So tomorrow is the official "Fight for Preemies" blog event and the idea is to get many people to share their stories on one day to raise awareness for the reality of prematurity. As I started writing, I realized that it is going to be really long and so I better post the first part today. I have not written out the details of those first few days until now.
I did everything "right." I am overall a healthy person. I loved being pregnant. I felt great up until December 8. And then I became part of the statistics. Prematurity can happen to anyone and has many different stories. This is ours.
December 8, 2009
While driving home from doing some errands after work, I experienced something that I never had before--I was suddenly in so much pain that I started sweating bullets. My whole chest and abdomen felt like it was being stabbed and the thought "heart attack" crossed my mind. Somehow I managed to make it the rest of the way to my destination. "Luckily" that night it happened to be my parents' house instead of ours, which is much closer to where I was and to the hospital. "Luckily" Corey had planned to meet me there (I don't remember why) and had already eaten dinner. (I put those luckily's in quotes because I believe there was much more than luck at work there.) I explained to him surprisingly calmly how I was feeling and he called a nurse. They said since I was pregnant not to take any chances and go to the ER as soon as possible. So we did. And sat and filled out paperwork. (Okay, seriously, apparently the EMERGENCY part of ER is just for show. Once Corey thought he was having a heart attack and they did the same thing. I was mad. Rant over.) They took us straight up to a "birthing room" which kind of freaked me out because it had not even crossed my mind that this would lead to having a baby. I wasn't even even in the third trimester yet. Monitors were hooked up to keep tabs on baby, who was fine. Me, still in horrible pain. Eventually they said it was probably heart burn and gave me some meds and I felt like an idiot for going to the ER for that. But they don't mess around with pregnant people (thank goodness) and decided to keep me for the night until my regular doctor did rounds the next day. Enter night #1 of not much sleep and Corey sleeping on not comfortable furniture.
December 9, 2009
I felt much better and figured we'd be going home in a few hours, possibly on bed rest. We had visitors throughout the day. We got in trouble for laughing too much because they wanted to keep my blood pressure down as much as possible. At my last prenatal appointment my blood pressure had been a little higher than normal so my doctor said she would be watching it. (My normal blood pressure is really low, so the numbers weren't scary at all and we didn't think too much about it.) And made me do a fun thing to test for preeclampsia where you have to collect all of your pee for 24 hours. (Sorry if that is TMI, but it is important later.) It is to check for protein that isn't supposed to be there. That test came back fine. When she came in on this day she said she wanted to run that test again. Oh goody. She said she expected that I would go home after that on partial bedrest for a couple weeks. My blood pressure kept going up, and maybe that is why the decided to test it before the full 24 hours was up. It had the highest level of protein my doctor had ever seen (and she has seen many, many pregnant women.) I can still hear it clearly in my head: "We have no choice but to call this severe preeclampsia. I don't know what will happen so I am sending you to Fargo as soon as you can get two steroid shots to develop the baby's lungs. No; they can do the second one there; I am sending you as soon as I can get an ambulance." Some dear friends of ours just happened to be coming to visit as the doctor was leaving. They prayed for us and hugged us very tightly as our lives turned upside down. Then I got poked a lot and started on magnesium sulfate, which makes you feel like you are burning up. And sent on the most uncomfortable ride ever in a tin box on wheels, by myself. (plus the annoyingly talkative ambulance guy) I took my cell phone with me and one of my closest friends called while I was on the way. I remember the guy saying, "maybe you shouldn't answer that." But I did. I thought I sounded pretty normal, but she says not so much. Then I was put in the room where I would spend the next week of my life. A nurse got me checked in or whatever and left. I laid there by myself for I don't know how long and cried. It was horrible. Meanwhile Corey had to go pack some things and ask my parents to come with him on the first on many trips to Fargo.
December 10, 2009
We met with my doctor there in Fargo, who said "you are not going to be pregnant for more than another week." And there it was. He decided we would schedule the C-section for Monday when he came back on duty and see what happened. He said that if they needed to, they could have the baby out in 20 minutes. An ultrasound showed that baby was even smaller than they thought, only the size of a 24 weeker. The doctor said that meant that whatever was wrong with me had been wrong for a while. We also met with a neonatalogist who gave us some very good advice: "Do not Google 28 week babies. They are the bread and butter of the NICU. It is what we do and we will take care of him." He was right and supported us so much over the next 3 months.
