Abby’s Birth Story

*WARNING* = Very lengthy and rather blunt Blog.

Ever been on one of those pregnancy websites and read through the birthing stories? I’ve learned that while they are always called “(Baby’s Name)’s Birth story, it is really the Mom’s story. Her account of what exactly went down on that day. So here it is: Abby’s Birth Story.

I get 2 questions more than any other. 1) How is she? and 2) So, what happened?

Telling Abby’s story is difficult, complicated, and lengthy. It is a story that takes a good half hour or so to tell properly. And by now I’m very tired of telling it, actually. So I am taking the advice of another NICU mom I’ve gotten to know over these last three weeks. I’m writing Abby’s story here on my blog in detail. This is both to inform all of you of what went down, as well as to preserve my memory as best I can. And from now on, I will direct people here for answers. Please feel free to send others who ask you questions here, too.

So… “how did this happen?” That is a good question, my friends… one my Doctors couldn’t answer right away.

It all started on Tuesday, June 1. Peep started kicking me at about 8am. This was unusual, but nothing to be worried about. And I was rather uncomfortable for the majority of the morning, but again, nothing to be worried about – it had happened before. But the kicking continued on for hours, and so did the discomfort. So at around 3:30pm I called my Dr.’s office. I told Janet, the receptionist, about the day so far and she said she didn’t think it was anything to worry about, but that she would ask Dr. David and call me back. Within half an hour, she called back to say that Dr. David agreed – nothing to worry about. The baby probably had gas and was uncomfortable, and would stop kicking me as soon as her comfort level was back to normal, which in turn would restore my normal comfort levels. And sure enough, about an hour later, the kicking stopped, and so did the discomfort. Aaaaaaaahh…bliss. She did start kicking me again around dinner time, which created more discomfort, but I was no longer worried.

So much so, that I went and had a fabulous dinner with my little sister, came home and watched Glee with her, and enjoyed a rather relaxing evening with her and Anthony. But at about 11pm, as we were getting ready to walk the dog before bed, I needed to go to the bathroom (for the millionth time that day). And I found a first-time-mom’s worst nightmare – blood. And the danger kind too… actually the color of blood (as opposed to brown, which indicates “old” or “dried” blood). Bright red blood meant I was actually bleeding… as in currently. I did my best NOT to freak out (I think I failed, but whatever) and quickly told Anthony. We called the 24-hour nursing hot-line that our insurance company provided for us, and spoke to a nurse. She asked me all sorts of questions, including if I felt any cramping – which is when it dawned on me… the “uncomfortable feeling” I’d had all day felt like cramping. I answered “Yes” to the cramping question, and that, along with bleeding and an uncomfortable baby = trip to the ER to get “checked out.” I lost it. Had a meltdown right there in the kitchen. Thank God for my husband who managed to keep me off of the floor and got me to stop crying long enough to tell him what we needed to do.

Anthony quickly walked the dog, while I calmed down and then we went to the ER at the hospital we planned to deliver at, just minutes from our home. Remarkably, we were seen in under 20 minutes from signing in. They took an assessment of my vitals and asked me many of the same questions the hot-line nurse had asked me. They set me up in an ER room to be seen by an ER doctor, which meant stripping down to nothing and putting on one of those God awful hospital gowns. Less than 15 minutes later the doctor came in, took a look at me, and told us that they did not have the equipment necessary to care for me… great. So a very nice EMT wheeled the bed I was on up to Labor and Delivery – the only ward in the hospital able to care for me properly. A nurse named Erica came in to help me. Through a series of tests (urine sample, blood draw, heart rate monitor, etc) they determined the following: 1) I was dehydrated (how that happened with the buckets of water I’d been drinking, I have no clue). So they gave me an IV that pushed fluids. 2) I had a Urinary Tract Infection. So they added antibiotics to my IV. And 3) because of the UTI, I had started pre-term labor. My “cramping” discomfort was actually real contractions about 10 minutes apart. So they gave me a shot in the back of my right arm to stop them.

