November 17th may be just a normal day to most families, but not to mine. Today is national Prematurity Awareness Day, and I am a mother of a former preemie. On this day, we remember the birth of our daughter, who was born at 32 weeks and 5 days in May 2015. Here is our story.
I was having a normal, healthy pregnancy. I had previously had two healthy, full-term deliveries at 41 weeks, and was preparing to go well past our July due date with this pregnancy too. I was eating well, walking three miles a day, doing yoga, and receiving great prenatal care. Arguably, I was the strongest I had ever been during pregnancy.
On a Friday, the day after my 32 week appointment, I started to notice that my “Braxton Hicks” were ramping up a little bit. They always went away after an hour or so of resting and drinking water, but they seemed more intense. I also noticed that my baby’s daily kicks were coming with a little less force. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something felt off. I put off calling the OB, though, because I had just been in the day before, and nothing was wrong then.
That weekend was Mother’s Day weekend, and I enjoyed the weekend by going out to lunch with a friend, doing some gardening, and going on a hike with my family. Looking back I am so grateful that we got to spend such a lovely weekend together as a family.
On Monday, the contractions really started to ramp up again. I remember handling a big tantrum with my two year old while I was contracting and thinking, “There is NO WAY I can survive 8-9 more weeks of pregnancy like this!” I called my husband at work, busted out the iPads for diversion, and laid down on the couch chugging water all afternoon. The contractions finally slowed and disappeared.
That night, however, I was jolted awake by a strong contraction. I went to the bathroom and noticed blood, and that was the sign I needed. I knew. I immediately woke my husband, called a babysitter, and hopped into the car to head to Labor & Delivery, surprisingly calm. I knew we would get answers and help.
On the way we called my OB and left a message on his answering system to let him know to meet us at the hospital. I also called my doula, who met us at the hospital too.
At the hospital I was checked and found to be 4cm, with a bulging bag of waters, and contractions coming every 3-5 minutes. When the nurse in triage put the heart rate monitor on my baby, though, the big scare came. During the next contraction we heard my baby’s heart rate suddenly plummet to almost half its normal rate. I sat straight up, wide-eyed, and asked the nurse, “Is that my baby??”
I immediately received a steroid injection to help the baby’s lungs in case she needed to be born, and magnesium via IV to help stop the contractions. They were able to stop the labor, and stabilize me and the baby for the moment, but my OB told me we would be admitted for the rest of my pregnancy. We didn’t know how long that would be, but it was likely I would have a preemie.
Playing the Waiting Game
That was the longest night of my life. I did not sleep much, because I was too worried about my baby. I was afraid that if I slept, I might somehow forget to help her heart keep beating. It was irrational, but that is how I felt. I was also worried that if I moved too much, my water would break, and she would be born too soon.
In the morning we began tests to see what was going on, and by 10am it was decided that I would have a planned cesarean at 5pm that evening. Because my baby’s heart rate continued to drop with each contraction, they were concerned that she would not be able to handle the intensity of labor. They also did not know what was causing the labor and heart rate pattern.
I felt at peace in that moment with the decision. It was not the plan for my delivery, but at that time I was so terrified and worried about my baby. I was worried I could not spend days or weeks on edge, never knowing when the contractions would return or if my baby would be ok. I was worried about not being able to be a mother to my older two children while I was in the hospital on bedrest.
They began to prepare me for the reality of a NICU stay at that point, something I had not thought of or considered. I cried thinking about it, but knowing that this was the best option for all of us. I remember wishing that I could climb into a little bubble, and float up to the ceiling and *poof,* be gone from this reality.
At 12:15, though, my baby told us she had other plans. Out of the blue, her heart rate dropped, and this time it did not pick right back up. Within moments a swarm of nurses and residents descended upon me, and I knew. I was quickly prepped and rushed down the hall to the OR. As they ran, I closed my eyes and focused breathing to my baby. “We hear you,” I whispered to her. “Please hold on one more minute. We hear you, and we are coming to get you.”
It was astonishing how quickly the nurses and residents organized themselves in the chaos. Within 5 minutes, I was under general anesthesia.
When I woke up, the first thing I asked was if my baby was ok. “Yes, she is stable and in the NICU,” they told me. I was flooded with so much relief. Nothing else mattered to me, even my pain. She was born with an APGAR of 1, but within 5 minutes, had recovered to receive an 8 on her second APGAR. After her resuscitation, she never even needed any more assistance with breathing. A miracle for a 32 weeker!
We named her Virginia May. Virginia after my husband’s grandmother. May because she was so unexpectedly born in May instead of July. I got to see her briefly from my hospital bed at 2 hours old. I touched her at 12 hours. I finally held her for the first time at 24 hours. When I held her tiny 3lb5oz body skin-to-skin to my chest for the first time, I felt like I was in heaven. And that if we could survive this, we could do anything in the world, me and her.
Later it was determined that the cause of my labor was an infection called chorioamnionitis. Basically, the placenta, cord, and amniotic sac were infected. That is what caused my placenta to suddenly give out and stop feeding oxygen to my baby. With a 5 day course of IV antibiotics, and a short stint under the bilirubin lights, and two weeks with a feeding tube, though, Virginia did beautifully. My preemie spent 17 days in the NICU, and were released from the hospital at 35 weeks and 1 day.
There is not a day that I do not think about Virginia’s birth. It was very difficult emotionally and physically to heal from, but I am so thankful that she is now a happy, healthy, pretty much normal 18 month old. I know that I am very lucky considering the many other possible outcomes that face babies born prematurely.
In her honor, I started a support group for other local NICU moms on Facebook. Please feel free to join this group if you have ever had a preemie or baby in the NICU. You can also share it if you know someone else who has. It is wonderful to be able to connect and share our unique stories. Together we can help each other through the special challenges we face, and work toward healing.