The next few days were filled with ultrasounds, blood draws, and blood pressure checks. The thing is, as awful as it was, I have good memories too. Like Corey sleeping on the floor or chair next to my bed and holding my hand while I fell asleep. And all the nurses telling me how blessed I am to have a husband like that. And Laurie bringing me teddy bears and painting my toenails because I had to stare at them all day and it bugged me that they were ugly. And getting a package from my family with Christmas decorations and cookies in it. And using the "magic phone" to order food whenever I wanted and the lady at the other end telling me to go ahead and get some dessert. (That is when they let me eat. The first whole day the didn't. Or drink. Cutting off food from a pregnant women is cruel. And dangerous.) And setting up our CaringBridge site and having hundreds of hits within a day and Corey reading the guestbook out loud to me because my eyes hurt too much to do it myself. We are so loved.
December 13, 2009
I felt horrible through the whole night, so I think Corey and I knew inside that it wouldn't be too much longer. A nurse woke me up and checked on me literally every hour, and my blood was drawn every 3 hours. At around 6:30 the nurse came in and said, "Your platelets are way down. You are having this baby now." Later I learned my liver was swelling and doing bad, bad things, which explains the pain. They did all kinds of things to prep me, like making me drink the nastiest thing ever to do something to my stomach. The nurse said "Don't smell it, sip it, or think about it; just go for it." And sign a bunch of paperwork. The doctor said they would have to do multiple incisions and any other babies I had would have to be c-section as well. They wouldn't take the risk of doing a spinal block because the state my blood was in, so that meant being totally knocked out. This is a lot of information to take it very quickly but somehow we were quite calm and held it together. I guess because I had to be put under, they wouldn't let Corey be in the delivery room. He walked with us as I was wheeled through those infamous double doors. I remember he kind of just had to stop once we got there and one of the nurses said, "Wait! Did you get your kiss?" So they let him come give me a kiss and then sent him to wait in the waiting room by himself. I went through the doors at 7:30 and remember some things, like them putting up that big sticky sheet across my belly (not a reassuring thing) and explaining a little bit what they would do. Then the anesthesiologist put a mask on and told me to take big breaths. The last thing I remember is saying "I can't." At 7:49 Noah Michael made his entrance into the world weighing 1 lb 14 ounces, 3 months early. He was an amazing little guy and a fighter right from the start. They didn't have to do multiple incisions because he put his little hand up and the doctor could follow it and get him out with only one. And then his little lungs that weren't supposed to have to be breathing air yet let out a cry. One of the nurses opened the door and stuck her head out and said to Corey, "Do you hear that? That is your son." The wonderful NICU team went right to work saving his life. It took 3 tries to get the breathing tube in.
How do you thank an RT that literally breathed for your son as he came into the world 3 months early? Or the nurse that put in an IV that would deliver the nutrition that he could no longer get from Mommy? Or the doctor that chose to devote himself to saving these precious lives? They are all heroes to us.
I woke up to Corey and the nurse chatting next to me in the recovery room. She showed me where my button to deliver morphine was and I pushed it many times. Emergency C-sections hurt. A lot. They wheeled me back to the same old hospital room. My family arrived soon and Corey took them one at a time to see Noah. My dad came back and said, "He looks like a baby. I didn't know what to expect. But he is a tiny little baby." Many long hours later, they said that I could be brought in a wheelchair for a few minutes to see my son. My mom got me a special new robe to wear over the lovely hospital gown that had become my uniform. I vividly remember putting it on and the ride to the NICU and down the hall. But I have to admit, the seeing Noah part is a little fuzzy. Maybe it's partially the drugs, but I think God gives special grace for when we have to go through things like that. I hope the memory comes back stronger some day, at least I think so. It is surreal to see this little person that you are completely in love with that is supposed to be growing safe and warm inside you but is laying in a plastic box hooked up to wires and tubes. I do remember opening up the hand holes and touching his tiny, tiny hand with my swollen one. It was so red and so skinny. His entire hand didn't even wrap around my pointer finger. But it did hold on to it. I know that he knew who I was. I am Noah's mommy.