A Preemie Story

November is Prematurity Awareness Month, so I wanted to share my son’s preemie story with you today.  After years of infertility and an adoption {READ THAT STORY HERE}, we got the surprise of our life:  we were pregnant!  We didn’t think it was possible for us to conceive, but God had other plans…  To God be the glory!  With the finalization of our oldest son’s adoption and this pregnancy, it felt like everything we had waited and prayed for was finally falling into place.  My pregnancy was relatively healthy, and everything seemed to be on track.  But during the third trimester, I began to experience serious high blood pressure issues.  After several ER visits with blood pressure topping out at stroke levels, my doctor thought it best to go ahead and induce me.  But labor didn’t quite go as planned either.  With every contraction, my son’s heart rate bottomed out and he struggled to recover.  At 36 weeks, my son came into this world via c-section, and here is where our NICU story begins…

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We weren’t prepared for what happened next.  When they brought him for me to see, all I could think was, “He is so tiny!”  My son was born at 3 lbs, 12 ounces, and 16 1/4 inches long.  His head was no larger than a small orange.  Nothing from any of my appointments clued us in that he was so small…  He was ushered away, and cleaned, then placed into an Isolette, otherwise known as an incubator.  He transported to a NICU in Austin while I was left in the hospital in Georgetown, 30 minutes away.

I never even got to hold him.  My husband went with our son, my family stayed with me.  I was in pain, and confused.  I felt like I was living a nightmare.  The pain medications and drugs were clouding my mind.  I knew I had been pregnant and given birth, but my child wasn’t there.   The next 36 hours were the most excruciating I have ever experienced, and I wouldn’t wish that feeling on my worst enemy.

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I was released the next afternoon, against my doctor’s better judgement.  But I was determined to see my baby.  My parents drove me down to the hospital where my son was being treated and I finally got to see him.  As I walked into his room, he was crying.  I instinctively went to open the Isolette to comfort him, but my husband stopped me.  “I’m so sorry,” he said, “but you can’t do that.  He has to stay inside.”  I looked at him, dumbfounded.   Those words cut so deep.  My son was crying and I couldn’t hold him.  I hadn’t held him yet.  Everything inside of me screamed.

Our son was so small, he was unable to regulate his body temperature.  He was only allowed outside of the Isolette to eat, for a maximum of 30 minutes at a time.  These are known in the NICU as “touch times”.  For the NICU parent, your entire schedule is built around the moments you can touch your baby.  It’s excruciating being told when you can hold your child, and for how long.  We cherished every second.

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But, as we soon learned, we were one of the lucky ones.  Our baby was breathing on his own –  his lungs were fine.  He was otherwise healthy.  His biggest hurdle was to gain weight in order for his body to regulate his body temperature.  For a couple of weeks, he did have a feeding tube as he learned to eat from a bottle and nurse in order to make sure he consumed enough calories to help him gain weight.  He also spent about nine days with a bili blanket to combat jaundice.  But other than that, he was healthy…

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We met several families in the NICU.   There’s something about going through a traumatic event that causes people to build strong bonds.  We got to know these families and their babies, and were given a strong dose of reality.  Our son was relatively healthy.  Many of the others we met were not.  They had several issues to overcome, months long stays in the hospital, and a few still have battles they are facing even today.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we were on auto pilot, spending our days at the hospital and coming home to see our oldest son at night.  During our NICU stay, we became familiar with an outstanding organization called Hand to Hold.  They are a non-profit support group for NICU families.  Our support group was a great source of strength and camaraderie for us.   Every Thursday we met and had a small lunch and celebrated the week’s successes with small beads and charms representing preemie milestones:  first bath, first diaper change, first time to wear clothes, breathing room air, gaining weight, etc.  Although they may not seem like it, these are MAJOR milestones…  For us, it was 2 1/2 weeks before he got to wear clothes for the first time.  It was 22 days before he no longer needed the Isolette.  But Hand to Hold was there to listen, encourage, and celebrate with us.  I will be forever grateful for them!

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My Preemie Milestone Necklace

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Ronald McDonald House as well.  Not only do they provide NICU families with a place to stay overnight, but they also had a special lounge in the hospital for NICU parents to relax in between touch times.  They provided snacks, drinks, and a place of solace that felt a little less like a hospital.  That little bit of comfort was amazing, and I’m so grateful to the Ronald McDonald House for their love and support during a very stressful time in our lives.

After 24 long days in the NICU, our little guy was released and he finally got to come home.  And I finally got to take newborn photos.  🙂

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If you know a parent of a preemie, there are multiple ways you can support them.  Babysit their other kids, bring meals, offer gift cards for food, do their laundry, clean their house, listen to them vent.  Most importantly and for the love of all things holy,  if you are even remotely sick, stay away.  Preemie babies have extraordinarily weak immune systems, and the slightest germs can be fatal.  These babies have enough to fight on their own just to survive.

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Right now, Hand to Hold is sponsoring their #FightLikeAPreemie Campaign.  NICU babies are fighters. From the moment they’re born, they fight every second for their lives with pluck and a resilience that amazes everyone around them. The families of these babies have to roll with the punches and stay strong in the ring that is the NICU.  This giving season we are asking our communities to throw their hat in the ring and fight like a preemie. Fight for these families and encourage them through every round of the NICU. We’re not throwing in the towel, and neither should they. We’re encouraging everyone to donate via our donation page (below) and share their story on Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #FightLikeAPreemie.  {YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF NICU FAMILIES:  DONATE TO THE #FIGHTLIKEAPREEMIE CAMPAIGN HERE.}

Thanks for taking the time to read this post today!

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About Suzanne Barnes

Suzanne is a professional photographer in The Woodlands, Texas, specializing in families, maternity, newborns, seniors.  She's a Christian, wife, a mom of two boys, and a self-diagnosed Pinterest addict who basically runs on caffeine.

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