Now let’s remember one of my many “Jen Confessions.” Remember me and needles? Yea – at this point I’ve had 3 stuck in me in about 2 hours time. Talk about sucking it up!! A blood draw, an IV (which I’ve never had before) and a shot! Anthony was rather proud of me. 😉

The shot they gave me was the worst, really. The nurse warned me that it was going to “burn” a little as the medicine hit my muscles. Truth be told, the needle didn’t hurt at all (as it usually doesn’t). But MAN ALIVE!!! “Burn a little?” Yea, right, Lady! That shot felt like someone took a hot iron to the inside of my arm!! It seared! And I did a weird moan/groan/scream as it went in. But, it did the trick – it stopped my contractions. Or at least it did for about 2 hours. At about 2 am, the contractions started up again, so I got another round of that shot. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…. That was the sound I made the second time it went in.

The shot worked again, and by this time the UTI Antibiotics were kicking in, so this second shot lasted for more than two hours. At that point, everything was looking great! It was about 4am, the contractions had flat lined, both our (as in mine and Peep’s) heart rates were good… Nothing to really worry about. They wanted to keep me overnight for observation and Dr. David (who had been notified already) wanted to check me out himself, first thing in the morning.

Anthony and I both got a few hours of shut-eye (shout out to Anthony who trooped through it all and slept in a ridiculously uncomfortable chair next to my bed) and I felt fine. So fine, that I was rolling my eyes at my parents, who were in Carson City, NV visiting my grandparents, and had hopped in the car at about 2am (against my wishes) and started driving home to be with us. “Mama, I’m fine! They are sending me home this afternoon! Please do not cut your vacation short, ok?” Yea – let’s just say her gut told her to do otherwise.

Dr. David came in around 8am before heading to his own office and checked me out. No more contractions, or symptoms – just still bleeding, but less than the amount that had brought us in to begin with. We all took this as “good signs.” He said he wanted Dr. Jidali (whose office is on site at the medical center) to come in and do an ultrasound and take a look at my cervix just to be sure, but that if he gave the ok, I could go home. Projecting discharge to happen somewhere around 2pm.

Nothing much happened from about 8am to about 11am. Phillip, Anthony’s oldest brother, brought us bagels for breakfast. My parents arrived around 10am, and all was well. I was so ready to go home. But right around 11am, I had another contraction. And this one HURT. Truth be told, when they told me I have “having contractions” at 1am, I was skeptical – I mean, I’ve been told all of my life that contractions were some of the worst pain a woman could endure. And I was having pretty big ones, according to the fetal monitor. I’ll admit they were super uncomfortable, but truly – NOT painful. I’m thinking, seriously? If THIS is what women are complaining about then either I have a wildly high pain tolerance, or all other women are wusses. Yea… boy was I wrong. Because this “third” round of contractions I was having (which quickly became 1 contraction every 2 minutes and was lasting a good 30 seconds each) was quite possibly the worst pain I’ve ever been in.

The new Nurse, named Christine (who is seriously an angel sent from heaven dressed in cute pink scrubs) started to get concerned. We both knew this really shouldn’t be happening. She called Dr. David back. He didn’t like the news. All of a sudden, I’m getting a THIRD ROUND of that stupid shot in the back of my arm, which got yet another odd scream out of me, and it did nothing for the contractions. An Ultrasound tech came in and took a look inside my uterus to do some measurements – she didn’t say much, but I could read it on her face… she did not like what she was seeing. She left in a hurry.

I would say it was somewhere around noon and I now had a small Army in the LDR (Labor and Delivery Room). My parents, Phillip, my sister, Alyse, and Anthony’s middle brother, Paul and his wife, Elissa were all within view, and Anthony’s parents were more than an hour into their 6 hour drive from Northern California. And I think at one point every person in that room held my hand through at least one contraction. They were coming hard and fast. And before I knew it, several things happened in succession. Dr. David was back (not a good sign). Nurse Christine had orders to tilt my bed so that my head was down near the floor and my feet where elevated, so that there was no pressure on my cervix. Dr. David told me that under the circumstances, I was officially on bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy and that while it would still be several weeks before I delivered, I probably wasn’t leaving Los Robles Hospital until I was a Mom. Then Dr. Jidali arrived. And he and Dr. David started looking at my Ultrasound. Elissa and Paul and headed back to work, as “nothing” was going to be happening today.

