I am not a preemie mother. Usually when I tell people my daughter was in the NICU, they almost always ask “Was she early?” In a way, I guess she was early, you see, every doctor tells you that 37 weeks is full term. It’s not; however, most babies that are born at 37 weeks are fine. Sometimes though, the baby is still not ready. Although my daughter was not in the NICU for more than a week or so, the NICU left its mark on me. I use to feel guilty, in and after the NICU. I saw all these mothers that had sicker babies than I did, and everyone always tells you “Well, thank God she is okay.” I am thankful; however, I think, preemie parents or not, we can all agree that even 2 minutes in the NICU is 2 minutes too long. I want to tell my story to help other mothers who feel guilty like I did. Other mothers who the NICU left its marks on. Anytime you have to buzz in, scrub your hands, and ask to permission to hold your baby, it’s not fair. I also want to tell my story, so that other mothers will trust their own instincts. No one wants to be “that patient”. The one that is worried over nothing, the one that calls at the drop of a hat. However, if something is nagging you, you know your body best. Trust in yourself that if you feel like something is wrong, there is a chance there is. If you’re wrong, oh well, your doctor is getting paid a good bit and his/her job is to lead you in the right direction, and to take care of you. He/she is also human. They can miss things, make mistakes, at most they see you only one day out of the week. Maybe your blood pressure isn’t high at the visit, but maybe at home it is. Trust yourself, bug the heck out of them if you have the feeling something is just not right.
My story starts out like this. I met my husband 3 years ago on February 12. It was kinda like the stuff all those romantic movies talked about. We got married on our year anniversary. My husband has a daughter, and she was just plain awesome. I don’t know if it was because she was 2 when we first got together, but, she and I had a connection from the start. Now, I always wanted kids. From an early age, I knew that I at least wanted 2, at most 3. Having my stepdaughter already was a very pleasant bonus. It was in June or July that we found out we were expecting. My stepdaughter already knew though, she had been bugging me about buying baby clothes for a few months. I picked a doctor, the one that delivered my stepdaughter, and went to my first appointment. I was told I was 8 weeks and 5 days, and was also told I had a narrow pelvis, so, more likely than not, the baby would be a c-section. I was okay with this, all I wanted was a healthy baby, how she got here didn’t matter. At about 5 months my doctor had figured that we may be able to deliver naturally. He felt like the baby wouldn’t be huge and would be able to pass. Pregnancy wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and everything was normal until about 7 months.
I worked at Wal-mart as a cashier, but, my store was more than accommodating. All of my co-workers watched out for me, my managers made sure I wasn’t over doing it, letting me use a stool to sit on, giving me shorter shifts, and to this day I am so thankful for them. I almost feel as if they are like family to me. I started having swelling issues. My ankles and feet would swell, I assumed it was from working, so I tried to sit more often, and I would keep my feet up at home. I told my doctor, and he said it was pretty common, and as long as my blood pressure stayed normal, then it would be okay. However, it got worse from there. I tried not to worry. I didn’t want to be regarded as one of those “first time moms” that worried about everything. However, something just didn’t feel right. I had to buy a new pair of shoes about 2 sizes bigger than I usually wore, because my normal shoes wouldn’t fit when my feet would swell. I thought it was because of work, I asked if I could work shorter shifts and at night, so that by the time I was tired we wouldn’t be as busy, and it didn’t seem to help. On my days off I would rest, keeping my feet up, they still seemed to swell. At about 7 and a half months, I could no longer wear my class ring. This is when the panic set in. I had briefly read in “What to Expect” about preeclampsia. I had a lot of the signs. Headaches, swelling, dizziness, however, my blood pressure had not been high at any of my appointments, so I tried not to freak out too much until I could talk to my doctor about it. I explained to him what was happening. I told him about my swelling and that my hands were starting to swell too. I told him that I was having headaches and that sometimes I would have dizzy spells. He listened; however, he said “You blood pressure isn’t high, but, we will keep an eye on it, try to not eat much sodium.” He gave me a low sodium diet, and I started to watch what I ate more closely.
I’m not really sure when the swelling in my face started. To be honest I really never paid attention. When I had my baby shower, we took some pictures of my bump, which at this point was small moon status. When I started to look at the pictures, I noticed how swollen my face was. My eyes were so puffy and my cheeks, I didn’t even look like me. I knew something had to be wrong. I brought it up again, and my doctor told me, still no high BP, but he would like it if from now on, I would only work 4 hours a day. I was 35 weeks at this point, 85% effaced, and a centimeter dilated. He told me that she needed to make it two more weeks to be “full term.” He told me strict rest when I was home, he only wanted me getting up to go to the bathroom. I was going on leaving from work in about two weeks, he told me that if I would like, he would go ahead and put me on leave. Now, I’m not sure if this would have helped anything. At work I was pretty much just sitting at this point, and I had this thought pounded in my head that the longer I “stick it out,” the more time I would have with the baby. I only get 3 months leave, and I really wanted to spend most of it with the baby. Knowing what I know now, had I known she was coming the 15th and not the 31st of March, I would have taken him up on that offer. I knew she wasn’t staying in until the 31st, but I was thinking more along the lines of the 20th. My leave had been planned for the 12th being my first day, so, I figured I would have a little time to myself before she came. I told him I would go ahead and just work 4 hours, unless he felt staying home would really help. He told me he felt I would be okay, and if at any time I didn’t feel I was, just to call him and he would fax anything they needed. I worked up until the 11th. My last night I called in sobbing. When I woke up, I got dressed and as I went to put on my socks, they did not go on my feet. I called for my husband, who got me a pair of his socks, they wouldn’t go on either. I also could not get my poor swollen feet into any pair of my shoes, slippers, even my husband’s shoes. He told me to call in. He worked at Wal-mart too, so I called the manager, crying my eyes out, telling her “I cannot get my feet into anything,” she told me to stay home and rest. I debated on going to the hospital, but, I had my 37 week appointment on the 12th, so, I choose to wait.
