An estimated 15 million babies are born too early every year. Over 1 in 10 babies are born preterm. Out of those 15 million babies born too early approximately 1 million of them will die per year from preterm labor complications. Many of these survivors are left with lifetime disabilities such as cognitive learning disabilities as well as visual and hearing problems.
So, in honor of preemie awareness month, here is my story.
I woke up to severe pains in my stomach on September 7th, 2015 around 6 am. I decided to go to the hospital and get checked out just to make sure everything was okay. I got to the hospital and a nurse quickly escorted me to the labor and delivery ward where they took my vitals, attached the tocodynamometer probes around my pregnant belly, and ordered an ultrasound. The probes monitored the fetal heart rate and, later to my knowledge, my contractions. I could hear my daughter’s rhythmic heartbeat which always calmed my nerves. I quickly thought to myself “Okay we have a heartbeat that is a good sign. Everything should be fine.” I also listened to all the bells and whistles going off around me and watched as different bodies of people rushed in and out of the room. A nurse had pushed my curtain to the side, rolled in the ultrasound machine, and quickly got to work. While proceeding with the ultrasound I hear the tech scream to one of the nurses, “She has less than a centimeter left of her cervix.” I quickly replied, “What does that mean!?” She replied with a sad look on her face, “It means you could begin to dilate at any moment now and you are at risk of delivering early. We have to get you on a mag drip fast!”
At that moment I was in complete shock … I did not understand everything that just happened, but one thing I did understand was that I was being admitted into the hospital. For one week I laid in the hospital bed, not able to get up and use the bathroom, go for a walk, or even take a shower, but those were the least of my worries. The Neonatal doctor paid me a visit that week and went over all the possibilities I could be facing if indeed, she was born too early. He explained the possibilities of her having cognitive and motor skill delays, hearing loss, visual problems, and possible autism. Feelings of sadness and despair had taken over me. I screamed at the ceiling, “Why me!?” But there was no time to sulk and feel bad for myself. I had a baby coming soon and no matter what the outcome would be, I was determined to be ready and waiting for her. Once, the contractions had stopped while at the hospital, my doctor decided to send me home with strict instructions to stay in bed as much as possible.
Weeks into the mental torture that is bed rest at home, my mucus plug had dropped and the contractions came – this time 10 minutes apart. I was only 32 weeks to term. 8 weeks early. I raked my mind thinking of the laundry list of preemie health problems …
Queue our sprint to the hospital. I wasn’t ready. But she was.
Admitted to the hospital again, now enjoying my epidural at 8 cm dilated, I quickly realized that that day was the day I was going to meet my little miracle. 45 minutes after the epidural, and no more than 20 minutes of pushing my daughter had made her arrival. You would think after finally giving birth and hearing the cry of your baby which meant she was breathing on her own, that you would be relieved, right? Wrong. I heard her cry and I kissed her forehead and off she went to the NICU where I would not see her again for 3 hours. Those 3 hours felt like days.
The minute I could feel my legs again, I found a wheelchair and started scooting my way to the NICU. FINALLY! I got to see my baby. She was so tiny, weighing only 3lb 13oz and 18 inches in length. She had a feeding tube in her mouth that went to her gut, IV dripping antibiotics to ensure no infections and monitor probes all over for her vitals. She was in an incubator that would regulate her temperature for the next 2 weeks as well. I was torture not being able to touch or hold her till the next day. I stared at her for hours admiring, till I had fallen asleep and my nurse KB had wheeled me to my room. She explained to me, “You have a long road ahead. Get your rest now and be ready to take everything in the morning. Even superheroes need their sleep.”
The next day I cried happy tears because I was finally was able to hold my daughter for the first time before they sent me home, but immediately sad once I realized I wasn’t able to take her home with me right away. So as soon as 7 am would hit every morning, no matter how tired I was, I would hop in my car and head to my daughter in the NICU right away.
We faced many challenges in the NICU. She had to stay under the bilirubin light for several days due to her liver not kicking in right away. She also overcame the challenge of regulating her temperature. These are a very common problem for preemies. The hardest challenge in the NICU for my daughter was learning how to suck, swallow, and breathe. A vital thing a preemie must learn to gain weight and thrive. My little fighter after 2 and a half weeks had ripped out her feeding tube and began suckling on the breast and bottle nipple like a champ. She made it very clear, she was ready to go home and within 3 days we were sent HOME.
Things I’m thankful for as a preemie mom:
- Nurses. The true superheroes.
- Bilirubin Lights. A necessary jumpstart to a preemie’s liver.
- Nipple shields. Mission-critical to preemies without the strength to feed.
- The March of Dimes program. I honor their hard work and diligence in research which saving preemies around the world.
- Moms. They’re all around you in the NICU. You’re never alone. The challenges we faced, we faced together.
My daughter, Annabelle, is now 5 years old. She is feisty, smart, and resilient. She has overcome every obstacle that life has thrown her so far and I know she will continue to beat them against all odds.
Written by: Samantha Forget