…
I look forward to shooting this little miracle again very soon.
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