Dr. Jidali and Dr. David discussed my measurements. And he felt he needed to do some measurements of his own – so the ultrasound tech came back. Only a few swooshes of the ultrasound wand and Dr. Jidali sounded concerned. And then, Dr. David broke the news… I was already 4 and a half centimeters dilated. I had gone into full-blown labor and was already at the halfway mark. They started giving me all sorts of meds through my IV to try to stop the labor. And as a precaution, I now needed a magnesium shot in my hip!!! YIKES!! This shot was for Peep. This was to help her lung development mature quickly – just in case. Needless to say that in hind sight, it was a great call. Dr. David changed his prognosis from “a few more weeks” to doing our best to “keep the baby in there a few more days.” They wanted us to hit the 25 week mark (3 days away) because the 24th week is actually a critical one for development and they were worried that getting her out before  Saturday could cause long-term damage.

I’m going to stop the story there and take a moment to thank Anthony for his strength and courage. I could read it all over his face – “I’m scared. I’m worried. I’m confused. I don’t know what to do.” But his words, his tone of voice, and his actions were all steady, calm, and focused. He kept me from getting hysterical. And while we both shed more than our fair share of tears that day, I can tell you all truthfully that I would not have come through that day anywhere near as well as I did, had it not been for that man. My man. My best friend, my rock, my strength. I thank God everyday for you.

Ok, so now it was about 12:30 and most of my family has gone over to “base camp.” It was a room nearby that Nurse Christine had set up for our family to sort of hang out in so they weren’t crowding us or the doctors, but still close enough if we needed them. She didn’t need to do it, but she could tell that it was a gesture that wouldn’t go unnoticed. And it didn’t. And it ended up making Nurse Christine’s job a lot easier about half an hour later.

By now, I’ve had 2 blood draws, 3 stupid shots, 1 IV, and a shot in my hip. Yea – I’m so done with needles for the year. I think I filled my quota. But nothing was working. The contractions kept coming. And now, we weren’t talking about “a few more days.” We were talking about hours… Dr. David even asked me how long I felt I could handle the contractions without any strong meds. I told him as long as it took. I could tell he was proud of my attitude. He told me he still thought I could do this “My way” which meant a natural, vaginal birth. I was in labor – my body was doing this whether Peep was ready or not – and we all thought at least the pushing and birthing part had a chance of going “as planned.”

At about 1:00pm, Dr. Jidali and Dr. David decided that they needed to monitor both my heart rate (which was high) and Peep’s heart rate. Peep was so uncomfortable with the situation that she wouldn’t stop moving. So they had to get 2 separate dopplers in order to get a good reading. And the first good news of the day! Peep’s heart rate was at 140! Thank goodness. They kept the dopplers on us because both Dr.s wanted to get a reading of her heart rate through one of my contractions. They didn’t have to wait long – less than a minute after making their request, one came. And it wasn’t good news. Peep’s heart rate dropped from 140 down to 70. And then, as soon as my contraction stopped, it shot back up to 140. My contractions were literally crushing her.

I will never forget the look on Dr. David’s face. It was a mixture of concern and defeat. He looked at Jidali, and then looked back at me. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that if we didn’t get her out right now, we’d lose her within the hour. Her little heart couldn’t handle much more of that. We needed an emergency C-section. The collective in-take of breath that came from both Anthony and I was actually audible. We were so scared, and so confused. I was fine yesterday! I looked at Nurse Christine and said, “please go get my Mom.” Dr. Jidali looked at another nurse and said “prepare an OR.” Nurse Christine was internally thankful for the base camp she’d set up only a few doors away, as opposed to the waiting room way down at the other end of the ward. She poked her head in, said, “Mom – we need you now.” And they both sprinted the short distance back to my room. It was like my mom had teleported.

