I kept a journal. It is a day by day account of what happened during our 106 days in the NICU. It has a lot of information in it; many prayers, test results, milestones met, and countless apologies for not being able to help my baby more. That journal will never actually be able to convey what it is like to be a NICU family. With 6 weeks of complications leading up to our daughter’s early arrival, my husband and I read all we could; however, we were not even close to prepared for what the reality of life was in the NICU. It is this vortex where everything happens faster and slower than you could ever imagine. There are highs and there are lows. There is progress and there are set backs. You will feel more love there than one could ever imagine.
Callie Mirai Valerie Cross came into the world on July 6, 2017 at 27 weeks and 2 days gestation; a 2 lb. 3.4 oz. fighter. It was evident well before that moment that God was in charge of our journey. At 21 weeks and 6 days I ended up on the maternity floor for a completely unrelated problem. That presentation led to an admission and an emergency cerclage the very next morning that was nothing short of a miracle procedure, considering I had silently dilated to 4 cm overnight. I spent the next 6 weeks inpatient with close monitoring when bump in the road after bump in the road occurred. Bleeding, questionable fluid levels and an episode of preterm labor 5 days before her arrival culminated in the development of an infection, chorioaminitis, which necessitated an induction for both of our safety on her ultimate birthday.
The first days of our baby’s life we felt useless. We were fortunate in that the day after her birth Callie was stable enough for one of us to hold her for kangaroo care. We were allotted an hour of cuddle time. My husband graciously let me have our first kangaroo session. As the nurse placed Callie on my bare chest between my breasts and covered us both for warmth, I couldn’t even believe she was real. She was breathing. She was so small. She was so light that I could feel her outline on by body but nothing else. She felt like she could slip away in an instant. When she snuggled her little head in and placed her hand on my clavicle, I melted and felt more in love than I thought was possible. The next day my husband had his turn with her. I cried tears and was filled with even more emotion witnessing that moment. I was happy, sad, scared, in love and most of all thankful. Things could have been very different leading up to that moment and could have turned any which way in the seconds after it. But I was savoring what we had. It was a dramatic start for our new family of three.
Leaving the hospital without the baby that was in your belly when you arrived is the most terrible feeling in the world. We live an hour from the hospital where she was staying. The 106 days after her birth were spent driving back and forth to see Callie daily. We would bring home her dirty linens each night to sleep with just to try and feel closer to her. She was such a strong little girl and most of her time up until she was 32 weeks adjusted was uneventful. She tolerated her ng tube feedings, gained weight, was able to maintain her body temperature so that we could begin dressing her, and her breathing was stable with the help of a CPAP machine. Things got a bit hairy when we tried to pull her off CPAP. She really had done well with the support and proved she was receiving the treatment she needed. She was able to come off of the CPAP after a few failed attempts when she was given more time, but she was still requiring oxygen therapy. She was diagnosed with BPD, a lung disease of premature infants. Her breathing was pretty rapid, which effected her ability to eat. She began showing signs of being able to come home in late September, but due to her work of breathing and eating it took another 4 weeks and a surgical feeding tube being inserted before we were able to break her out. She continues to use oxygen at home but has been successfully weaning off. We still work on getting her to eat her food by mouth, but her g tube has allowed her to continue to gain weight and fill out the rolls in her little thighs. She now weighs 11 lbs! We are far from where we started. I am not sure where else her journey will take us, but I know for sure that where she leads, we will follow. She is a tough kid.
The NICU doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, respiratory therapists and ancillary staff will never know how much they mean to our family. They did not just take care of our daughter. They loved our whole family. They cried with us. They prayed with us. They brought us through to the other side. I will forever consider them a part of our family. I have never been more certain that God has a plan for all of us. I have never had more faith in His love for each of us. Callie, our beautiful miracle, is living proof.