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Challenge: NICU Parenting

Our miracle, Noah John.

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I was 11 weeks along and we had only shared the news with our immediate families that our second bundle of joy was on its way. A normal day of the office quickly turned into what we thought was the scariest day of our lives when I had my first bleed and was on my way to the ER. We are fortunate to live in a “small-town” community and I’ll never forget telling the ER nurse, who is an acquaintance and a member of our church parish, that I was 11 weeks but had started bleeding. Her and I hugged and both prayed that there was a heartbeat. My husband got to the hospital and before we knew it we were headed to the ultrasound room to see what was going on in there. I remember laying in that bed with tears rolling down my face saying to him that all I asked God for was that there was a heartbeat. We could handle anything else that would be wrong. There literally is no explanation for what we were feeling as the ultrasound technician prepped us for the ultrasound. I thought for sure God had taken our baby but my husband assured me, through his own hidden doubts, that the baby would be fine. And he was right. There on that screen we saw our little jelly bean’s heart beat and for just a few seconds we completely forgot that there was a reason we were at the hospital that day. All that mattered at that moment was that the heartbeat was there.

The ER doctor couldn’t tell me what was wrong or why I was bleeding that day but I called my OBGYN doctor and he immediately ordered me to put my feet up and scheduled me to see him the next morning. At that appointment we went over what had happened but the bleeding had since stopped. I plainly remember him grabbing the fetal doppler and before he even put the gel on my belly he warned us that we may not hear the heartbeat because typically the doppler doesn’t pick up the heartbeat until 14 weeks. But, much to his and our surprise when he tried to find the heartbeat we heard it loud and clear and his words will forever be engrained in my mind: “Wow, that’s a strong baby”. And he was a very strong baby. He didn’t have an explanation for the bleeding yet and advised me to take it easy until he saw me again. We thought we had gotten through a big, big hurdle but little did we know, that was just the beginning of our journey with that little peanut.

A few weeks went by and everything seemed to be going fine. No bleeding, no concerns, no sickness. It was a Friday night and my husband decided to attend our high school’s football game. While he was gone I had started bleeding again so I called him and he quickly scurried home. We dropped our son off at my Mom’s and were headed back to the ER. Again, praying for a heartbeat and crying the whole way to this hospital. It was there, on the screen, just as strong as ever. I was almost 15 weeks and we were confused but felt that God gave us another break.

The next day, Saturday afternoon, we debated about attending my company’s summer picnic but as the accountant, I had the vendor checks in my possession so we decided to go just for a little while. We also had a wedding to attend that night that just so happened to be the son of that same nurse that cared for me in the ER. We were very much looking forward to going and had my niece scheduled to babysit for our oldest son. Halfway home from the party something felt weird and I knew I needed a bathroom. We were near my sister’s house so we stopped in and had found that the bleeding started again. While we were at their house we made a quick decision to cancel our wedding plans and my niece as we knew we’d be headed back to the ER. We had a fifteen-minute drive home and debated about leaving our son with my sister and going straight to the ER but we didn’t have enough diapers/clothes/etc. for him to stay. We pulled in our driveway and I barely made it in the bathroom before I hemorrhaged. I cried and cried and cried and the fear in my husband’s eyes is a look I hope I never have to see on his face again. We were terrified, confused, and half mad at God. I sat there thinking that there was no possible way that our baby was still alive. Regardless, we knew we had to head to the hospital again and we did. We dropped our son off at my Mom’s again and made the 30-minute trek to the hospital prepping each other for the bad news we were sure we’d hear.

For the second night in a row, we walked back in the ER and waited to be wheeled down to the ultrasound room. The same ultrasound tech that did our scan the night before was working that day and the look we exchanged when she saw us is another piece of this story that I’ll never forget. Her expression was sad and I knew she was disappointed that we were back. She prepped me for the ultrasound and very few words were exchanged. I don’t think I could’ve said much anyway had she asked but my husband filled her in on what had happened. She started the ultrasound and our eyes were glued to that screen awaiting our fate but again, there it was, that heartbeat was flickering and I literally could not believe my eyes. How is this even possible? Don’t know, don’t care, it’s there and that’s all that mattered. I was so affixed on the screen that it took me a few seconds to realize that the tech’s expression was confused. She couldn’t tell us what she was seeing but she did say: “I’ve been doing this for 23 years and I have never seen this before.” We asked her a few questions and we exchanged words back and forth a little bit but I was such a pile of emotions that I don’t remember what was even said. I knew our baby was still okay and again, for some reason, God chose to let our baby live.