Dr. David filled her in, and told us that Dr. Mah the head Neonatalogist would be coming in to brief us on what was going to happen to our child after she was born, and give us survival rates and statistics. This is where Anthony and I both kind of lost it. Tears were streaming down both of our faces. Anthony was holding my hand, and I literally threw it at my Mother and told her, “Hug him please, because I can’t.” My husband cried on my mother’s shoulder as she squeezed my hand.

Dr. Mah came in, in a whirlwind. He was nice and gentle, but that only goes so far when the news he has is that our baby has only a 50-50 shot at survival. He told us that if our baby survived he or she would have to stay here in the hospital for about 3 months. IF the baby did well, we could go home by our original due date, but that babies of this gestation commonly have serious breathing, heart rate, and health problems and it was likely we were in for a longer stay than that. He informed us that we really couldn’t be at a better facility for the situation we were in because the care of preemies was something they could do almost 100% on site. The only 2 things they can’t do within their own walls were heart and brain surgery. He assured me that if either was needed (because chances of that are high for babies this small) that it was less than a 10 minute trip from helipad to helipad to the UCLA medical center, which is where they would take her if she needed such a thing.

We had to swallow all of this information in a ridiculously short amount of time. Remember that the contraction they read Peep’s heart rate on was minutes after 1pm. As soon as Dr. Mah finished talking, Dr. David and Dr. Jidali said they were ready and it was time to go – NOW. The “NOW” was 1:15pm. Oh yea, and let’s also remember that my contractions never stopped through this whole thing… they were less than 2 minutes apart and not slowing down.

“Time to go, NOW.” are powerful words from a Dr. It was complete organized chaos. As Dr. David explained that I would be going under “General Anesthetics”  (meaning I’d be knocked out completely) rather than a spinal tap because it was too risky for the baby, a nurse was whisking Anthony away to get into what we call his “Moon suit.” Nurse Christine stayed with me the whole time – and in seconds, my bed was making these loud “kah-chunk” noises as they leveled me back out and brought the sides of the bed up. All of a sudden, I was being wheeled into a hallway – I was in my very own “Grey’s Anatomy” scene, but it was real. I have NO CLUE where exactly they took me. All I knew was that Anthony wasn’t with me, and that was freaking me out. At some point I passed my family members. My sister looked frightened and my dad had the look he uses when he is trying to stay calm, but he is actually freaking out. My mother was fighting back tears. (I found out later that Alyse had contacted Elissa and Paul by then and they were both already on their way back, breaking all sorts of laws and speed limits to do so).

In no time at all, we’d reached the OR. Anthony was still not with me. Several nurses I did not recognize were trying to help me out of my bed and onto what I’ve come to call the Crucifix. Really, it was the OR table. But here I am – naked as the day I was born, in front of (kid you not) 12-15 strangers in moon suits. Dr. David and Nurse Christine were the only faces I knew, and their faces were covered with masks. They pulled me onto the table and had me lie down. Someone took my right arm, and Nurse Christine took my left. They literally stretched my arms out to the sides along 2 skinny tables sticking out of the table I was on. Had you seen me from a bird’s-eye view, it would have looked like Jesus on the Cross. Hence why I call it the crucifix. They weighed my arms down with heavy blankets to keep me still, and were covering me with that huge blue tarp you see in the movies. I couldn’t see the rest of my body. And Anthony was still not there.

I looked at Dr. David and said we can’t do this until he is here. Dr. David said he knew, and that he was on his way, but that he can’t stay in the room with me during my surgery – general anesthetics doesn’t work that way. He can come in until I’m under and then he has to wait outside. Then Anthony will get to go with the NICU nurse and the baby to the NICU itself where Dr. Mah was waiting. Yet another freak out going on in my brain – I did not like that Anthony could not hold my hand through the whole ordeal. (In hind sight, I’m glad he wasn’t in there with me – watching his wife get intubatedwas probably the LAST thing he needed to witness.)

