As is the Hazleton fashion, I am late again today. It was brought to my attention
late yesterday evening a few days ago that it was National Preemie Day? Who knew? It’s so fitting, since the next day was the date that our baby girl’s birth was scheduled to take place, just one week before her due date of November 25th.
But I guess she is one Hazleton who has broken the mold of being late.
Since we were all celebrating preemies this past week, I thought it seemed apropos to jump back into blogging cold turkey and share our NICU journey.
Here’s the very last photo of my pregnant belly, though we didn’t know at the time it was taken. A few days after we honored Rebecca’s birthday, I started having contractions that just didn’t feel right. Rather than the usual braxton Hicks, these were progressively painful. After a few days of this happening off and on, I went in to our hospital on the morning of September 29 to be checked out and was sent home with an antibiotic for what the doctor on call assumed was a kidney infection. I suspected it wasn’t and was concerned because I could feel the baby very low. I was right at 32 weeks pregnant.
By supper time that evening, I had vomitted up the antibiotic and contractions came back more forceful and back to back. I was in extreme pain and the Dr. on call still hadn’t called us back after we had called the answering service twice. I had a feeling we just needed to get in the car and head to the hospital.
We would be very thankful to God that we did just that.
Jeffrey quickly got the kids and some essentials together and we headed out the door. By 11:30pm, the kids had been dropped off at our friends’ house for the night and we were en route to the hospital.
Back on the labor and delivery floor for the 2nd time that day, we explained to the nurse what had been going on. After maybe half an hour of back to back contractions, she decided to admit me for the night and I was moved from triage to a birthing room. For the next half hour she worked to get fluids started on an IV, got me to sign all the necessary paperwork “just in case” we had to have a cesarean, and started me on pain meds plus a medication to help stop the contractions.
After this was all finished, I began to feel the pain meds take effect and relaxed, ready to settle in for some rest. The nurse walked out to get something and I shifted in the bed and immediately felt what I thought was my water breaking.
It wasn’t. Instead, I was hemorrhaging.
I knew immediately that we would deliver the baby within the hour.
If we had stayed home any longer that evening, things could have gone very, very badly. We are so thankful to God for getting us to the hospital just in time.
The next 20 minutes or so was a blur of heightened activity. Several nurses rushed about preparing me for emergency delivery. The Dr. came in to explain that I was likely experiencing a placental abruption (the placenta becomes detached from the uterine wall). Thankfully I felt very much at peace. The anesthesiologist came in and explained we would not have time to do a spinal tap and I would be put to sleep for the procedure. Again, I felt immense peace. Before I knew it, I was being wheeled into the OR, and Jeffrey was leaning down to kiss me. I knew in that moment that it was a possibility I wouldn’t see him or the kids again. Again, I felt peace, and for some reason I also knew that the baby was going to be fine.
Laying on my back on the table, I heard the anesthesiologist tell me he was going to give me some oxygen and put a mask over my nose and mouth. I woke up briefly some time later in a panic but then was out again. I’m gonna pause here to say: that was NOT an experience I ever want to repeat.
Our baby was delivered safely. Jessa Erin Mei was born about 2:30 am on September 30th, weighing 3 lb 14 oz, but neither Daddy nor Mommy were “present” to experience her rushed birth. We don’t even know if she cried!
As soon as I began to wake up, I was aware of Jeffrey being with me, and was assured that everything was okay.
Hours later, I was awake enough to call the NICU and ask about my baby. Of course I had family members there to tell me about her, but Jeffrey urged me to call them myself, knowing it would be a comfort to me. The nurse taking care of her offered to take a picture of her for me, since I wouldn’t be able to go to the NICU until the next day when I was able to get out of bed. A while later she came to my room and brought a picture of Jessa she had printed out for me on the NICU printer. My baby looked perfect and beautiful and I thanked the nurse over and over.
And so our journey as NICU parents had begun.
The next day, as soon as I was allowed to get out of bed, Jeffrey wheeled me down to the Neonatal nursery and I was able to see and touch my baby girl for the first time. She was in a closed bed and Jennifer, her nurse for the evening, lowered it so I could reach my hand in through the opening without having to stand up from my wheel chair. She was so tiny and I wanted to hold her so badly.
