“TWELVE months ago today, I had my nine-day-old baby boy asleep on my chest. We were on a hospital trolley bed, my mum on my left, my husband on my right. As the orderlies were wheeling us towards the theatre, I was crying and clutching my baby, wondering if I was ever going to see him again.
“I remember the corridors and the stares of pity we got in the lift. I was about to endure a seven-and-a-half hour-long brain surgery to remove a tumour from my optic nerve.
“My baby was taken away by my husband and we had a teary ‘See you later.’ I was connected to copious amounts of lines and machines and wheeled into surgery. A mask was put over my face and I counted back from 10 staring at the halo of surgery lights.
“My lights went out and that was my last coloured memory.”
THESE powerful words were written by 29-year-old blogger and teacher, Sarah Hocking.
A year ago, Sarah was on top of the world. As well as teaching at Malmsbury Primary School in Central Victoria, a job she adored, Sarah was pregnant with her first child.
“We were excited to start a new life,” Sarah recalls, “although it was high pressure, we were both newlyweds and happy. And by the end of the year, Cam was going to have his new business and a newborn baby and me.”
Sarah first started to notice there was something wrong in June the same year. In class, she was having trouble reading the whiteboard. Computer screens and books were also difficult to see.
Being heavily pregnant, Sarah “just put it down to tiredness.”
In early July things went from bad to worse. Unbeknown to Sarah, her world was about to change forever.
“On July 11, Cameron and I were sitting down and the news was on and I couldn’t see the features on the newsreader’s face. So I could see her eyes, but I couldn’t see the colour of her eyes [or] whether she had makeup on. There was no nose, it was just all blank,” Sarah says.
Sarah and Cameron headed to hospital.
“We went in and they put bubs on the monitor and everything was tracking fine with Archer,” Sarah says, “then at about midnight, they decided to do a CT scan on me.”
“After dozing on a hospital bed, I was awakened at three o’clock in the morning by a doctor and an entourage. They explained to me that it was actually three clots on the brain, two of which were on the optic nerve, putting pressure on there,” she continues.
After being given a spinal tap to drain some of the fluid on her brain, Sarah was rushed by ambulance to Melbourne for an emergency C-section at the Mercy Hospital.
The birth was hard. Sarah lost a lot of blood and even though Archer was considered full-term at 38 weeks gestation, he ended up in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in a humidicrib for 24 hours.
“I remember feeling quite alone after that. All I wanted to do was see my baby and hold him and have that initial bonding with him and I never got that,” Sarah says.
Nine days later Sarah was taken into theatre to have surgery on her brain at the Austin Hospital. Reflecting back on this moment, she says that even now, it “reminds me of a movie.”
“It’s still so haunting,” she says, “they wheeled me through the corridors with Archer asleep on my chest. I had Mum on one side, Cam on the other and all of us were crying.”
Sarah promised herself she would come through the operation.
“It’s that mother instinct, I guess. You’re just solely focused on your child at the time, and I just wanted to be around for him,” Sarah explains.
What doctors initially thought were blood clots, turned out to be three benign tumours called meningiomas. Two of the tumours were wrapped around Sarah’s optic nerve and doctors worked for seven and a half hours to remove them.
“I woke up legally blind,” Sarah says.
And that’s when her journey truly started. Over the past year, Sarah has been learning to live life — and care for her baby son — with only a tiny bit of vision.
At first Sarah was “just shattered with grief” and kept asking herself “How is this going to impact on our son?”
Sometimes she’d have panic attacks when she was alone with Archer and couldn’t find everyday baby items, such as nappies or clothing.
In an attempt to explain how much she can see, Sarah says: “It’s kind of like looking through a stocking or at an overexposed photograph.”
I ask Sarah if she can see her son’s face.
“In the beginning I couldn’t see his face and I missed out on his first smile.
“However, I can see his face close up in daylight. The more light the better. I can see him smile, but I can’t tell the colour of his eyes,” she replies.
The first time Sarah saw her son’s face he was 10 weeks old. She was changing his nappy at 4am under the bathroom’s bright lights.
“I got down really close to him to give him a kiss and I saw his smile. I was so excited, I screamed and woke the whole house,” she says.
Straight after Sarah’s operation, she recalls being “smothered by my family and friends, thinking that I’ll never be independent and I’m going to need a carer. I refused to let that happen to me. It made me so angry.”
Fairly quickly, she started having a vision of herself as someone strong and capable.
“I see myself as independent, I see myself as a good mother, and I want to start up a blog and I want to tell my story because it would help others,” she says.
Despite knowing her goal, Sarah didn’t know how to get there. As a newly blind person, she didn’t know how to use her phone or computer — or even find items in the pantry.
“Every time I have to do something for the first time, I am riddled with anxiety and, and I prepare myself in advance,” Sarah says.
“If it wasn’t for Vision Australia, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I was having two or three appointments with them almost every day, until I became independent,” she says.
An occupational therapist helped her arrange the pantry so Sarah could find everything. Household items she used frequently were marked with tactile “bumps.”
“She showed me how to arrange my change table so that I was able to change Archer’s bum when he had a dirty nappy, and feel for the tackiness under the wipe, and giving me skills to change his nappy,” Sarah says.
Technology has also transformed Sarah’s post-operative life. She has talking kitchen scales, a talking baby thermometer and uses Apple Voiceover to work her phone, computer and iPad.
Often people ask Sarah strange questions or make odd comments about her being blind. She relishes the opportunity to answer them on her blog.
One of her favourite wacky comments is: “Oh, you don’t look blind.”
“I’m like, ‘Well, what’s a blind person supposed to look like?” she laughs, “Why can’t I wear makeup or look fashionable?”
Together Cameron and Sarah have spent time over the last week reflecting on the one-year anniversary of both Archer’s birth and Sarah’s operation.
“I was teary actually because it was so overwhelming but I was also proud. We have achieved so much. At the end of the day, I’m still here.
“We have raised our beautiful little baby boy and Cam has got his business. So everything that we imagined before … is still the same, it has just happened in a different way,” Sarah says.