Nurse Christine still had my left hand. She kept assuring me that everything would be ok. And then, I had to deal with Dr. Jefferson…

Side note – Dr. Jefferson is considered the best of the best in emergency situations for anesthesiology. He is a master of his trade and rarely ever makes mistakes. Dr. David was happy to have him on the team. But, Dr. Jefferson’s bedside manner could use a little… well, ok actually A LOT… of work.

Dr. Jefferson was in “Go Mode.” He took his emergency situations seriously. And he felt that no emotions of mine had enough merit to stand in the way of another successful surgery. He had about a dozen questions he needed to ask me before briefing me on the standard operating procedures. He knew he had only minutes to do this task, and I wasn’t cooperating. He was getting frustrated. I interrupted him and his spiel at one point and said, “Can I please just have a moment to process all of this?” Anthony still was not by my side. Dr. Jefferson’s response? “No.” It dawned on me then that I was at the point of no return. And that I needed to give it up to God and let Dr. Jefferson do his job. So I caved. I answered all of his questions and did my best to listen to his instructions. At the end of it all, he said to Dr. David – “Ready to go.” And he was going to force me to breathe in that gas without getting to tell Anthony I loved him. Luckily, Dr. David said the best word I could have heard at the time. “Stand by.”

Dr. Jefferson must have given Dr. David some kind of incredulous look that I couldn’t see, because Dr. David returned the gesture with a look that clearly said, “This is still MY OR.” Dr. Jefferson begrudgingly mumbled, ‘Standing by.” At that point I was going to lose it if Anthony didn’t suddenly materialize before my eyes. I pretty much screamed, “Where is Anthony!!!!???!!!” and miracle of miracles, his voice cut through all the noise. “Jen, I’m here.” And his unmistakable grasp engulfed my right hand. *RELIEF* like you wouldn’t believe. And I even got out a little giggle, because he was covered, from head to toe, in that ugly white gauze type material – jumpsuit, mask, hair cover… the whole 9 yards.

2 small things left to do before I went under. Dr. David needed to draw his incision lines on my abdomen (which felt weird and freaked me out even more because he forgot to tell me what he was doing before he did it. Nurse Christine had to explain that no, he was not cutting into me just yet – that was a marker I was feeling!) and oh yea – one more blood draw. Nurse Christine really did have my back – she was shouting instructions to the nurse about to poke me – “you can’t give her a heads up! She hates needles. She knows you are there, just do your thing and get out quickly!” I didn’t know until several hours after surgery that she had drained me of 7 vials worth of blood. To prove it, I still have the bruise from it.

It was time. Dr. David gave Dr. Jefferson the go ahead. Dr. Jefferson said take 4 deep breaths of pure oxygen, and then I’ll turn on the gas. You’ll be out in under 15 seconds. He must have started the gas early, because I started counting down from 15 after my 4 breaths, and never made it to 14. I was out.

I came to, back in my LDR, with Anthony hovering over me. He looked at me and smiled the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. All he said was, “Jen! We have a little girl! We have our little Abigail!” I don’t know what I did or what I said. But I do remember thinking to myself – “I knew it!” But that was pretty much it. Nothing else was really coming to my mind because I. WAS. IN. PAIN. See, they can’t give me anything for the pain until I’m fully coherent, because otherwise I can’t tell them if something feels wrong (like a reaction to the meds or something). So you have to wait to fully come to for them to start the drip. Well I was fully coherent, and kept telling Anthony, “It hurts” for almost half an hour – something about that the “magic code” or whatever was needed to clear me for the meds wasn’t working. The Pharmacy wouldn’t release the morphine until it all got straightened out. Fantastic.

