My dream ever since I was a young girl was to be a mom. But I never dreamed that I would not be able to carry a baby to full term. It was something that never even crossed my mind.
All three of my children were born prematurely. I can probably to relate to the parent(s) of any baby in the NICU because I've experienced every outcome.
My first baby lost his life due to prematurity. He struggled for 11 days, but it was all just too much for his tiny body and he passed away. Zachary was born at 23 weeks 4 days after a "textbook pregnancy". The day he was born, I was having some intense back pain and feeling a lot of pressure (TMI) like I needed to go to the bathroom. I called my OB right before lunch and they told me to come in after their lunch hour. But before my appointment time I had bloody show and my parents (I was at their house for the day) rushed me in. I was 6 centimeters dilated! I never in my worst nightmares thought I could have been in labor. I couldn't believe how tiny Zachary was the first time I saw him. I had barely even absorbed that he was here before he was gone. What an absolute nightmare to have to bury your baby....your firstborn.
My OB was convinced (and convinced ME) that my preterm labor and delivery was a fluke. I was young and naive and took his word for it.
I have also watched a baby, my second born son, struggle through the NICU for 6 long, scary, frustrating, tiring months. Ryan was born at 23 weeks 5 days. He made it one day longer in my womb than his big brother, but I went in to labor also at 23 weeks 4 days with him. My OB kept a close eye on me during my pregnancy. I had regular ultrasounds to measure my cervix and make sure it was not shortening or dilating. I even had an ultrasound in the late afternoon the day before I went in to labor and my cervix looked perfect. By the next afternoon, I was having the same "symptoms" I had as with Zachary. When I called in to my OB's office, the nurse (knowing my history with Zachary) had the nerve to say to me, "You were just here yesterday and everything was fine." I am still annoyed at that 8 years later! I went in and sure enough I was 3-4cm. I was admitted, given medicine to stop my contractions (that I couldn't even feel), and put in bed with my feet more elevated than my head. The contractions stopped, but still the next morning I was 10cm dilated and had to deliver.
Ryan endured so much in the NICU - collapsed lungs, ventilated for 3 1/2 months (almost ended up with a tracheotomy), numerous infections, a bowel obstruction resulting in an ileostomy for 4 months and then surgery again to reconnect his bowels, heart surgery (PDA ligation), and Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) and laser surgery in both eyes to help prevent it from advancing. His first month in the NICU was at a local hospital, 20 minutes away. Then he needed the belly surgery, so he had to be transferred to a hospital in Pittsburgh...almost 2 hours away from our house. That was where he spent the next 5 months. It was tough. Thank goodness for the Ronald McDonald House. I stayed there a lot and spent many long days at the hospital, doing all the care I was able to for Ryan. I hardly felt like a mom, though, until he finally came home.
Even once he did come home, it was short-lived. Two weeks later he almost died from congestive heart failure and was in the hospital for three weeks. He finally got to come home, only to end up back in a week later with pneumonia. The poor baby could not get a break. After another 3 weeks in the hospital, he finally came home to stay with no further prolonged hospitalizations.
Today he is a shockingly healthy, active 8 year old that loves life. He does have vision problems from the ROP and a partial retina detachment (in his right eye) and he wears glasses for nearsightedness (in his left eye), but he has adapted very well to the vision he does have. He will amaze anyone with his ability to play basketball and shoot hoops and to hit a wiffle ball. He also still receives therapies (speech, occupational, and physical) to help his development. But 8 years ago, when he was laying in the NICU fighting for life, I never dreamed that he would come out of it all with as few issues as he did. I know of preemies not as early as him that have more severe issues. He definitely (and unfortunately) did not escape his prematurity unscathed.
And then came Brooke. She was one of those preemies that really just needed to grow and mature in order to come home. She made it a whole extra 4 weeks in utero than her big brothers with the help of a cerclage (placed at 12 weeks) and 17P injections and was born at 27 weeks 4 days. I was in the hospital for a week before her birth, fighting preterm labor. I was given the steroid shots to help her lungs. I may not have gotten to experience carrying a baby to full term and a "normal" labor and delivery, but I got bits and pieces of it with her. She was the first one that I got to hear cry in the operating room. They even carried her over to me wrapped up just like a full term newborn with her hospital issued pink and blue striped hat so I could give her a kiss before they took her to the NICU. There was a celebratory mood back in my room with my family, unlike with the boys where everyone was scared to death and in shock. There are never any guarantees, but at least with an almost 28 weeker there is more hope for survival and a good outcome.
Brooke spent 7 1/2 weeks in the NICU. After the 6 months Ryan put in, that seemed like a drop in the bucket. She seemed huge to us at 2lbs. 10oz. after two babies not even 1 1/2lbs. each. She only ever required oxygen through the nasal cannula to assist her breathing. She did have her spells of apnea and bradycardia for a period of time, but that is to be expected in preemies. She took to her feedings pretty well. I kept waiting for something to happen or be wrong with her, but it never happened. She had a very uneventful NICU stay as far as not-quite-28 weekers go.
She is now an active, healthy 3 1/2 year old. She is even on the tall side for her age, which is different for me since Ryan has always been on the small side. You would never guess she was a preemie. She has no (noticeable) effects from her prematurity. Not all 27 or 28 weekers are that "lucky", though. I know things could have been different. Trust me, I know.
So there you have it - my experience with preemies and the NICU. I really feel like I've been through it all. It has definitely made me a stronger person. I've heard so many times from people, "I don't know how you did it". I just....did. I had to. For my babies. I hope that doesn't sound flip, but I really didn't think about it at the time. I did a lot of praying and it really helped me to feel more calm. Three times was enough, though. I don't think I could go through it all again and that's why I decided to have a tubal ligation during my c-section with Brooke. Sometimes it's hard for me to accept that, in a way, the number of children I have was determined by my body and not my heart, but I couldn't put myself, my family, or another baby through yet another NICU stay. I am so blessed with the children I have.
Every baby deserves 40 weeks. Please support the March of Dimes and if you are able to, consider donating.