I was pregnant with my second child when I found out, at 20 weeks, that I had some complications! The anatomy scan, that I was so excited about, became a little more complicated at the very end. I was diagnosed with a short cervix. What is that and what did it mean? I was at risk for preterm labor and followed very closely after the initial diagnosis. I was a little confused by the diagnosis since I had had a healthy full term baby and had never been told anything about my cervix with my first pregnancy. I was recommended to not do any rigorous exercise and needed to be seen weekly for internal ultrasounds and cervix checks. My cervix kept shortening and I was put on modified bed rest (meaning I could walk around my house to go to the bathroom, etc., but I could no longer do my day-to-day activities or pick up my two year old daughter (nearly impossible).
In early March, I went in for a cervix check and found I was dilated. I immediately drove to the hospital from my OB practice and was monitored over night. It was such a scary experience and a reality check for me since I really didn’t think I was going to have serious issues after having a successful first pregnancy! I spent the night in the hospital being monitored closely and given steroid shots to help with the baby’s lungs if I ended up going into labor.
I went home on bed rest and two week later, I woke up feeling wet! I thought I had peed, but when I stood up, I was gushing fluid! I immediately knew my water had broken and I needed to get to the hospital right away! I called my doctor, got my husband rallied and called my friend in hysterics and asked her to meet us at the hospital so she could pick up our 2.5 year old daughter. I was a mess, thinking this baby was coming NOW!
I was told that I would be in the hospital for potentially 7.5 weeks, if I could make it to 34 weeks without something happening. That would be best-case scenario! This was tough information to swallow. I would be without my husband and daughter every night for almost two months and I couldn’t leave the hospital. I would have to try and make the best of it! I had a lot of anxiety early in the pregnancy and attended counseling. I had been managing it with support , but this new curve ball I was thrown, set me up for increased risk forit all coming back with vengeance. I set up a prenatal massage appointment and a pedicure in my room, I took advantage of the therapy dogs that came to the hospital, friends visited me every day and brought food, flowers and gifts. My husband and daughter came and visited me every day and had dinner with me. The nurses and staff were amazing and I had my own room! Netflix was my best friend! I was managing pretty well for the most part, but would have occasional periods where I would feel really down.
Ten days later, I didn’t feel well and I let the nurses know immediately. I was wheeled to L&D and told soon after that I had an infection and would be delivering as soon as possible at 27 weeks 6 days. I called my husband crying and told him the news. He scrambled to get care for our daughter and get to the hospital so that he could be with me during the emergency C-section.
Henry Allen Vincent was born April 1st 2016 and was 2 lbs 4.7oz. at University of Vermont Medical Center. I didn’t meet him until 8pm that evening but was given the news that he was stable and doing well. My husband spent time with him as much as possible and checked on me frequently. When I Henry for the first time and held his tiny little hand through the isolette window, my heart hurt, but I knew he was ready for the fight ahead. Those ten days I had spent in the Mother-Baby Unit had let him grow a little bit stronger and I was thankful for that time.
The NICU can be a scary place, but there were many friendly faces that I appreciated seeing through the next ten weeks. Not every baby in the NICU is there because it is preterm. There are so many other reasons why families enter the NICU, so there are always babies that are in more serious condition and there are babies that just need help for a couple hours. It was hard for me to see families graduate from the NICU to the Neonatal Transition Suite or go home because I knew our little guy would be there for a very long time. Babies that are born as early as Henry are given a core team of nurses so that the care provided is more consistent and we can get to know the nurses and vice versa. Every shift a new nurse would be assigned to Henry and they would care for him and one other baby in close proximity. We were all in one big room together so there is little privacy and lots of noise. Beeping, alarms when heart rates would drop, respirators, conversations during rounds, and non-stop movement filled the large room as the NICU team cared for all babies.
After not too many days, Nurse Karen was assigned to Henry and I immediately liked her. I desperately wanted her on Henry’s core team of nurses, so I asked her if she was on anyone else’s team hoping that maybe she would join ours! She had just signed up for another team, but she added herself to Henry’s as well. As we spent hours upon hours at the hospital watching Henry grow and making sure we were up to date on all of his care, I looked forward to the time spent with Karen. She took the most amazing care of our boy and made sure she kept a close watch on him throughout our time there. We became very close in those ten weeks at the hospital and have remained close friends ever since! The entire team taking care of Henry was wonderful and we were lucky to have our pediatrician there every step of the way too!
Henry put in his time at the hospital growing and learning to breath on his own, but overall we were very lucky with his progress. He grew steadily over the ten weeks, he came off his respirator after 24 hours, and the CPAP (another type of respiratory support that is a step down from a intubation) after about 4 weeks. His brain scans were clear and his eye exams continued to be normal. He just needed time to grow, moderate his temperature, and learn how to eat and breath on his own. We had to coordinate schedules with care for our daughter so that we could spend time with her at home and with Henry at the hospital. We relied on friends and family a lot to help with extra care and meals while running back and forth to the NICU. Our daughter Caroline, who was not even 2.5, couldn’t even meet Henry until he came home since only parents were allowed into the NICU. Although, it was hard to explain to Caroline why she couldn’t meet her brother (except through the window), I appreciated this rule as it kept the infection rate down.
I had breastfed my daughter, so I was determined to do it again with Henry. I started pumping as soon as he was born and continued to do so every 2-3 hours for weeks since he couldn’t eat without a feeding tube. Eventually, he was able to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing and started breastfeeding for short periods of time about 5 weeks after he was born. He did not have the stamina to exclusively breastfeed without a feeding tube until a few days before his tenth week. Waiting for him to do this was one of the most difficult parts of our NICU stay because he was so close to being able to go home, but it felt like an eternity before he was strong enough to do this. He was a tricky bottle feeder as well and the nurses often couldn’t get him to eat, so would have to resort to the feeding tube when I wasn’t around to breastfeed!
We met a couple of other parents whose babies were also preemies and who we have continued to keep in touch with since leaving. We even participated in the annual NICU reunion gathering in August, only 2 months after Henry’s successful departure from the hospital to home! We just celebrated Henry’s 1st birthday, which was an incredible milestone for him and our family. We made it through all the weeks in the NICU, many doctor’s appointments, and the winter flu season, and thankfully our little man continues to amaze us with his development, his bright personality and smile. We are truly lucky to have him in our lives and so very thankful to all those who helped us in our first year with Henry!
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