I honestly don’t remember much else. Once the morphine did come through, the haze it created was incredible. And what was even greater is that I was in control of it. It was a push button system. Meaning I feel pain, I push the button, I get more morphine. I like that system. 😉 Apparently I talk a lot while drugged. Which was bad because my throat was sore from the intubation, but apparently that didn’t stop me. I know several people came to visit me within those first 24 hours. The only thing I truly remember (and I think it is because I have a picture of it) is meeting Abby for the first time. On the way to wheeling me to my hospital room, we stopped at the NICU. They wheeled the bed into the NICU and rolled me right up to her isolette (the fancy plastic box she lives in). They put alcohol on my hands, opened up the side door and told me I could touch her. I touched her tiny little foot. And she pushed back on my finger in response. While it was probably just a simple reaction, I like to believe she knew it was me. And anyone who wants to argue with me about it will get a slap upside the head, NCIS style. So there. 😉

There is more to the story, I’m sure. Several different people’s accounts turn up different pieces of information. Anthony remembers being told that the baby was a girl, and that she got a good breath all on her own as soon as she came out, which was a great sign. Patricia, the NICU nurse actually told me I had a baby girl… only I was under anesthetics, so I didn’t hear her. Oh – and at some point, I had 2 more blood draws to check on my vitals. For a grand total of 9 needle pokes in less than 24 hours. Yea… I am a hospital warrior at this point!

But getting to the heart of the original question… what happened? Dr. David was still furious with himself because he couldn’t stop this from happening. Really, there was no medical reason they could find to explain why they could not stop my labor. And 2 days passed before we actually had any answers.

Dr. David had sent off a portion of my placenta to a lab to be tested. He was hell-bent on finding answers, both for me, and for himself. And the lab did just that. Dr. David called me on Friday and sounded like a kid in a candy shop. “We figured it out! I know what happened!” Ok… spill, dude. His response? “You had an infection!!!”

At this point, it was one of those moments that would have needed cricket chirps added in…*silence* *chirp* *chirp* Uh… Dr. David? We know that. I had a UTI. Hahaha. He quickly explained that he was talking about a second infection. I had a bacterial infection in my uterus that penetrated my placenta. It turns out that there was no way we could have known that before hand – essentially meaning this would have happened, one way or another, regardless of what we did to try to stop it.

Ok great – glad we know “why.” But I couldn’t figure out why he was so flippin’ excited about this news. When I asked, he said the best thing I could have asked to hear: “While I apologize because there is nothing I could have done this time around, I can prevent it from happening next time. I can keep you safe and get you to full term safely.” Now if that wasn’t good news, I don’t know what is. He explained that I had essentially had two separate pre-term labors. They were, in fact, able to stop the first round with that stupid shot and the antibiotics. It was the third round of contractions (that was really round one caused by the second infection – totally separate) that they couldn’t override. And wouldn’t have been able to even if they knew what it was. It also turns out that curing the UTI may have actually accelorated the second round of labor, but we’ll never know for sure. Dr. David was very happy to know that he truly had done everything in his power to help me, and that his meathods had actually worked, we just didn’t know it at the time.

Through further discussion, we have determined that I am simply prone to infections. I’ve had a total of 3 during half of one pregnancy (I had a yeast infection in week 6). But all three cleared quickly with antibiotic assistance. So next time (and we assure you, there will be a next time, once Abby has “caught up” to hear peers) my prenatal care will be more extensive than it was this time around. I will be seeing Dr. David significantly more often than the normal “once every 4 weeks”, and each time I will get vaginal swabs that will be tested for infections. The second an infection appears (and it will) we will kill it. And, barring any bizarre craziness, we should have a successful pregnancy for our second child. And, because of the way Dr. David made my incision and how I was stitched up, he says I should have no problem having a vaginal delivery next time, too. All music to my ears.

