My Journey Into Motherhood: Sommer Pyne

My Journey Into Motherhood: Sommer Pyne

When House Curious founder Sommer Pyne’s first daughter was born premature at 26 weeks, she had no idea what lay ahead. After months of challenges – from learning to walk properly to speech and physical therapy – the good news is Lyla is now happy and thriving, as is her younger sister Indy. Here, Sommer tells us more about her experience…
Photography: MAJA TSOLO
Photography: MAJA TSOLO

My husband Will and I have two daughters, Lyla and Indy. The girls are eight and four-years-old, respectively, and Will and I will celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary this July. It’s a sharp contrast to my own childhood, which was turbulent and unstable. Sadly, my parents struggled with addiction which meant I was exposed to lots of things most adults don’t experience. For me, having my own family has been hugely symbolic – more than anything I’ve wanted to create a safe and loving space for my children. 

I’m a traditionalist, so I wanted to be married before I fell pregnant. A month after our wedding in Ibiza, I found out I was going to have Lyla. If I’m honest, I would have waited to try and enjoy our first year of marriage together, but Will was really keen to be a dad. We also both wanted to be young-ish parents and didn’t want to leave it too late. 

At first, I was really excited. We were on a high – I was with the man I loved, had built a great life and now we were starting a family. But I was also scared. I had an intense fear of needles, so the thought of pushing a baby out was terrifying. Luckily, I never had morning sickness, but my energy was seriously zapped. I also suffered from crippling heartburn.

We went on our honeymoon to South America during my second trimester. Having booked it several months prior, I wasn’t expecting to be pregnant. Towards the end of the three-week holiday, something felt wrong – I just wasn’t myself. I got home and went to see the doctor immediately. The baby was fine, the doctor told me, but that night I felt her kick violently. The next day she was totally still, which raised alarm bells in my head, so we went straight to the hospital. After a blood pressure test and a scan, it turned out my baby still had a heartbeat. That night, however, I started to feel sick with flu-like symptoms, which soon turned into vomiting and cramps. By 2am, my husband was convinced I was in labour. When I stood up to be sick, my mucous plug dropped, which told us we had to get to hospital fast. I was only 26 weeks pregnant.

When we arrived at the hospital it was clear something was very wrong. I was given drugs to stop the labour and give the doctors some time to investigate. They thought I had an infection and told me they might need to deliver the baby to give her a chance of surviving. Even though she was so tiny, it was obvious she wanted to get out of my body there and then. As a precaution, I was given two lots of steroid injections to help develop her lungs and the doctor took my blood to do further tests. It was then they discovered I had listeria – possibly contracted from an unwashed salad I had eaten in Brazil.

The listeria had infected my placenta and was infecting our baby, too. I was delirious with fever, but I could sense this sudden panic from the doctors to get her out. They had to use forceps and cut me open – it was horrific – I felt like a piece of meat. As soon as they pulled her out, they took her away. Meanwhile, Will and I collapsed in tears with relief. I was calling out asking if my baby was alive – but no one answered. Then, Will was pulled away from me to watch the doctors try to resuscitate her. He says the image still haunts him to this day.

After that, Lyla went on life support in the intensive care unit – the doctors said she only had a 50:50 chance of survival. It didn’t look good and honestly, I feared the worst. After a few hours of recovery, I finally plucked up the courage to go and see her. When they wheeled me in, all I saw was this tiny bird-like creature, with skin so thin you could see through it. She was in an incubator with tubes coming out of her mouth, stomach, legs and arms, and the machine made her body bump up and down. It was shocking and my legs gave way as soon as I stood up to take a closer look. I’d always wanted to give my child the best life possible, but this was a bitter pill to swallow. Having created this perfect home, I wasn’t even sure she would come back with us.

I want people to know my situation was unique. With any labour, no one can prepare you for all eventualities, but it’s important not to have any expectations – that way you won’t be too disappointed if it doesn’t go to plan. Hypnobirthing is a great tool and was something I wished I’d done given the chance.

For us, the first few days with our new baby were very different. We didn’t get to take her home and fumble over nappies or show her off to our family and friends. I spent my first night as a mum alone on the ward. All the other mothers had their babies while my daughter was in another part of the hospital on life support. I felt so angry and sad… I cried a lot in between trying to collect colostrum with a syringe from my breast, which I’d been told would help Lyla immensely.

Against the odds, Lyla survived her first 24 hours. A couple of days later they let me hold her for the first time. They put her on my chest (it’s called kangaroo care) with all her tubes for an hour a day. It was wonderful knowing she could feel my warmth and heartbeat. Suddenly, the thought of her coming home – her birthdays, her going to school and all of us going on holiday together – flooded my brain. I couldn’t bear to think of not sharing all the cuddles and jokes – it’s the small things we so often take for granted. 

