Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Preemie Story Part 2: Guinness, the NICU and my Sleeping Beauty

So, last we let off, I was waiting for an operating room so I could give birth to my baby girl at only 34 weeks (6 weeks early). I had spent a long night on various medications to try to get me out of labor, only then to have many other medications pumped into my body to prep for my c-section.

My memories from this time are like snapshots,and only when I piece them together can I attempt to recreate the entire story. I remember being wheeled into the operating room by the doctor, who kept slamming me into walls by accident. He kept joking that he was a better doctor than bed-wheeler. I remember all of the staff in the operating room joking and talking about their daily lives. I noted how this was an average day at work for them, yet it was the most important day of my life. I remember my husband telling the anesthesiologist how sensitive I am to anesthesia. After I started dry-heaving during the surgery, the doctor remarked that my husband wasn’t kidding, and then adjusted my meds. I remember telling my husband to take his glasses off, because to my horror, I could see the reflection of my open abdomen.

I remember the NICU staff walking into the room right before my little girl was ready to be taken out of me, assuring me they were going to give the best of care to my little girl. After they pulled her out, I remember waiting to hear her cry for the first time. It felt like an eternity. It probably was anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. Our daughter's amazing doctor, who happened to be in charge of the entire NICU kept saying, “Come on Princess. Come on Princess. It’s okay, she is just a little stunned. Come on Princess.” Finally she cried and it was the most beautiful sound. Then I cried out of joy and relief. Before the NICU staff whisked my little girl away to work on her and make sure she was stable, I was able to give her a brief kiss on the head.

The doctor then sewed me up and brought me to the recovery room. Unlike after my previous surgeries, I was alert. I needed to see how my baby was. The NICU doctor came in and told us our baby was stable, but there was a long road ahead. My daughter was currently on CPAP which was helping her breathe. Also, because she was born so early, she was at risk for a collapsed lung and for bowel obstructions, among other problems. The doctor said that for now, she was stable and doing okay, but that the next 48 hours were crucial. They wheeled me into the NICU to see her, and as I went to sit up to get a closer look, I am told that I turned a shade of green, then white, and then I collapsed.

I was in and out of consciousness for the next 24 hours; the drugs and the operation definitely took their toll on my body . I would wake up periodically and ask my husband how my little one was. He was running back and forth between me and our baby and kept assuring me she was doing great. The next morning I finally got up, showered as quickly as I could, and got in a wheel chair to go see my baby. Seeing my baby in the NICU, in an incubator, hooked up to monitors, on a breathing tube, was extremely overwhelming. She was 4 pounds 8 ounces and actually dropped down to three and change as all babies lose weight in their first week. The nurses called my daughter Sleeping Beauty and Pocket Princess. They said she was perfectly formed, yet she was tiny. The nurses told me that she probably wouldn’t come home much before her due date.

There were many painful things that we endured during that time. I don’t like to dwell upon these things, because when all is told, we came out of this very lucky. I remember how hard it was not being able to hold my baby for the first 48 hours, until she was stable. I remember how weird it was seeing other people take care of her feedings, change her diaper and look after her general well being. After four days, my husband and I had to leave the hospital, but my little one had to stay. That was the worst day of my life, leaving her there in the NICU. My only comfort was that the nurses and doctors there were angels on earth. I had been watching them for the last few days taking care of my daughter as their own. I knew she was in good hands.

The doctors there had told me that Guinness Beer was good for breast milk. It goes without saying that my husband and I stopped at a local supermarket to pick up a 6-pack before we went home that night, after leaving our little baby at the hospital, although I was too exhausted and worried to take more than a sip

My little one beat all of the odds. Like most babies in the NICU, there are things she had to do on her own before she could come home. She first had to breathe on her own, which thankfully she did after a few days. She then had to be able to bottle feed, as opposed to receiving food through a feeding tube. That was a little trickier. When I was discharged, I tried to make it to the hospital to see every feeding that I could. The feedings I missed, I would frantically call the NICU nurse assigned to my daughter to see if she was able to bottle feed or if it was a tube feeding. My daughter was so little, that drinking from a bottle was exhausting for her, and sometimes she just couldn’t do it. I knew that when the nurse told me that it was a tube feeding, it would immediately add at least a couple of days to my baby's stay in the NICU. I was getting a lot of use out of the breast pump I had bought on a hunch the week before I went into labor. It would be months before my little one would be strong enough to nurse.

The last test before my daughter could come home was the car seat test. My husband and I had to bring her car seat into the NICU so that the doctors could monitor her while she sat in it. If she didn’t go into distress, and her vitals remained stable, she could go home! I remember getting that joyous call that she was finally ready to come home. We rushed to the hospital and watched as they unhooked all of her monitors, which had been on her since moments after her birth. I was so very excited and overjoyed, but I was also terrified. I was pretty sure there was a good possibility that I could break her.