For any future moms out there that this news scares, please be aware: my condition is not “normal.” For whatever reason, my pregnancy opened up a door for bacteria that my body couldn’t fight. And what made it so difficult was that, none of the infections showed symptoms, so I didn’t know any of them where there without medical intervention. My pregnancy was completely normal. Textbook, even. There was no reason for my doctors to be looking for anything wrong. Sometimes flukes and anomalies just happen. So just know that most (almost all) pregnancies that are labeled as “textbook” actually are and there is very little to worry about. I’m just weird, which doesn’t surprise me at all. 😉

I recovered from surgery quickly. I went home, 4 days after she was born. At three weeks after surgery, I am walking at my normal pace, needing very minimal pain medication, and can even drive again. All is well with me. Oh – and all 3 infections are gone.

And Abby is doing as well as we can hope. While she certainly has her setbacks, and her ups and her downs, she is moving along. She is getting bigger and stronger every day, and while there is always going to be a road block down the line, the overall picture is still a positive one. I pray it stays that way.

So, that is my story. Or rather, Abby’s story. And we’re sticking to it.

-Jen

Our first photo as a family of 3

The best feeling in the world

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My new reality

Saturday, May 29, 2010: Me at 24 Weeks:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010:

This week would have marked 26 weeks. The start of my Third Trimester. But I’m guessing you’ve noticed that the belly doesn’t really look like I’m 6 Months along. And that would be because I am no longer the pregnant lady.

I’m a Mommy.

My daughter, Abigail Jenifer Francis, was born at 1:30pm on June 2nd, 2010. She came into the world 16 weeks early, and weighed in at 1 lbs, 8oz and 12 3/4 inches long. She is classified as a “Micro Preemie.”

I can’t really describe to any of you what that actually means to me right now. While I know in my heart that I became a Mom the moment I learned I was pregnant, my head is just not ready for my new reality. For the last 6 months, I’ve been so obsessed with “September 18th” that “June 2nd” won’t stick. I find myself double checking the date, making sure I’ve gotten it right. So much so, that after she was born, I realized I didn’t even know the date! I had to ask – what is the date today? And when the reply of  “6-2-10” came back at me, it just didn’t compute.

Truth be told, it still doesn’t. Tomorrow, Abby turns 2 weeks old. But it is difficult to continue to grasp the concept of a June Baby, especially when we don’t work with her “age” like that in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). We work with her age as if she was still inside me. They don’t say “2 weeks.” They say 26 and 4, which means 26 weeks and 4 days gestation. Had today gone “as planned” I would have been settling into the home stretch of my pregnancy, knowing that I had entered my third trimester. Today, I would have been at work, answering phones, inputting orders, and playing with Pup. Today, I would have gone to my Pre-Natal Yoga class to help with the back pain that my pregnancy was causing. I would have had some sort of weird craving just before dinner was ready, and I would have enjoyed several half-hour intervals of “Peep” kicking me.

Never, in a million years, would I have imagined how different today would actually be. Just under 4 Months early, my daily schedule is now completely based on the two most important things in my life – visiting Abby in the NICU and pumping breast milk. I wake up just before 9am (which isn’t actually sleeping in… it is necessary recuperation from what I keep forgetting was “major” surgery). The first thing I do after potty/teeth brushing is pump. And every three hours after that, I pump again. Feeding Abby breast milk is THE one thing I can do to help her along the road to recovery and coming home to us. I can’t help her breathe better. I can’t regulate her heart rate for her. I can’t keep her warm anymore. But I can give her the nutrients and immunity she needs to survive. So pumping that “liquid gold,” as the nurses call it, is the focus of my day. And we visit Abby twice a day. Once in the afternoon, and once in the late evening to say goodnight to her before coming home and heading to bed. 2 visits are about all she can handle at the moment, but those two visits are spent bonding as best we can with our tiny baby girl, and Anthony and I cherish those visits as if our lives depended on it.

