It should have been a time of complete joy for Shelly and Jeremy Cawley – the safe arrival of their first daughter. But instead of basking in those blissfully happy newborn days together with their new baby girl, Jeremy was preparing to say the most awful of all goodbyes to his wife.
Shelly had lapsed into a coma when a blood clot and other complications struck during an emergency C-section. After a week lying unresponsive in a hospital bed, doctors told her devastated husband to expect the worst.
“It was an emergency C-section. Shelly had to be put to sleep so I wasn’t allowed in there,” Jeremy tells Humankind. “She had a lot of fluid in her lungs, they were having trouble getting oxygen to her brain, they were having trouble getting her blood pressure up. And it just seemed as if she was done fighting.”
When all hope seemed lost, medical staff had one last idea – to try skin-to-skin contact between baby Rylan and her comatose mother.
“We believe it has great benefits for the mom and the baby, and we just thought it can’t hurt, might as well give it a try,” nurse Ashley Manus told People. “I was hoping somewhere deep down Shelly was still there and could feel her baby, hear her baby, and her mother’s instincts would come out and she would realize, ‘This is where I need to be.’”
Jeremy says baby Rylan went right to sleep as soon as she was laid on her mum’s chest. “It’s not what we needed. We needed Rylan to cry. We were poking, and tickling to get Rylan to make some noises, but she was so happy… once she did, when she started crying out, I think it really got inside Shelly.” And just like that, Shelly’s vitals improved and she began to wake up.
Skin-to-skin contact is often done to help struggling premature babies, but in this case, it was done to help a new mother struggling to live.
Shelly says hearing about the whole event is almost unbelievable. “It just amazes me that a baby so little can have such a big impact. They’re pretty much helpless. They can’t do anything, but yet she was able to… her crying was able to give me something to fight for.”
Dana Bush, the obstetrician involved in Shelly’s care, says the mother-child bond is incredibly strong. “I thought it might make a difference if Shelly’s subconscious could hear and feel her daughter.”
We’re glad to tell you that, a year on, Shelly has made a full recovery. Rylan recently turned one and the young family had an emotional reunion with the hospital team who had worked so hard to save her life.