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Challenge: NICU Parenting

My Tiny Miracle - IUGR

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Both of my babies were diagnosed with IUGR (Intrauterine Growth Restriction.) Allison in particular, suffered from severe IUGR, and was diagnosed at week 14 of the pregnancy. Throughout the pregnancy, she only grew half of what she should have. Later in the pregnancy, it was determined that the umbilical cord was not flowing at full capacity, depriving her of the oxygen and nutrients she needed to survive. This put her at a high risk of fetal death. I spent most of my pregnancy doing hourly kick counts to ensure she was still moving regularly, twice weekly 90 minute drive trips for ultrasounds and fetal monitoring with a specialist, and then a week of the pregnancy hospitalized for twice daily fetal monitoring when things got even more worrisome.

To say that this was a difficult time in our lives was an understatement. Knowing that my baby was at risk of dying at any moment brought emotions that few can understand. I had a happy, busy toddler at home (they're only 13 months apart) to keep me busy, but the constant fear was hard to bear.

Thankfully, our excellent team of doctors monitored her very carefully and determined when it was time to induce. She was born at 35 weeks at 3 lb 5 oz (she should have weighed almost 6 lb at that point.) She spent her first 3 weeks of her life in the NICU. It is difficult to explain the emotions felt during a NICU stay. Most women get to experience the birth of their child with joy; getting to see the baby for the first time and hold her tight. A NICU mom doesn't get that joy; she delivers in a room full of people (the birth team AND the NICU team makes for a full room) the baby is whisked away with dad following, and mom is left in the cold hospital room all alone and very scared. I got to see my baby for the first time hours later; she was so tiny; tinier than I was prepared for. She was hooked up to so many wires and tightly tucked into her isolette, unable to be held or touched. I didn't get to hold her until 24 hours later. One of the hardest days was the day I got discharged from the hospital. While I was still admitted as a patient, I was no farther than a quick elevator ride from her bedside, but once I was discharged the reality of leaving the hospital without my baby girl hit me like a ton of bricks. I should've been mentally prepared for leaving her after such a difficult pregnancy, but I was not. Nothing can prepare you for that.

Each day, we only got about one hour of hold time. It is so unnatural and goes against everything every fiber of your body wants and desires to not be able to hold your newborn baby whenever you want. Each day was a fight for her survival; some days had victories and many days had setbacks. Most days were filled with tears; tears of sadness, tears of joy, tears of pain and heartbreak. I tried my best to celebrate her successes and stay positive and thankful for the life of our baby girl, but the reality was that I wasn't strong enough to be positive all the time, especially with raging postpartum hormones and the pain of a healing body. Our toddler was at home, an hour and a half drive away with his grandmother, and the guilt of leaving him loomed over me. I would feel such pain leaving my newborn to visit him, and then the same pain over again when I had to leave him to go back to the hospital.

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After a long 3 weeks in the NICU, we were able to bring our tiny 4 lb baby home. I will never take for granted what a blessing she is in our lives after nearly losing her so many times. And what a joy she is. When I look back at our NICU days, I feel a combination of sheer sadness that her birth wasn't more enjoyable and quiet, but also a pure joy that she overcame and is thriving. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, as the NICU gave me the gift of her presence in my life.

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