A brief intro...
September is #NICUawarenessmonth so for the month, each day I will post a story from our five-week-and-one-day NICU rollercoaster journey. I initially shared this on my personal social media a few years ago, and the response was overwhelmingly supportive. It was emotional to receive so many messages of love and caring, as well as encouragement to share more of the story. This blog series will be a re-write of that social media series, with edits as needed to update or clarify. My hope in this is to give some insight to my readers about our parenting journey, the importance to my family of the role of breastfeeding in the health of my child, and to provide a positive story of hope to others who may be traveling this tough road.
Our story is by no means the most dramatic NICU story, but I know that there are many who have connected with it, even if their kid or grandkid, niece or nephew, or friend's child only stayed in the NICU for a few days. Any NICU time is a lot of NICU time, as any parent will tell you who has been through it. According to March of Dimes, "Premature birth (birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and its complications are the #1 cause of death of babies in the United States." It is well-known that the pre-term birth rate in the US is one of the worst among well-resourced nations. The preterm birth rate is 9.8%, so one in every 10 babies born in the US may need some NICU time.
NICU environments are changing dramatically, but many still have a long way to go. Our experience in 2014 may not be reflective of the current setup of our local NICU, but I am sure it is representative of many of those in the US still. Informing and educating the public, as well as raising needed funds to promote research to prevent prematurity is a priority for the health of future American children and families.
I want to share the story of my sweet preemie and celebrate her amazingness as well as the wonderful care we received, to acknowledge the suck, the joy, the ups and downs, how far NICU has come, and how very, very far it still has to go in this country, and more... So please, feel free to share with anyone who might need to hear it and connect with it. Please leave comments and let me know if you are enjoying the story.
So, without further ado, here is day one.
Day One - August 14, 2014 - A lion is born!
I am having an otherwise uneventful pregnancy, and an uneventful evening at work when around 6:15 pm, I suddenly realize I am leaking. My membranes have ruptured and my water has broken right here at the end of my workday while I stand chatting with a patient about upcoming weekend plans. I rush to the bathroom and calmly call my husband. After that, I call my doctor, leave work, drive myself to the hospital (after making several wrong turns out of minor panic and distraction).
I arrive at the hospital, park in the garage, waddle in to an information desk and patiently wait my turn in line. Drip...drip... The man in front of me, realizing my situation, graciously allows me to go next. I ask where Labor & Delivery is (since the hospital tour is not scheduled until September, as my due date is October 9th) and they kindly offer to wheel me there.
I am checked in, taken to triage and am being examined when Sean arrives. Testing confirms that indeed my water has broken (which seems obvious by my squishy sneakers, but I'm not an MD), yet there is still plenty of fluid around baby. I am not in active labor, and therefore I am to be admitted to Maternal Observation where I will lie in bed with my bottom end elevated to avoid leaking fluid while my body replenishes the lost fluid and I avoid infection and labor until at least 35 weeks. Sounds like a plan...until I start contracting...
WELP, long story long, at 10:36 PM, she arrives, crying (which we take as a good sign of lung function). Three pounds, ten ounces. After a brief hug, she is whisked to NICU. We visit her much later that evening.
We find her on oxygen with positive pressure to help her breathe because the surfactant which helps the lungs stay "inflated" so to speak is not developed fully at that point in gestation. I had received a corticosteroid injection pre-delivery, and she also receives the same medication to facilitate the surfactant production. She's working really hard to breathe, so the O2 and positive pressure help with that. She's also on caffeine because her brain isn't developed enough to regulate her breathing so sometimes she just stops. This is called apnea of prematurity. The caffeine is a stimulant so it keeps the central nervous system respiratory center working to keep her from holding her breath. When she does stop breathing, her oxygen levels and heart rate drop and alarms go off.
Day 1, we are taking all of this in. We are emotional, tired, happy, and terrified. We have no idea how tough and joyful the days before us will be. I am super focused on breastfeeding (pumping) and getting colostrum to LoLa. I am also completely unaware of the seriousness of our situation and am enjoying visitors the morning of the 15th. It all feels very surreal.
This is Day 1 of 37.