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.