I contacted my OBGYN first thing Monday morning and were headed in for an afternoon appointment with him. He had gotten our ultrasound results from that weekend and explained to us that I had a placental abruption and what that meant. He immediately placed me on bed rest which came with lots of restrictions: no work, no physical activity, nothing that required me to be on my feet, and the absolute worst…I could no longer pick up and hold our 13 month old son. He advised us that anything of that nature could result in the placenta pulling away from the uterine wall more than it already had which could kill the baby and/or myself. It was hard, it was so hard but if that’s what it was going to take to someday meet this baby we didn’t question his orders for a second.

So, life as we knew it changed but what didn’t change one bit was the blessing we have of our families. We are so fortunate to be surrounded by two large loving families and without asking, our parents, siblings, extended families, friends, and neighbors all reached out to us to help with our son and sent prayers up for us, too. There is absolutely no way we could’ve gotten through our journey without them. They brought us meals, watched our son, cleaned our house, and the list goes on. After a week or so of complete boredom at home, I seeked out my doctor’s opinion to be able to work from home. Thankfully, he granted me five hours a day but no more. I started working from our Lay-z-boy and accepted that this pregnancy was going to be very different from our first uneventful pregnancy. We talked about names and had settled on Noah for a boy and Faith for a girl. Both names clearly inspired from the bible and very meaningful for what we were going through.

The weeks slowly passed and the bleeding continued each and every day. Weird, but it was normal for my condition so it eventually became a normalcy. Weeks 16-28 were quiet. I had an appointment with my OBGYN almost every week and periodic ultrasounds to keep close tabs on the baby’s growth. Each ultrasound showed the baby doing well and the bleeding still pocketed in and around the placenta. We found out by happenstance that the baby was a boy. We weren’t going to find out but after having numerous ultrasounds we knew what we saw when we saw it and knew that it was going to be our little Noah. My doctor warned me often that at any time we could lose the baby but I remember him specifically telling me something to the effect of “Sometimes, as a doctor, I can’t control the plan God has. Keep praying.” I liked my doctor a lot but after those words came out of his mouth, I loved my doctor. I realized that he felt the same that we did about having faith in God and for whatever reason for the first time I thought maybe, just maybe everything would be okay.

It was November 30th, 4 AM and I was 29 weeks. I got up to go to the bathroom and felt something strange. I didn’t wake my husband right away but when I crawled back in bed and laid down I knew what I was feeling run down my legs was that my water had broken. I woke him up and was starting to panic when in his true fashion quickly calmed me down so I could think. He immediately called his mother and asked her to come over to be with our son and I called the hospital to let them know we were on our way in. I couldn’t possibly deliver this baby now, he’s nowhere near ready to face this world on his own.

We got to the hospital and they confirmed the rupture and told us we’d be transferred to a much larger hospital equipped with a NICU and high-risk doctor’s perfectly suited for our situation. The nurse was our neighbor and she made us feel like we were the only thing in her life that mattered. They administered a steroid shot immediately which helped with the development of Noah’s lungs and is the most painful shot I have ever had but they said I’d have another one the next day if I made it that far. At this point it was roughly 5 AM and much to our surprise, my doctor walked in. We were shocked to see him but very relieved, too. He walked us through everything that would happen when we arrived at the next hospital. From that moment on, it was chaos. They told me I would be transferred by ambulance but my husband couldn’t ride with me. So, they gave him directions to the hospital and he took off before I was loaded in the ambulance. From our local hospital to where I was being transferred was normally an hour and a half drive but the ambulance ride seemed like a Nascar race. I remember sitting in that bad in the back of the ambulance, fastened down with all sorts of seatbelts, and seeing all the cars pulled off to the side of the road behind us. It was the weirdest feeling knowing that all those people stopped their lives for a few mere seconds for us. For me and Noah. It felt like a movie.

I got to the hospital and into my room and all I wanted was my husband. I was so scared and worried wondering when he would be there because I just knew that there was no way he obeyed the speed limit on his drive. And I was right, he didn’t and walked in my room literally five minutes after I arrived. I asked him how fast he drove and he wouldn’t tell me. I guess I didn’t really need to know anyways. We were bombarded with care the first few hours we were there. Thankfully, I wasn’t having any contractions and didn’t feel like I was in labor so after they knew I was stabilized everything seemed to calm down. We met so many doctors and each doctor had a different piece of information to tell us. We had an ultrasound with the high-risk doctor and he explained to us that as long as I don’t go into labor, I don’t get an infection, and my body continued to make more amniotic fluid, our baby can stay put. Each day that he stayed in my belly equated to two days that he’d spend in the NICU. We had no idea how long I’d be there but we knew I wouldn’t be leaving before our baby was born.

