In honour of Mother’s Day, UHKF is sharing the story of Jessica and Spencer-Elizabeth Hutchings, and their remarkable healthcare journey. We are also offering a variety of meaningful ways to celebrate Mother’s Day, and the extraordinary women your life. Give a gift in honour, or in memory of a strong, resilient, compassionate, woman who has touched your life which includes the option of a Mother’s Day electronic card. Mother’s Day is also a wonderful opportunity to support the Women and Children’s Health Program at KHSC that gives hope to our tiniest patients, like Spencer-Elizabeth, and their families!
Complex Labour and Delivery
“It shouldn’t have happened” and “she shouldn’t have lived”. When Jessica and Cory Hutchings talks about the violent assault that triggered their daughter’s premature birth, she must wrestle with the trauma and triumph that bookend Spencer-Elizabeth’s birth story.
In spite of the rockiest possible start in life, the smart, gentle, funny, blonde-haired girl not only survived but she thrives. She can light up a room, and everyone in it, in the blink of an eye. Getting her to where she is today, however, has been a tough journey.
It all began in the fall of 2015 when Jessica, in the second trimester of an otherwise easy pregnancy, sustained a violent blow to her abdomen. “After that something didn’t feel right,” says Jessica, “and those feelings got worse and worse.”
By Halloween she was suffering from numerous complications, including kidney stones and pre-eclampsia. At that point her baby’s heartbeat had become almost undetectable and an immediate intervention was the only option. Jessica’s medical team set out a
48-hour timeline to delivery, which would allow for two critical injections to bolster the struggling infant’s lung development and improve her odds of survival after delivery.
The Journey of Prematurity Begins
“From that moment on everything was a blur. Our hospital room was a revolving door,” says Jessica. She and Cory had to make critical decisions about their daughter’s next steps. “Doctors said there was a small chance of survival and if she survived she might have cerebral palsy or possibly be blind and deaf.”
In response to these dire warnings, Jessica remembers telling the doctors, “We’ll cross those bridges when we get to them.” This was the expectant parents’ first baby: the KGH NICU could offer her a fighting chance and “that’s where we wanted her to go.”
Spencer-Elizabeth Hutchings was born on November 2, 2015, by Caesarean section at twenty-six weeks and six days. It marked the beginning of a four-month stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Weighing a mere one pound and four ounces, Jessica says her daughter “was the size of a 22-weeker” which only added to the many challenges the tiny baby was about to face. “I was so messed up,” she says, recalling about Spencer’s first hours and days, “I let my family meet her because I was afraid she wouldn’t survive.” During her 123-day stay in the NICU Spencer had many life-saving interventions including sedation for a brain bleed and numerous blood and platelet transfusions.
A Tough but Compassionate Christmas
The months of November and December were “touch-and-go” and baby’s first Christmas in the NICU was especially difficult. Jessica remains grateful to the NICU nurses who went “above and beyond” with decorations and special touches which included handmade blankets and ornaments with her baby’s footprints.
Celebrating the New Year with Hope
By the New Year the Hutchings learned that Spencer’s eyesight and hearing were good. “We had hope,” says Jessica, “they told us she might even end up overcoming her bronchial dysplasia.” Unfortunately, after a stay in the pediatric ward in 2017 Spencer was diagnosed with asthma, “That hope is gone. She may never have good lungs.”
Spencer continues to be monitored for cerebral palsy. “If she has it,” says Jessica, “It won’t be a severe case.” One of the signs can be walking on tip-toes, and “she does that a lot.”
Nowadays the entire Hutchings family celebrates whenever Spencer reaches a new milestone—especially with her language, which Jessica is proud to say ranks “in the 99th
percentile.” But the feeling that all is well and that her daughter’s health struggles are over, remains elusive. “There’s still a lot of fear. I don’t know if that OK feeling has ever been there.”
From a complicated labour and delivery, to a long-stay in the NICU to ongoing care in pediatrics, Jessica credits the wraparound effect of staff across the Women and Children’s Health program at KGH for helping her family overcome the many challenges they have faced, and the ones they may continue to face.
“If it wasn’t for the nurses,” insists Jessica, “I am positive we wouldn’t have come through it.” In Labour and Delivery “they saw me at my worst and they were my friend when I needed a friend.”
Social work also played a critical role in helping the Hutchings family to navigate the many consequences of prematurity: from securing benefits, to procuring home support equipment. “Spencer needed high-calorie formula and she came home on oxygen with monitors. The social worker did all the paperwork for that. To have done that on my own—I wouldn’t have even known where to start. To this day I couldn’t even tell you how many community supports we had.”
These days, the pediatrics team knows Spencer-Elizabeth by name, “There is one receptionist who argues with her about who is better: Tinkerbell or Belle,” says Jessica, “they make you feel the best you can in your situation.”
Like many mothers and daughters, Jessica and Spencer-Elizabeth like to stay busy. “We do too many programs,” she says as Spencer takes a break from her doughnut drawing to hammer some unsuspecting fish-shaped crackers into a laminate table with her rubber boot. The pair had recently completed a Home Depot Kids Workshop where Spencer built a ferry boat, “Like the big boat you went on in…” prompts mom, letting her daughter finish, with uncannily precise pronunciation, “Newfoundland!”
Married to a native Newfoundlander, Jessica wanted her daughter’s name to reflect her husband’s eastern roots. “Her name pays tribute to Nova Scotia’s Spencer Island, and Cory’s grandmother, Elizabeth, Spencer’s guardian angel,” she says.
At the end of the mother-and-daughter interview Spencer-Elizabeth waves goodbye, wearing a pink tutu with her “I did it!” workshop button pinned to her cardigan sweater. The girl who “shouldn’t have lived” continues to beat so many odds. She has earned her badge in more ways than one.