For the next few days I slept as much as I could, used the hospital breast pump, and took milk down to the NICU to see my girl for every feeding except the midnight and 3am feedings. My recovery seemed to be going more smoothly than any of my previous c-sections. This was simply an answer to prayer. She was doing so well too, and moving through milestones faster than we expected.
Five days after I had entered the hospital, it was time for me to go home (they had let me stay a few extra days to be near the NICU). It was difficult to yet again be leaving the hospital without my sweet little bundle, just as I had a year ago when Rebecca was born, but this time I had hope that that day would come.
It was strange to be at home without our baby, but an amazing comfort to be able to call up to the NICU any time of the night to check on her. Each time I called whoever was “her” nurse for the night would tell me how much milk she had eaten, how she was sleeping, pooping, or anything else I wanted to know. In the mornings, while getting ready to leave the house, or while pumping, I would call and the nurse would tell me if she had gained any grams and how her bilirubin count was, and how her morning feeding had gone.
The morning after I had returned home, I went straight back up to the hospital and the noise of the all the monitors and alarms inside the NICU was a comforting sound as I scrubbed in and put a hospital gown over my clothes.
For the next few weeks our church family stepped into action, providing meals for us, watching kids, and giving me rides to the hospital and back, since I wasn’t supposed to drive for two weeks after surgery. Because of the sacrifice of amazing friends, I was able to be with Jessa every day for her 9am and noon feedings, and spend countless hours just holding her on my chest while she slept. Our job was to feed her, love her, and watch her grow. The NICU nurses were amazing.
On Wednesday evenings, we would drop the kids off at church to stay with friends while Jeffrey and I went on a quick “date” up to the NICU together. This was priceless. And on weekends, we would go to the hospital as a family. Jeffrey would always let me spend the most time with Jessa while he and the kids took walks exploring the hospital and chapel, or they would camp out down in the cafeteria playing games or doing puzzles.
The long days began to run together, and although we had so much to be grateful for, we were feeling the stress as well. Every day I counted on Jessa gaining weight, which was her ticket out of the NICU. So if a feeding didn’t go well, and she was too sleepy to nurse or finish a bottle, I worried she would lose weight.
And we were feeling the exhaustion of the daily NICU visits, and the kids being apart from me for half the day. Most days, by the time we got back home, I was starving, it was time to pump store milk and then wash the pump parts for the next pumping… Many days Jeff would come home from work to find me passed out on the couch. We were so thankful friends were brining us meals – we counted on that for survival.
Then the day came when Dr. T told me quite suddenly and nonchalantly that she thought we’d move Jessa to an open crib. I must have looked shocked because she kind of laughed and put her arm around me and asked if I was ready for that. I knew moving to an open-air crib meant there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel. We knew she might initially lose weight, but that usually it wouldn’t take long for babies to bust out of the NICU once they moved to open crib.
One of her nurses who often took care of her at night would encourage me during my late night calls to check on her – telling me over and over that Jessa had really turned a corner, and it wouldn’t be long now.
A few days after she moved to open crib, Dr. T found me in a waiting room outside the NICU, munching on an apple in between Jessa’s feedings. She asked what I was doing and then paused for a few seconds before asking if I was ready to take my baby home! We had thought it would be several more days, but because she had continued to gain some weight every day since moving to open crib, they were ready to do her hearing screen and carseat challenge, and send her home that day or the next!
An hour later, I was anxiously standing by watching her monitors while she sat in a carseat, testing wether her oxygen saturation levels would drop while she was buckled into her seat. I held my breath for that hour and sighed with relief when she passed. Jeff took off early and we busily prepared everything for her to come home the next day.
And just like that, our journey as NICU parents was ending. Twenty-two days after she was born, we were finally bringing our daughter home – rejoicing for the miracle, b/c it was still five weeks before her due date!
The kids were so happy to finally have their sister home, and I know it was an added sweetness to hold her, after having to give up Rebecca to the Lord just a year earlier.
She has thrived since being home, and although we are experiencing many weary, sleepless nights taking care of our little reflux-y baby, she’s such a sweet blessing.
To God be the glory, great things He has done!