Our story really began during our first pregnancy back in 2006. I experienced pre-term labor multiple times before a final trip to L&D triage the day I hit 36 weeks. After maxing out the medicine dosage to try to stop labor again that day, we were informed that our baby boy was to be born within hours. I was shocked, and tried to convince my husband I could make the contractions stop, so he should take me home since I was NOT ready to have a baby that day. Obviously that didn’t happen. Our first little preemie came into the world that day weighing a whopping 5 lbs 12 oz, and was the teeniest baby I’d ever held, but was 100% perfect. Our second pregnancy 2 years later followed much the same trajectory as our first, and again baby came at 36 weeks. She was born with “wet lungs” and had to spend a little extra time in the nursery on some oxygen support, but that little 5 pounder was overall healthy, as well.
About three years after that, we decided we were ready to try for another baby- our dream has always been to have at least 5-6 kiddos. That decision took us down a road we never expected: 6+ years of unexplained secondary infertility. We sought help from a top-notch specialist in our city where we endured multiple (unsuccessful) fertility treatments. I finally prayed that if we weren’t intended to have anymore biological children, that God would take that desire away from my heart, and draw us in to adoption.
In February 2016, my husband and I celebrated out 10th wedding anniversary. Of course, looking back over that ten year span, our lives looked nothing like we had imagined them to the night we said “I Do”. We had a 9 year old and a 7 year old, and dreamt of more, but had started to feel like the age gap was getting too big, and perhaps we should abandon attempts at having another biological child. Yet, on the morning of February 29, we found out that God must not think the age gap mattered at all. We were finally pregnant with out long-awaited third miracle.
Those first weeks saw me nervous and unsettled, praying desperately that the pregnancy was viable. I would whisper to myself (and in my mind, to that baby) “Hang in there little one. It’s you and me, and we got this!” Everything looked great in those early weeks after we first saw the heartbeat. We were elated, and decided we would let this “tie breaker baby” be a surprise gender reveal for its birthday.
The day we went for our 20 week anatomy scan, we were excited to bring our older children to see their newest sibling and share in that incredible experience. We didn’t expect they would share in us learning some potentially life-changing news. The technician identified some “concerning” markers during the scan, and we were moved to a room to consult with the maternal fetal medicine specialist. It was during that conversation that we learned our precious baby could be afflicted with a heart defect and some possible genetic abnormalities. We would have to wait 8 weeks for another ultrasound, when the baby was bigger, before we would know more. Those 8 weeks were excruciating. We prayed and researched and studied, just to try to prepare ourselves for what that would mean for our baby and our family. Finally, during the follow up scan we were told the heart defect was nothing to “worry” about, but it would continue to be monitored. They had no reason to believe any genetic abnormalities were present, however there were new problems. Baby was measuring small- only in the 2nd percentile for that gestation. The blood flow from the placenta through the umbilical cord didn’t look “optimal”. Thus began weekly trips to the perinatologist for monitoring and ultrasounds, with the caveat that they could potentially have to take the baby at any point if it was indicated during those appointments. The baby was diagnosed with Intrauterine Growth Restriction, and wasn’t receiving all the nutrition it needed from the placenta.To prepare us for early delivery, I received steroid shots to help baby’s lungs develop more quickly and was put on bed rest. The day of my 35 week monitoring appointment was odd to begin with. Living in Oklahoma, we know all too well the threat of tornadoes, but not usually in October. However that day we were in the target for severe weather. As I was sitting in the recliner during my non-stress test, I got an alert on my phone that our area was put under a tornado watch. I just went about my way, reading my magazine when the nurse stepped in and asked how I was feeling. The baby’s heart rate had climbed over 180 beats per minute, and wasn’t coming down. She immediately whisked me into the ultrasound room. The ultrasound tech came in an started taking her measurements, but was very quiet through the whole exam. She then went to get another tech. All I could focus on at that moment was watching that tiny heartbeat flashing on the screen…that was my peace, and the only reason I was keeping my composure. I was moved to a third room to wait for the perinatologist. He then moved me to another ultrasound room, where he told me the level of amniotic fluid around my baby was dangerously low, and he believed my placenta was failing- baby hadn’t grown more than 2 oz in 3 weeks. He called my OB, then turned to me and said “You need to go straight to the hospital. You’re having that baby today.”
As I walked across the parking lot to the hospital, I looked up at the thunderheads building and begged God to not make me have to take shelter from a tornado the day my baby was being born too early. When I called my husband to tell him to get to the hospital, he didn’t understand what was going on. I had to put a nurse on the phone for him to realize he needed to leave work ASAP. Just a few short hours later- without any of the bags or items I had prepared to bring to the hospital- I was on my way into the OR for my c-section delivery. I was so nervous, and thunderstorms were booming outside, but was finally starting to settle once the medicine started to take effect. Then my OB unexpectedly asked how many more children we were hoping to have. When I said “1 or 2” he told me he would only be comfortable with one more. I had a “uterine window” through which he could see straight through to our baby- my previous scar had thinned out so much that I was at risk for uterine rupture at any moment. He told us the reason the placenta wasn’t working was because it was beginning to separate as a result of the thinning uterine wall. He then informed us that any potential future baby would have to be delivered at 35 weeks at the latest. There was so much information to process in those moments...
Finally, that teeny baby arrived- crying heartily as they shuttled him over to the warmer to assess him. He was breathing too rapidly and his sugar level was too low. I saw him for a brief moment, but wasn’t even able to kiss him goodbye before they whisked him away to the NICU. I then spent the next 25 minutes laying on the OR table wondering about my baby BOY (yay!), as the team of doctors and nurses searched frantically for a lost surgical sponge. (I went to nursing school, my husband is a lawyer…we both knew what a missing sponge could mean.) It was excruciating! They finally found the sponge, and they were able to close my surgical incision.
We spent the next 6 (stormy) hours back and forth between my recovery room and the transitional NICU as they tried to let our sweet Sullivan regulate his breathing and body temp and respiration rate on his own. They finally said he was “good enough” to some back to my room with me. We spent a blissful three hours together in my room before an entire team of specialists came back to our room to take him to the Level III NICU. His blood sugar was dangerously low, and his respiration rate needing to be regulated via supportive equipment.
While he only spent 6 days in the NICU (and I was fortunate that my surgical complications warranted a longer-than-usual hospital stay for me), it was the hardest thing we have endured as a family. His big brother and sister were so great about learning proper scrubbing/hand-washing technique, being patient as nurses helped them hold that tiny 4 lb baby with all his wires and tubes, and most of all, understanding that mom and dad had to devote an inordinate amount of our time and attention to this new being, while their daily care was put into the hands of their grandparents (totally okay and responsible). That week, and the weeks that followed, as we basically lived like hobbits in our house to avoid illness and everything else that threatens a medically fragile preemie, helped our family bond and grow in ways I could never have foreseen.
I know definitively that if we are blessed enough to have that “one last baby” in the coming year or so, that even knowing it will be a preemie, we will make it! Having had three preemies now, and one that was a drastically more complex preemie, we feel so encouraged that any baby we welcome into our family will have all the love and attention (including medical) they could ever want. We know what it is to deeply yearn for a baby, and then accept whatever may come with that blessing when it arrives. We look forward to how God will bless us and our family in the years to come, but we also are content in knowing He has us right where we need to be, and are so grateful for the life lessons and experience he has given us in out children.
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