Our life right now is just so different. Things that parents are SUPPOSED to take for granted are serious milestones for us. For example, most parents don’t even think about the “when” of all the little things that just happen naturally during those first 24 hours – “When” can we see her open her eyes? (One of them opened just 2 days ago, and the other is still fused shut). “When” can we hear her cry? (We heard her tiny cry for the very first time, 9 days after she was born.) “When” can we hold her? (At two weeks old, I’ve never held my daughter in my arms. And another week or so will pass before I do.) Little things that people would never imagine having to do are reality for us – like asking the doctor how her daily blood draw went, or getting  briefings on her stats/meds/conditions every time we see her, or scrubbing in like a surgeon EVERY TIME we visit her… I swear to you, the underside of my nails have never been this clean! We have to sanitize our hands any time we even accidentally touch something outside of her “house.” Like the other day – Anthony absent-mindedly put his hand in his jeans pocket… and then had to re-sanitize before he could touch her again. I think the worst part of it all is that I am her mother, and I have to ask someone else how my own daughter is doing every day because I don’t know for myself.

And the fear factor! Oh, Lord, give me strength. I can’t even begin to tell you the kind of fear level I can handle now. While she is just the most precious and adorable thing I have ever laid eyes on, it is so scary to see all these wires stuck to her, and some even stuck IN her to keep her alive. It is scary to have tubes stuck down your baby’s throat just so she can breathe. It is so scary to hear the alarms go off whenever her oxygen level or heart rate drop. It is scary to watch her struggle to breathe, or to have a nurse literally push you out of the way to bring your daughter back from a “crash.” I’ve cried more tears in the last two weeks than I have in the last several years combined. My emotions are high and my energy is low. And if it weren’t for the strength I draw from my family, close friends, and (most intensely) my amazingly strong husband, I would probably be curled up in a ball in a corner somewhere and the crazy police might have to take me away in a straight jacket. No Joke.

I feel obligated to stop there and tell you that, overall, Abby’s story is a highly positive one. I don’t want to sound like everything is negative, because the progress she has made in just two weeks is utterly astounding. She is much stronger than even the Doctors expected her to be, and they are consistently happy with her daily progress. But that is just it – that is the overall picture. It is the day-in, day-out that is so hard. We call her our “Tiny Dancer” because she is doing this sort of dance where she takes 2 steps forward and then one step back. She does this little dance several times a day. While it is great that she is eating and digesting almost 2 full ounces of breast milk a day, she is having more heart rate problems than she was having last week. While it is great that she is off the ventilator, she stops breathing when she falls into a deep sleep and they have to wake her up to get her to breathe again… so going back on the ventilator is a real possibility. And as long as she continues to need that breathing help or has heart rate dips, we can’t hold her. She has to stay in her little “house” for her safety. All of these back and forth movements are totally normal for a baby her size – technically at 26 weeks, they shouldn’t be able to breathe on their own AT ALL so the fact that she has been off of a ventilator for 5 days is simply a miracle. But the reality is that her life is still fragile and still in danger. And that is a very hard reality to face.

In just 2 weeks, several babies have already come in to the NICU and gone home. And while I am so happy that these babies are healthy, I am so jealous of these mothers that get to be wheeled out holding their little ones that are younger than my little one. I was visiting Abby just a few days after she was born, and a baby came in that needed observation. This baby was 4 weeks early and only weighed about 6 pounds. The mom came in and couldn’t believe how small her little girl was. And in any other situation, I would have agreed!!! But as I stood in my corner with my small hand cradling Abby’s whole body, I couldn’t help but think, “Lady – you have no idea what small is.” So, of course, I am thankful for the ability to keep my mouth shut. 😉

Abby is still the smallest baby in the NICU. But she already has a following! The nurses love her. And while I know that I think she is just adorable, it is nice to hear that others think she is cute as a button, too. Her doctors like her progress and we have every reason to believe that we will get to bring our little girl home by her original due date. So yea – this is my new reality. I have a beautiful baby girl, who is living in a “womb with a view” and fighting hard to come home to me. To us. And my days from now until then are centered around her care, just as if she was still inside me. So while it is totally different from how I envisioned it, my third trimester is going to come and go, and come September, I will be bringing home my healthy and happy Abigail. And in the end, that is all I can hope for.

-Jen