Our first 2 children are adopted, and we didn’t get to experience their actual birth and first few days and weeks of their lives. But they are healthy and thriving little munchkins, and I now realize that I took their good health for granted.
We were completely shocked and astounded when we discovered we were finally pregnant, after 9 years of being unable to conceive. We chose not to find out the gender of the baby because we really didn’t care as long as he/she was healthy. My birthday present was to go to our 20 week sonogram. I walked into the appointment excited, and didn’t expect to walk out of the appointment terrified, scared, and wondering what to expect for our future.
During the routine sonogram, they discovered that our baby had a 2 vessel umbilical cord. As the doctor was explaining it, he threw out words, information, statistics, and much more. There was mention of severe kidney issues, problems with his brain, damage to the chambers of his heart, increased chance of Spina Bifida and Downs Syndrome, and so much more that my ears began to tune him out. I remember him going into detail about the good chance of a growth restriction which could lead to an early birth, or having a preemie. To be honest, though, with all the other major problems possible with multiple vital organs, prematurity sounded like a breeze. At the time, my naive mind told me that prematurity just meant that your baby spent a few extra weeks in the hospital, and they weren’t supposed to be at home with you yet anyway. Wow, did I have a lot to learn! The first person I called to share about our sonogram referred me to the March of Dimes website, in order to learn more information about his single umbilical artery. What a lifesaver! The information on the March of Dimes website was very beneficial in calming my nerves about the medical terms that the doctor had thrown at me. Obviously, money raised by the March of Dimes goes toward funding this educational site which arms mothers with more knowledge about their potentially scary situation.
Our doctor monitored the pregnancy closely, and everything looked pretty good until my water broke in the middle of the night at 31 weeks………. At 3:00 in the morning I made 2 phone calls. The 1st was to my doctor, whose on-call nurse said I should go into the hospital to have it checked out. The 2nd phone call was to my best friend, a NICU nurse. She was so calm, so awesome. She answered the phone in the middle of sleep and immediately calmed me, told me to get it checked out, and that everything would be fine. She told me later that after she hung up she cried and began to say some prayers for me because she didn’t want us to have to go through this—she had seen countless NICU stories ending in heartbreak.
At the hospital the nurses pulled me back to evaluate me, and were fairly calm and casual. I assumed they were thinking that my water hadn’t actually broken. After monitoring and checking me out, the attitude changed, things jumped into fast mode. They pumped me full of magnesium, got the Perinatologist there to monitor the baby, gave me the first steroid shot to hopefully help develop those preemie lungs, and hoped that labor would stop. A few hours later they casually came in at 12:18 to suggest that we might have to take the baby pretty soon, as if I had a choice. Our baby was born at 12:32. We didn’t hear him cry, we didn’t get to see him, we didn’t get to hold him and cuddle with him. I do remember that the nurse came over and said, “do you want to know what you had?” It is an incredibly weird moment……..every parent in the world is overwhelmed the second they find out if they are having a son or daughter. That moment lives within their hearts forever. For me, at that moment, laying exposed, literally my insides being shoved back within me, feeling faint, scared for my newborn child………it didn’t matter what “parts” he had. I didn’t feel happy or sad, excited or nervous at the fact that I had just delivered a son. It wasn’t at all about him being a boy. I hadn’t heard him cry, I hadn’t seen if he had any color. I didn’t know if he’d live or not. That was what mattered!!
Zachary spent the next 6 weeks slowly and steadily getting better in the NICU. He received 3 doses of Surfactant within the first hours of his life. The Surfactant, thanks to research funded by the March of Dimes, helped him come off the vent so much sooner, and helped him come home without assisted breathing. I remember being there when Zachary got his heel pricked to help determine if he had any genetic disorders, another credit to the March of Dimes. I didn’t get to hold Zac for the first 36 hours, and I still feel like I’m making up for that today!
3 years ago today we were finally able to walk out of the doors to the NICU with Zachary in our arms. We took him home and I cried seeing all my children under one roof together.
This is where I think most people think the story ends for the world of preemies.
The story didn’t end there. Over the first year of his life, Zachary had 65 visits with a medical professional. His core muscles were weakened because he didn’t get to fight for space inside of me, pushing, kicking, forcing room for his expanding body. He had one major surgery, a detailed MRI to determine if he had a spinal problem, visits with a neurosurgeon, urologists, physical therapists, dieticians, ENT, and so many more. In the 3 years he’s been home, Zachary has had 3 surgeries, been physical delayed, placed in a developmental preschool to help him with those weak core muscles, didn’t walk until he was 23 months, and obviously required some special attention. The best part of all, though, is that he has had the opportunity to fill our lives with smiles and love!! That day 3 years ago didn’t end our prematurity story, because those medical issues still remain, and my son is still behind. Our story of prematurity didn’t end there because I haven’t clearly expressed what an impact it had on my other two children. They endured countless hours lost to mom and dad traveling to the hospital for the 6 weeks of his NICU stay and the countless hours devoted to further appointments. Zachary’s being a preemie was not just about those 6 weeks in the hospital, but about the impact it has had on our entire family each and every day since this day, 3 years ago.
But those familiar with the world of prematurity can appreciate that I feel fortunate that our situation wasn’t THAT bad. Our son was born at 31 weeks and weighed 3 pounds 14 ounces, he wasn’t a micro preemie. I feel fortunate because our story is NOTHING compared to so many others. Our son did walk, even if wasn’t until 23 months. Our son does talk. He did finally learn to eat. He is able to hug us, and tell us he loves us. He plays with his siblings, and he will be with us for a lifetime. So many other NICU families don’t have that chance because they don’t even get to bring their baby home.
All I can say is thank you. I know that those 2 words aren’t enough. However, without supporters like yourself, my precious munchkins might not be the energetic, talkative, precious pieces of joy that help make our family complete!