Premature birth touches more than 11% of American families. Here are some personal stories of how kids entered the world, a little earlier than expected.
I went to a routine doctor’s appointment at 29 weeks. My blood pressure was through the roof. They sent me home for 48 hours of taking it easy, but when I returned on day two for the follow-up, it was clear I was in danger of having a stroke. The nurses made me sit down right away for fear that any sudden movements would prompt an emergency. They pushed me in a wheelchair to the hospital next door. After three days of steroids and more round-the-clock efforts to control my pressure to no avail, my doc decided my life was in immediate danger, and I underwent an emergency C-section. I was in a constant state of shock. For a girl who never runs out of things to say, I didn’t say much during that time.
Javier was born weighing just 3 pounds. He spent the next two months in the NICU. We couldn’t hold him for weeks. We were discouraged from touching him so as to not agitate him. This was one of the hardest parts. Some days were good, but many were not. He would stop breathing. There was a hole in his heart. His lungs weren’t fully developed. The roadblocks kept coming. I was in a foggy state, constantly crying, emotional and full of worry. Post-partum was in full swing. I became obsessed with pumping my breastmilk. It was the one thing I felt I could do for him, so I did it without fail, every three hours.
Finally, things started to look up. We were sent home with an arsenal of appointments with specialists in our future. One by one, we were given the green light. It took almost two years for me to feel like my kid was going to be one of the lucky ones, but the day finally came, and we never looked back.
He’s perfect, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my kid. He really is healthy as a horse—and then some. It’s the kind of thing I try to tell all moms with pregnancy complications. It can all work out. It did for me.
The 20-week ultrasound led to great news—a healthy baby!—and some not-so-great news: placenta previa (when the placenta partially or completely covers the cervix). In the vast majority of instances, the placenta “migrates” as the belly grows and everything continues on to a full term birth. In my case, it didn’t.
At 29 weeks, I rushed to the hospital after waking up to bright red bleeding. After nearly delivering then, and spending four days in the hospital, I was sent home on strict bed rest. Six weeks of bed rest later, I woke up to more bleeding and after the hospital’s fetal monitor showed our baby in distress, I was rushed into the OR for an emergency c-section. It all happened so quickly that by the time my husband got on his scrubs and was ushered into the OR, our precious daughter, Rhea Kathleen, had been born: all 4lbs 8 oz of her!
Off to the NICU Rhea went, where she stayed for 5 days. Rhea had a few health concerns (irregular heartbeat, potential hip dysplasia) that resolved themselves in her first months of life, and today she is a sweet, smart and sassy 3-year old.
I knew from my very first doctor appointment that my birth was going to be anything but normal. As I sat in my OB¹s office, 8 weeks pregnant, reviewing my medical history, the look on his face changed dramatically when he asked about a box I had checked yes next to a question about previous surgeries. When I was 13, I had brain surgery to remove an AVM (a place in my brain where arteries and veins were tied into a knot at birth). Doctors found it accidentally while doing a CT scan trying to diagnose severe migraines. Even though very few people find this before they have an aneurism as there are usually no symptoms, they were able to do surgery to repair it. I have a titanium clamp in my brain holding the arteries and veins together. He looked at me, dead pan, and said words I will never forget. “You cannot have this baby. Going into labor will cause your blood pressure to rise and your brain will explode on my table.” I, equally calm even though I never realized a surgery from years ago would have any bearing on childbirth, simply stated, “You¹re going to have to figure something out because I am pregnant and I am having this baby.”
The next few months were filled with multiple MRIs to check my brain for bleeding, biweekly visits to a high risk doctor, and tense conversations about the best course of action. It was determined that it would be potentially fatal for me to go into labor, so we were forced to schedule a C-section four weeks before my due date. I was so nervous that she would not be ready to come out. They offered me the option to inject her lungs with hormones to help speed up their development, but I refused. I demanded an amniocentesis days before my scheduled surgery to make sure she was ready. I didn¹t want my medical issues to have any bearing on her health. The results came back inconclusive. I wanted to wait, to give her another week. My doctor refused.
