At a 12 week ultrasound in late 2014, doctors picked up Carmel Chesterfield’s baby girl Arabella had CDH - congenital diaphragmatic hernia. 

With one in 2500 babies being diagnosed with the condition and a 50/50 survival rate, Carmel and fiance Daniel were buoyed by the news that Arabella looked to have an 80 per cent chance of survival. 

While the news was a lot to take in, the couple held on to hope. 

Arabella was not Carmel’s first child - she had a son Lucas in 2011 - but was Daniel’s. Carmel said Daniel was her “rock”, always assuring her things would be ok. 

Carmel and Daniel travelled to Brisbane to confirm Arabella’s diagnosis. They spent the rest of the pregnancy back and forwards from Brisbane. 

“At 36 weeks we packed everything up and moved to Brisbane as our local hospital wasn’t equipped to handle a CDH baby. At 39 weeks I was induced,” Carmel said. 

“We knew it would be a case of birth, stabilise, operate.” 

Arabella was born in the afternoon. Daniel went with her to the NICU but Carmel didn’t get to see her until that night. Arabella was intubated, but her first 12 hours were good. 

“But she went downhill from there. She needed extra medications and was up and down for a few days. Day four she was stable enough for surgery and after that they were happy with her progress,” Carmel said. 

The couple realised they were in for a long hospital stay but baby Arabella was doing all the right things and was being weaned off her medications. 

“We had lots of awake time with her. But she got an infection, which is pretty standard after surgery. On Mother’s Day she had a blood transfusion. A couple of days later, she backflipped. They were at the end of the road. We decided to remove her life support, but waited for family to arrive. Our biggest fear was her dying with us not there,” Carmel said. 

The couple took photos and fingerprints and finally got to hold Arabella. Daniel had the first cuddles, then Carmel. 

“We spent a few hours holding her but she was tired. They turned the machines off, we went to a private room and she went very, very quickly,” Carmel said. 

Carmel is passionate about sharing Arabella’s story. She also loves to see her name and uses Sands’ Facebook community to have images created with her name.  

Carmel and Daniel welcomed baby son Maverick into the world in December 2018.  

“Daniel was keen to try straight away. I didn’t want to. We waited 12 months but then had two miscarriages. But we eventually got our rainbow.” 

Carmel said though men and women grieve differently, there was a layer of complexity to their grief with Arabella being Daniel’s only child at the time. 

“I didn’t grieve straight away as I was navigating Lucas. He struggled and still does now,” Carmel said. 

Carmel also said they grappled with gender disappointment after having Maverick. 

“That was very real for us. We both desperately wanted a girl. I never allowed myself to think I was having another girl. Daniel struggled. Now looking at it, I wasn’t ready for a girl, not sure I could have coped. Maverick looks so much like her.” 

Carmel said the door was certainly not shut on having one more. 

“We want to enjoy Maverick for a couple of years. We’d really, really like a girl, but we did struggle to get Maverick. We are definitely not done though,” she said.