‘I wish I could give pregnant Sam a cuddle’
SPORTS presenter Sam Squiers has revealed she spent sleepless nights, racked with a "terrible guilt" during her second difficult pregnancy and "obsessively" searched for ways to somehow blame herself that her daughter Elle had developed a cleft.
Now, the 38-year-old wishes she could go back to the moments she spent consumed by the fear she had failed as a mother and give herself a glimpse of "how amazing" her beautiful, healthy baby girl turned out to ease the pain.
Squiers, who almost died during the dramatic premature delivery of her first daughter Imogen Grace in 2017, welcomed Elle Soleil in March, after being told at the halfway point of her pregnancy that her daughter would be born with the birth condition she knew nothing about.
Elle was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate, which means she has a gap in her upper lip and gum because those parts of the mouth failed to join together during early pregnancy.
Speaking ahead of her first Mother's Day as a mum-of-two on Sunday, Squiers has opened up about her agonising struggle to understand why Elle developed a cleft when she had been "healthy, fit and done everything right".
"(My husband) Ben would find me at 4am going through my calendar, trying to find out where I was, what I was doing, what I was eating at four to six weeks of pregnancy, when clefts are formed, trying to find a reason why,'' she said.
"I was just trying to feel in control of a situation I felt so out of control in.
"You just feel like it's your job to grow these babies and nurture them and bring them into world and, instantly, I felt that was two babies where I didn't do my job properly as a mum."
Squiers said when she held her Elle in her arms for the first time, "all that anxiety I had just melted away".
"It was instant love and that protective mother instinct kicked in straight away,'' she said.
"I thought 'I'm going to do everything I can to make sure you're safe and strong', it was overpowering."
While Elle requires a special bottle to help her feed, wears tape to hold her cleft in place to ensure it doesn't stretch further as she grows and will undergo two surgeries in her first year of life to correct the condition, Squiers describes her as the most wonderfully happy and "chilled out" baby.
"Sometimes I just wish I could go back and give that (pregnant) Sam a cuddle and say 'it's going to be OK, she's beautiful, she's healthy - that's all that matters','' she said. "To give that Sam just a minute with Elle as she is now, to let her see how amazing she is and how happy and grateful we are to be parents to this beautiful baby girl, then she would see everything going to be OK. She would see there's nothing to fear or worry about."
Squiers said Elle's 'relaxed' birth - at 37 weeks - was in huge contrast to the arrival of her sister "Immi", who was born weighing just 1.3kg at 32 weeks after Squires suffered a placental abruption and had to undergo an emergency caesarean. Immi was rushed away to the neonatal intensive care unit and ended up spending 44 days in hospital.
"To just hold this big, beautiful baby that was double Immi's birth weight and not be separated from her was beautiful and really emotional," Squiers said.
She admits having a second baby was a "big step" she and Ben took "very cautiously" due to the trauma of their first experience and they longed for "a straightforward pregnancy" without weekly scans or visits to specialists and hospitals.
But she said the disappointment "lost its power" over her once she realised they were "never entitled to a smooth run" because of what they went through with Immi.
"People had been saying to me 'you'll be fine, you've had your thing' but it doesn't work that way," she said. "Your chances of this happening don't recalculate just because of your experience the first time."
Squiers - who moved from Brisbane to Coledale NSW with Ben and Immi in 2018 - said she would spend Mother's Day feeling happy and grateful to be parents to her "amazing girls".
"This is a happy story," she said.
"We're proud of Elle, and we're proud of Elle's cleft - it is part of our story and part of who she is and we want her to be proud. I want Elle to grow up knowing how strong she is and beautiful she is.
"I hope in the future, people take strength from her strength. We want other kids to see difference is something to be celebrated not something to be shunned."
She said Immi, who has never noticed or pointed out Elle's cleft, dotes on her little sister.
"Elle's going to have a great life - she's won the jackpot as it is to just have Immi as big sister," she said.
"It's beautiful to see her love her so much."
Squiers said after "desperately trying to find someone who was going through or feeling what I was feeling" during her pregnancy with Elle, she hopes being open about their journey will help other mums.
"Because there will be someone out there who will be searching like I did for an answer or reason when there simply isn't one but if she knows that she's not alone, I know it will make a difference to her road ahead and to her pregnancy," she said.
Originally published as 'I wish I could give pregnant Sam a cuddle'