My incredible mother single handedly redesigned my kitchen while I was in the hospital and while I was going back and forth to the NICU. The morning we went to go pick up our baby, my parents, whom I am forever indebted to, were at our apartment scrubbing it from floor to ceiling, removing all the dust and making it safe for our little one. We had a new granite counter top and a new dishwasher that I had ordered the afternoon I went into labor eleven days before. We had our kitchen redone. My brother and father were able to pick up the crib that my grandmother ordered early to complete my daughter's nursery. We finally had a baby in our home, a dream of ours for many years. We were traumatized by all we had just gone through, but so very grateful. Now the new journey of parenthood was upon us.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Preemie Story: Part 1- Baptism by Fire

As I left abruptly for the hospital that afternoon, I couldn’t explain how I knew, but I was certain that the next time I would be returning to my apartment I would no longer be pregnant. In fact as I locked the door, I said to my mom, “I guess we won’t be able to get the kitchen redone before our little one is born.” She thought I was crazy and assured me we were just going to the hospital as a precaution, all was well and it will get done. Technically, we were both right. I wasn't able to get my kitchen redone before my baby was born, but I was able to do it before she came home from the NICU!

I wasn’t prepared to have my baby 6 weeks early, at least on a conscious level. Many couples who struggle with infertility have preemies. Some of these couples have preemies because they are having multiples, which puts them in a higher risk category for pre-term labor. Some babies are born prematurely because of medical conditions of the baby's mother. For example, my husband was born 12 weeks early because my mother in law suffered from placenta previa. Seeing as his birth was 30 years ago, it is pretty incredible they both survived. Sometimes, there is no explanation for a woman to go into pre-term labor. I was born 6 weeks early like my daughter, but there was no genetic or medical reason why my mom went into pre-term labor. Even though we struggled to get pregnant, there had been no concerns during my pregnancy. As a matter of fact, the morning of the day I went into labor, I saw my doctor. He did an ultrasound, and besides my daughter being breech, all was well. He assured me there was time for her to turn around and have a normal delivery.

My due date was February 12th. My baby shower was scheduled for the second weekend in January and our hospital tour and birthing class was scheduled for the first weekend in January. As soon as the craziness of Christmas was over, I started panicking over everything I had to do to be ready for our baby, even though we had 7 weeks still to go. I think I knew on a subconscious level that she was coming. The week before my daughter’s unexpected arrival I started behaving feverishly. I just had to buy my nursing pajamas, bras and a robe for the hospital. I also bought a high grade breast pump, even though I hoped to nurse exclusively. My mom’s response to this was, “You don’t even know if you are going to use it!” Somehow I just felt I needed it. I also made my husband order my daughter’s dresser for her room and asked my grandma to immediately order the crib that she was so generously was going to buy for us for the shower.

After my doctor’s appointment on the day I went into labor, I went to Sears and ordered a dishwasher for our kitchen which was to be delivered the following Monday. I also picked out a paint color for our kitchen and the granite for our new counter top. A few days later we were telling our story the head doctor in the NICU while visiting our little girl. The doctor looked at my husband and said, “Your wife just HAD to have and do all of these things so early? Your wife knew this baby was coming! Next time she starts demanding you paint the kitchen to get ready for the baby, you bring her to the hospital right away!” When I first started feeling “cramps” which I would later know to be contractions, my super was in our bathroom fixing our broken toilet. Having a fixed toilet was another one of the many things I was able to cross off my list before bringing home our baby!

My “cramps” felt like they were coming a couple of times an hour. I felt compelled to call my doctor, who to my surprise told me to go straight to the hospital. I immediately called my husband at work, hysterical. He on the other hand was really calm, not realizing what I knew in my heart- this baby was coming! My mom came over and I packed my bag with all of the hospital essentials I just bought and she drove me to the hospital and stayed with me until my husband got there.

Sure enough, once I arrived at the hospital I was having regular contractions only minutes apart. The doctor thought I was dehydrated, and two bags of fluids later, the contractions were still going. And even after two shots of terbutaline, my contractions still wouldn‘t stop for long. On top of it all, my baby was kicking like crazy -- apparently she found it amusing to hear her kicks echo on the fetal monitor. This actually gave me much needed comfort because I was worried about her health and safety. An ultrasound showed my baby wasn’t in distress, but it would be better if she were not born so early. The doctor said that I needed to be admitted to the hospital to try to stop the labor, and I had a night of “magnesium sulfate” ahead of me, which I will always think fondly of as “the fire meds.” They also gave me a steroid shot to help develop my baby’s lungs.

Because I was in a shared room, my husband couldn’t stay with me that night. It was a long, long night. The magnesium sulfate made the hot flashes I got from my fertility meds seem like a breeze! It felt like my body was on fire. I would look over at the monitor every once in a while and see my contractions going strong. I mentally prepared myself as best I could that this baby was coming. I decided then her middle name would be Grace, because she would need all of the grace she could get to flourish despite her premature birth. At 5:00 am, after being at the hospital for 12 hours, the nurse came in held and my hand and said, “Honey, I’m not a doctor, but I feel in my heart that this baby has a purpose, and for whatever reason, needs to come out now.” I definitely agreed, and called my husband and told him to come back to the hospital. It turned out that the nurse was right, because an hour later the doctor checked me and I was 3 cm dilated. Because my baby was still breech, I would have to have a c-section. This baby was going to be delivered as soon as an operating room was available!

Stay tuned for a Preemie Story Part 2: Guinness, the NICU and my Sleeping Beauty