We were on vacation “up north” about 4 hours away from home. It was a wonderful, relaxing week. My husband, Steve, and I spent hours in our boat talking about the first time we would take our “daughter” fishing. (At our last ultrasound, they told us we were having a girl!) I was 23 weeks along with our first child; my pregnancy was healthy and normal.
On the last day of vacation (Friday, July 27) I started feeling some cramps. All of my books said that some cramping was common so I didn’t think too much of it. After a while, it started getting really painful, so I suspected something might be wrong. We packed up and called my nurse as soon as we had cell phone service.
The nurse sent us to the closest ER. When we arrived, they did a test and found that I was leaking amniotic fluid. They started pumping me full of steroids for the baby’s lung development and magnesium to stop or slow my contractions. At this point, I was convinced they would be able to stop the labor.
Until, they told me “You are in the wrong place. This hospital does not have the capacity to care for you or your baby.” They were transferring me to St. Cloud Hospital which had a Level III NICU. At first they were going to transfer me in an ambulance, but decided that wasn’t going to be quick enough, so I was airlifted. I’m scared of heights and I get claustrophobic in small spaces. I was strapped to a board with 6 different restraints. Every time I had a contraction, all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball, but the restraints kept me from moving. The magnesium made me feel like I was on fire. The ride was 25 minutes; it felt like 25 years.
This was the worst part: my husband Steve couldn’t ride with me. He watched the helicopter take off. He had to drive 1.5 hours to St. Cloud by himself. He had no idea what was happening…
Steve and my sister, Anna, arrived about 30 minutes before the baby was born. It was starting to sink in that I was having a baby NOW. My body was doing one thing, but my brain kept saying “No – it’s too early!!” I had no idea how to labor – I didn’t get to that part in my book yet – thankfully the nurses helped me breathe through the contractions and told me what was happening.
It was terrifying having to push – I kept saying “I won’t do it – the baby’s too small!” My doctor looked at me and said “you MUST push.” If the doctor had to do a C-section, I would hemorrhage. A C-section would have eliminated my chance at having more kids.
When the baby came out, his team of doctors had to resuscitate him. Once they got him breathing, he let out a little mew! It was the most amazing sound ever – he was alive! Steve was able to cut the cord. That’s when he noticed that we had a little boy instead of the girl we were expecting!
Jaxson spent his first month in the St. Cloud Hospital NICU. He was the “feisty” baby in the unit. He extubated himself twice. He was a wiggler and had to be drugged so he wouldn’t pull out his IVs.
We started Kangaroo Care when he was two weeks old and held him close every single day. We talked to him and sang to him and read him stories. We touched him as much as possible.
He had significant trouble with his insulin levels and received 6 blood transfusions in the first 3 weeks of life. He had an episode of extremely high potassium levels which caused an irregular heartbeat. Thankfully, the cardiologist was able to lower the potassium level and get his heart back on track with medication. He had a large PDA, which required a transfer to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul where he would have access to a neonatal cardiologist. The team in St. Paul was working on a trial treatment for PDAs – Tylenol! After 3 days of Tylenol treatment, the PDA closed! No heart surgery!
During his two month stay in St. Paul, there were no significant problems aside from the usual As and Bs. Jax began “recreational feeding” at 30 weeks, which is really early. I was dedicated to giving him breast milk. I pumped every 2-3 hours and took herbal supplements. I tried Reglan, a prescription medication that can help increase milk supply. I was diagnosed with Raynaud’s Vasospasms which caused extreme pain during pumping. I tried the prescription medication, Nifedipine (which is a high blood pressure medication) to help reduce the constriction in my veins. The medication made me extremely dizzy, so I was only able to continue with that for one week. Unfortunately, my body just would not cooperate and I could not produce more than 1.5 ounces a time. Jax quickly out-ate my supply. I pumped breast milk for 2.5 months, but eventually, I was no longer able to do it. It was heartbreaking for me the first time Jax got formula! But I know I did all I could and I am proud that he got as much milk from me as he did.
After 93 days in the NICU, Jax was able to come home. He was released an entire month before his due date! This is unheard of for 23 weekers. His pediatrician calls him a “superhero.”
Jax has done very well, but he still faces many challenges because of his low birth weight and early delivery. He came home on oxygen , but after only a month and a half, he passed his sleep study and proved that he was ready to come off. He has aggressive Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) in both eyes which required surgery. He had a double inguinal hernia which required surgery. He also has a condition called hypospadias which will require multiple surgeries when he is a year old. However, we are very thankful that he escaped many of the major preemie scares: no brain bleeds, no NEC, no heart surgery.
Jax has been home for just over three months and already weighs nearly 16 lbs! We have a million doctor appointments, but the main thing we do is love each other! It’s amazing!
I’ve been blogging about his journey at: https://anearlystart.wordpress.com.