On May 3rd, 2006 I was greeted at the hospital by a team of top doctors. The head of anesthesia met with me and reviewed all of the risks associated with
my surgery. They were scary given my history. After my epidural was administered, something felt incredibly wrong. My vision blurred. I felt disoriented. I was shivering. I heard machines that seemed so far away beeping frantically. My blood pressure was dropping dangerously. As I glanced at the machine, I saw it read 42/17 when the doctor frantically injected adrenaline to speed up my heart. I was allergic to the epidural. They couldn¹t administer any more medication. My legs were pretty numb, but not all the way. They had to get me into surgery fast before it wore off. I was rushed into the operating room where they bound my legs to the table.
They immediately started cutting. Thirteen minutes of intense chaos, screaming doctors who were climbing on me to aggressively yank her out, and blood splattering all over due to my elevated blood pressure, a 5lb, 14oz little girl we named Kaia was held up over a curtain. She was so pale, but she cried. I held her as they injected the most powerful pain medication I have ever experienced into my IV (I had refused any additional pain medication until she was born as I knew it could impair her breathing). She was whisked away and my husband followed at my request.
As I recovered, my best friend came in and delivered the news I had been dreading. Kaia¹s lungs were not ready. She was breathing, but needed help. She would be taken to the NICU until she could breathe on her own. I was devastated.
The days that followed were a blur. When I was finally able to visit her, seeing her in that tiny bed and realizing that my daughter was spending her first days in this world alone tortured me. When I was in my room, I refused visitors. I would lay in a fetal position crying. My primal maternal instincts kicked in and I felt emotionally tortured not being with my daughter. After three days, her breathing improved, although due to feeding difficulties she had lost an entire pound. She was finally brought to my room. I remember just holding her against my chest the entire time, doing everything I could to make up for the days she spent alone. That night, she
was unable to maintain her body temperature. They kept taking her from me and bringing her to the nursery where they could lay her under a heating lamp, I would cry until they brought her back. When we were finally discharged two days later I felt like an inmate escaping jail. I just wanted her home. I remember looking down at her face as I sat next to her in the car on the ride home and whispering, “Kaia, you will never be alone again.”
I am so thankful for the team of doctors (whose lives I probably made a living hell) who cared for her, were kind to me, and worked tirelessly to give me the chance to take her home with me. Kaia¹s six now, and I have no doubt that those first few days of being away from her turned me into a better parent. I appreciate every moment with her. She is so loved, so healthy and so worth every single minute of the experience.
I was at work when I noticed some bleeding. Alarmed, I went straight to my OB’s office where they discovered I was 2cm dilated and having mild contractions. They sent me straight to the hospital. I was 25 weeks pregnant.
It turns out I have an incompetent cervix, a phrase that still makes me giggle. Nifedipine calmed the contractions and steroid shots in my legs sped up the baby’s lung development. After a few days in the hospital, I was sent home to ride out the rest of my pregnancy on bedrest, with the goal to make it to 34 weeks with the help of progesterone supplements, a promising experimental treatment for preterm labor. My mother-in-law moved in to our tiny apartment to help take care of my 4-year-old daughter, I was able to work from home, and we made it work. But emotionally it was awful to be a shut-in with nothing but my constant worries to be keep me company.
At 33 weeks, my water broke. I didn’t feel ready to have a baby but was glad I’d almost made it to (relatively) safe zone. They decided to keep me in the hospital until 34 weeks, and then induce. Julian was born July 4, 2009, and to my great relief he cried right away (I had been told he might not). At 5 lbs, 6 ozs, he was huge for his gestational age. He spent a week in the NICU, and was behind in his milestones the first year. But now he’s a huge, healthy and totally normal 3-year-old. You’d never know he was a preemie.