Her Story: Sommer Pyne (House Curious) on helping her daughter beat all the odds
Updated: Feb 12, 2019
When Sommer Pyne founded House Curious - a home accessories and gifts site with an ardent following - it was her young daughter, Lyla, who most inspired her to succeed. Born prematurely and with multiple complications, Lyla's strength and resilience taught Sommer to overcome her own fears and aim high.
My husband and I had the most amazing wedding in Ibiza and one month later I found out I was having a baby. We’d booked an adventurous honeymoon in South America, and I was pregnant when we went several months later. Towards the end of the holiday, something felt wrong – I just wasn’t myself, physically and emotionally, and was suffering bad indigestion. I got home and went to see the doctor immediately. ‘Peanut’, as we called her, was fine. Then that night she kicked violently, and went totally still the next day. I was worried, and was also starting to feel sick with flu-like symptoms, which turned to vomiting and cramps that night. My husband was convinced I was in labour, I was in denial. I stood up to be sick and when mucous came out of me we knew that we needed to get to hospital quickly.
Doctors believed I had an infection and they might need to deliver the baby. She was only 26 weeks. As a precaution they gave me steroids for the development of her lungs. It was then that they discovered I had listeria - probably from an unwashed salad I ate on my honeymoon in Brazil, I later found out. The placenta was harbouring the listeria, it was infecting the baby and would cause meningitis.
I was delirious with fever - in and out of consciousness for 24 hours - and then there was a sudden panic to get her out. They had to use forceps and cut me - it was horrific – I felt like a piece of meat on display to all the doctors, nurses and students in the room. As soon as they pulled her out they whipped her away from me. Will and I collapsed in tears with relief that she was finally out. I remember Will holding me tightly and I couldn’t see Lyla; I was calling out asking if my baby was alive and no one answered. Will was pulled away from me and taken to where the doctors were resuscitating her.
Lyla – as we called our daughter - went on life support in intensive care and doctors said she had a 50/50 chance of survival. I was wheeled in to see her in her incubator. She was a tiny bird-like creature, almost black, and with skin so thin you could see through it. She had tubes coming out of her mouth, stomach, legs and arms, and the machine made her body bump up and down. I was shocked to the core. It was so hard to see, and my legs nearly gave way as I stood up to take a closer look. My dreams of holding my healthy bundle of joy were shattered and I was scared.
I’d always wanted to have a baby and give her the love and stability that I lacked as a child. Sadly, both of my parents battled with addiction issues and I was born into a chaotic world with a turbulent childhood in Australia. When I left home I worked hard to have a stable and normal life. Carving out a career in advertising I eventually moved to the UK to get away from it all, and later on I met a wonderful man, Will, who is kind, funny and ambitious. When I got pregnant with Lyla my relationship with my parents wasn’t great, so I didn’t tell them at first - I wanted to have my own family and focus on them without any of the drama or worry.
The first time they let me hold Lyla in the hospital was very emotional. They put her on my chest (it’s called kangaroo care) with all her tubes for an hour a day. It was traumatic, but wonderful that she could feel my warmth and my heart beating. I thought then of how much I didn’t want to lose her. I thought of her coming home, her birthdays, her going to school and all of us going on holiday together. I couldn’t bear to think of not being able to share cuddles and jokes - you know, the small things we take for granted. I desperately wanted her to live a full and happy life just as she was meant to. I could also tell she was a fighter and this gave me hope.
I was released from hospital five days later and then visited Lyla every day in hospital after that. I was in such a bubble – it felt like the whole world was going on around me, but my world had stopped. Each day was a challenge, and often the techniques doctors and nurses would use with her seemed to me like she was being tortured. The reality was, everything was getting to me, but my husband was my rock and kept it all together for us all. It was ten weeks before she left hospital, after a rollercoaster ride of emotions and events. One of the lows was when Lyla got an infection in her longline (a central venous catheter) and we thought we were going to lose her. Back in intensive care she recovered, but she would come home on oxygen. She had chronic lung disease (common with premature babies) and needed an analysis machine with an alarm that would often go off in the middle of the night. Nurses came to our home every day, and it was stressful.
After a month she came off oxygen, but they discovered other issues. She had pulmonary stenosis – an obstruction of blood flow to the heart – and the nurses said I’d need to keep a close eye on her breathing, so of course I didn’t sleep for months. They also told me that her cerebellum in her brain was a funny shape; it had been eaten away by meningitis, and she could have problems with balance and walking.
As time went on Lyla wasn’t doing what she should. Every milestone for us was very long, and Will and I had to really work with her to sit up and crawl. A female doctor warned us that if she wasn’t sitting and walking soon, she may not ever walk and that she might have cerebral palsy. It was extreme. I realise now I couldn’t enjoy Lyla when she was a baby - I was always worried about whether what she was doing was normal. I felt so guilty: I couldn’t believe that eating an unwashed salad could have such an impact on all our lives.
Lyla proved that doctor wrong; it was very delayed, but she did walk. Nursery was a struggle, but I’m so grateful for all the support we had. School was more of a worry but fortunately we managed to get funding for a one-on-one carer to be with her. She couldn’t put her jacket on, go to the loo by herself, walk up the steps, or walk with her lunch on a school tray – things that other kids take for granted. She’s had speech therapy, physio, occupational therapy, she struggles with writing, and her coordination isn’t good, but with all the help and over time she is getting so much better.
Lyla is about to turn 6 and she still has issues with her balance – she keeps her legs wide when she walks or runs to keep her from falling - but we’ve always been there to hold her hand and catch her when she falls. She’s defied all the odds, and doctors have said she’s a miracle in their eyes. She’s doesn’t compare herself to her peers and has never said, “Mummy, I’m different.” She’s started dance classes at school and they let us watch just before Christmas. She was right at the front, happy and confident. She wasn’t coordinated and her body was holding her back, but she didn’t seem to notice at all. My husband and I were both crying – it was such a beautiful moment.
This year, I realised I’ve been holding a lot of sadness for Lyla and I feel like something’s been released. I feel bad that she’ll have to work harder than all the other children, but I can see her shining so brightly now and I’m happy that she’s healthy. She’s funny, smart, cheeky, affectionate, and cuddly. We were told all sorts of things by doctors – that she might have Asperger’s, she might not walk or talk, that she may be blind or severely disabled – but now every birthday I’m celebrating her as a person and letting go of the sadness and fear of losing her. I had a second child, Indy, and Lyla’s been a great big sister. We’ve had to let the reins go a bit, and let Lyla show Indy how to do things. Lyla still waits for us to get her out of bed and get her dressed, and she’s just begun walking up and down the stairs at home on her own. She takes it all in her stride, though, and she’s inspired me so much.
One of the reasons I set up House Curious was because of Lyla. I’d always had an idea of having my own interiors business, but I had fear of spending the time and money, and a fear of failure. Lyla’s strength has made me look at life differently: it’s precious and we don’t have much time. She taught me that you’ve got to go after what your heart desires, and it’s not worth sweating the little things. I wanted to be a good example to my girls – to prove that if you put your mind to something you can do it - and show Lyla that I could be strong, too. Lyla has demonstrated how we can do so much more with our lives than might be immediately obvious. Turning 40 I feel the best I’ve ever felt, and I have Lyla to thank for making me feel more comfortable in my skin than I’ve ever been. I’m so grateful and proud of my little family.
Family photographs by Maja Tsolo Photography