That hospital became my home for four weeks and those were some long and lonely weeks that I couldn’t get through one day without crying. I missed my son, our life at home, and it was Christmas season – the most joyful and busy time of the year that I was missing with our families. Our families did such a great job coming to see me and keep me company but nothing quite filled my heart like it did when my husband came or when someone would bring my son. My husband would come every Tuesday night, spend Wednesday with me, head home Wednesday night in time to get our son and put him to bed, and then head back over Friday night after work. He did such a great job trying to keep some normalcy in our son’s life and keeping everything at home in order. He told me often that he was proud of me but what he didn’t realize was that he was the rock holding our life together and that I couldn’t have been more proud of him.

Christmas came and I would’ve given anything to be with our families celebrating the Lord’s birth like we always do but I knew I had a job to do and that ‘staying pregnant’ was my only option. It was Christmas morning and my husband was already with me so my brother and his family brought our son over to the hospital so our little family could be together for a while. They visited for a bit and then were on their way home to my Mom’s for the normal Christmas day celebration. We did what we could to make Christmas normal in my hospital room. My husband had brought a small Christmas tree and some of our family members sent flowers and decorations to spruce things up a little. Shortly after lunch, they headed home to see family and I sat in my bed crying just wishing I could have gone with them. I Face-Timed with family throughout the Christmas season but it just wasn’t the same. I vowed to myself that I will never ever again take for granted how precious time with our families is.

I really hoped that Noah wouldn’t be born on Christmas. I knew he was going to be a miracle but for whatever reason I didn’t want him to have a Christmas day birthday. I wanted him to be able to have his own day that wouldn’t be overshadowed by Christmas so that his life could be celebrated so deservingly. I got my wish but only by six hours and twenty-one minutes. It was 2 AM when the nurse came in to do a routine monitoring. After four weeks of being in the hospital, it was normal to me for them to come in and do what they needed to do. Noah was fine, I was fine, and the nurse left my room. I thought I’d go back to sleep like I always do when I felt a contraction. I just laid there trying to convince myself that I didn’t feel that but seconds later I felt another one. By the third contraction, I had to breathe through it and decided to call the nurse in. She was so confused when I explained what was going on because she had literally just done the monitoring minutes before and we were both fine. I called my husband around 2:45 AM and told him to get on the road. I had had contractions throughout my stay but I knew this time it was the real deal. His mother came to our house to stay with our son and he was on his way.

He walked in my room at 5 AM just as they were about to administer the epidural. At 6:21 AM our son, Noah John, was born at 32 weeks, 6 days gestation. He was 4 lbs., .7 oz., 17.9”. The staffed had warned us many times that when he was born we wouldn’t be able to hold him but much to our surprise he came out crying and was in a much better condition than anyone expected. I’ll never forget the face of the nurse who asked me if I’d like to hold my son. They put him on my chest just for a few seconds and then bundled him up and let my husband hold him very briefly, too. It was such a relief. He was finally here and in our arms and my gosh that felt so good. But, his journey wasn’t close to being over. The NICU staff of nearly ten people magically appeared in our room moments before he was born and they quickly whisked him away and upstairs to the NICU department to start their care on him.

Each and every day we learned more and more about preemies and the delicate care he would require. Because I had two steroid shots his lungs were mature enough that he didn’t need any breathing treatments. He needed to gain weight and learn how to suck, swallow, and breathe in coordination. It was cold and flu season so the only people allowed in to see him were us, his parents, and his grandparents. His paternal grandparents came to meet him that day and even though they knew he’d be small they didn’t realize he’d be the that small. His maternal grandparents came to meet him the next day and they too were surprised at how small our little boy was.

We looked for any little achievement that Noah made. His first feeding through the feeding tube, opening his eyes to look at us, hours of kangaroo care, moving nurseries, first feeding from the bottle, moving to an open crib, maintaining his body temperature, and the list goes on and on. We spent as much time as we could with him alternating days between home and the hospital, my husband working as much as he could, and trying to get back to our normal life at home. I didn’t care so much about getting out of the hospital as I did being able to pick our oldest son up again. Picking him up for the first time in months was an embrace that I’ll forever cherish. He was so happy to see me and squeezed those little arms so tightly around my neck. He didn’t really understand that he had a brother now but we told him all about him and that he would be home in a few weeks.

Noah progressed a little at a time and spent 27 days in the NICU. We brought him home on January 21st and our family was all together for the first time in two months. Noah met his older brother and the rest of our families a little at a time. We knew that this little boy was a gift straight from God and to this day we wonder exactly why God let us keep him. He has had developmental evaluations throughout infancy and was ‘caught up’ by 18 months. As far as we can tell, he is a normal little boy full of energy and spunk. He has already defied the odds and someday we’ll find out why God let us keep him. Until then, we’ll continue to look at Noah as our God-given miracle with more of a purpose on this earth than we’ll ever come to understand. Almost two years old, Noah looks just like his Dad and challenges us with his feisty personality every day. He reminds us that each day holds the possibility of a miracle and that faith in God is what got us through his journey.












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