I was released from hospital five days later and visited Lyla every day after that. It was such a bubble – it felt like the whole world was going on around me, but my own world had stopped. Each day was a challenge, and some of the techniques carried out by doctors and nurses on her were hard to watch. I knew they were helping, but I just wanted her all to myself. My husband was our rock during this time. It was ten weeks before she left hospital, during which she contracted an infection in her longline [a nutritional tube which went into her vein] which made us think we might lose her. She recovered, but it meant she came home on oxygen. She also had chronic lung disease (which is common with premature babies) and needed an analysis machine with an alarm that would go off in the middle of the night. Nurses had to come to our home every day, too – it was so stressful. 

A month later she came off oxygen, but they had discovered some other issues. She had pulmonary stenosis, which is an obstruction of blood flow to the heart. She recently had surgery for this during the pandemic. The nurses also said the cerebellum in her brain was a funny shape; it had been eaten away by meningitis, and it meant she might have problems with her balance and walking in the future. 

As time went on, Lyla wasn’t doing what she should. Every milestone felt a long way off, and Will and I had to work hard to help her sit up and crawl. A female doctor warned us that if she didn’t sit or walk soon, she might turn out to have cerebral palsy. Looking back, I realise I couldn’t enjoy Lyla when she was a baby – I was always worried about what she was doing. I felt so guilty, too; I couldn’t believe that eating an unwashed salad would have such an impact on all our lives.

In the end, Lyla did sit up and walk. Through lots of help and extra support – speech therapy, physio, occupational therapy – she’s doing really well now. I’m amazed at how far she has come; she’s a real fighter and we’re so proud of her.

My second birth happened four years later. Having been very traumatised by my first experience, I knew I wanted more control, so a C-section felt like the right way to go. Sadly, we had to fight for it and get the approval of three doctors beforehand. It made me feel so guilty, with many specialists arguing the best thing for my baby was to have a natural birth. I was so conflicted, because I wanted to do what was best, but I also knew how scared I was. 

In the end, having a C-section was such a calm and wonderful experience. There was no emergency… everything felt so straightforward. When they lifted Indy out and put her against my cheek, it was pure joy. She has brought so much love and light into our lives – plus, she and Lyla are adorable together. She’s helped Lyla grow so much in confidence.

Breastfeeding felt like a natural choice to me. That said, with Lyla, it was challenging. At first, she couldn’t even tolerate my milk, so we had to slowly build up her tolerance. I spent most of my time expressing and saving milk for her – we ended up with two full freezers of the stuff. Eventually, when she was able to hold it down, it was still a struggle to get her to latch on because she didn’t have the strength. The only way I could get her to do so was by using a nipple shield. 

Now I’m a mum, I’m far more tolerant and empathetic. I’m more conscious of the part I play in society and the impact I have on the planet, too. Watching my daughter fight for her life and all the challenges she has faced really made me appreciate life more, and it taught me not to sweat the small stuff. Now I never let fear get in the way of anything I want to achieve – life is too short.

I started my business shortly after Indy was born. I remember trying to do it all – work and look after my children, and frankly… I was exhausted. I don’t think anyone knows the secret – there’s always a sacrifice involved. Hiring a nanny was a game changer; because I worked from home it meant I could dip in and out throughout the day. I’m also very lucky that my husband has changed careers and is now able to be more hands on. We divide and conquer a lot and it’s really helped. I don’t know how single parents do it.

Being a parent and home schooling during the pandemic was extremely stressful. My daughter has learning difficulties, but we also made so much progress with her at home it made us realise she wasn’t getting the right support as school. We were able to make some really positive changes and get her the right kind of help. As a mum, I chose to put everything on hold to focus on my girls – they needed me and I wanted to be there for them. All I want for my children is for them to have the confidence to chase their dreams and achieve anything they want. 

Right now, I can’t ever imagine being pregnant again. We’ve talked about adoption and it’s something we might look into in the future, but for now, it’s just the four of us. I’m also working on a new business idea in the wellness sphere, which I’m excited about. 

The one piece of advice I’d give other mothers is to talk to your partner or loved ones. Let yourself feel all the emotions – anger, guilt, sadness, loss – it’s so natural to feel it all and it’s definitely part of the healing process. As you make good memories, the bad ones eventually fade. Even in the darkest moments, remember things will get better, too. Plus, don’t forget about you – look after yourself and schedule time for your partner or a friend to look after the baby so you can enjoy some space. Get a massage, go for a walk, read a magazine in a coffee shop, have your nails done… It makes a world of difference. As long as your baby is healthy, nothing else really matters. 


Follow Sommer @HouseCurious and @SommerFruits on Instagram. Select imagery courtesy of the Pyne family and Will Pyne.

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