So, here is where it gets fun. I get up for my appointment, my feet went down some and I managed to get on some slippers. As usual, we were running late, so I called my doctor’s office. The doctor I used had two offices, one in the town next to ours, and one in a town about an hour or so away, which is by the hospital I would be delivering my daughter in. When I called, they told me it would be fine, and we headed there. When we got there, the office was locked. 3 other pregnant women and myself kinda stood there, confused. I had just told the lady on the phone I was on my way….why is no one here??? My mother-in-law called them, turns out all the appointments for that day had been canceled for that office, the nurse practitioner was out with a cold. They had “called” however, I never got the call. I got on the phone and the lady told me she could get me in to see him next week. I do believe this was the moment the mother in me was born. I told her “No, something is wrong, I need to be seen now.” She told me they didn’t have an opening. I explain I didn’t care, I needed to see someone, she told me if I was in labor to go to the hospital, otherwise it would be next week. I said a few other things that should have been hidden by beeps. She told me it was not medically necessary for me to see a doctor every week, that nothing was wrong, I was overreacting. I then asked her “Then why am I being billed every week? I am not overreacting, something is wrong, I need to see someone, you are not a doctor and it is not your place to tell me nothing is wrong, I need to see someone.” She got tired of me, don’t blame her, and told me “Fine, you can see someone tomorrow, but you have to come into the main office. be here at 12” then hung up, once again, I would have hung up too, and I normally do not act that way, but, I was in panic mode at this point. I couldn’t sleep that night. My head was killing me. No matter what I did, the headache would not go away. I remember taking meds, a bath, nothing worked. Around the time we left, it was at awful status. Once we got there, of course the lady I had been so rude to was at the desk, normally I would have blushed and said I was sorry, however, my head was hurting so bad, I had a hard enough time remember my name to sign in, much less talk. I waited what seem like forever. We had picked up my stepdaughter from school, she was passed out on a couple of chairs. My mother-in-law and my husband were there. After a while they called me in.
Now, to this day, I don’t remember how dilated I was, or even what my blood pressure was, but, I do remember the look on the nurses face when she took by BP. I remember her calling the nurse practitioner in. I knew something was up. After they talked outside the room, she came back and put on this “I don’t want you to be alarmed” smile. She told me “You blood pressure is very high, I am going to finish your exam, but, afterwards, we are going to send you to the hospital.” I don’t recall the rest of the exam, I do remember them telling the lady I had fussed at on the phone to call the hospital and have them ready. She came in and said she was sorry about the day before.
After we got rushed through the appointment, we headed to the hospital. Once there, I was taken to a room and told I would be there for 24 hours more than likely, and they were going to okay some meds for my blood pressure and my headache with my doctor. After about 5 minutes the nurse was back. It was around 2 pm, and it was Tuesday. My doctor in at the office I normally see him at, which is about 45 minutes away from the hospital, on Tuesdays and Thursday and the office has appointments until about 5ish. The nurse told me he approved some meds, however he was on his way. I asked her if he was the doctor on call, she said no, I asked if something was wrong, she explain that he was worried about my swelling and how high my blood pressure was and wanted to see me himself. I was freaked out. I was hooked up to the fetal monitor so I knew she was okay, but, I just didn’t know why it was so important he got here. Then…he got there in 20 minutes, which put me in a serious panic. My doctor was the type that didn’t seem to worry about much. He was very calm and collected. I loved how laid back he was. I am a worrier, and I have worried myself sick before, so, I needed that. However, he came in with a very serious look on his face. He asked my mother-in-law and stepdaughter to leave the room. My husband had gone outside for a smoke break, and he asked if they would go get him. He checked me out, and then came and took a seat next to me. I will never forget the conversation that followed. He told me “Ashleigh, I think you have preeclampsia. This is when you have unexplainable high blood pressure during pregnancy. I know you have had swelling for a while I had hoped that we could reduce your sodium intake and you would be fine. Your blood pressure was always normal, and your weight was ideal.” I asked “Well, so, what do we do? Wait 24 hours and see if everything is okay, then go from there?” “No, you’re not leaving. Right now, you’re running a risk of having a seizure or going into organ failure. The labs they did at the office showed a lot of protein in your sample. I plan to work on getting your blood pressure down, then we’ll induce you in the morning. The only way to get rid of this is to deliver the baby.”
I am not sure how ready I was for this. For a while now I had been worried that it was preeclampsia. I really couldn’t blame him, I did well with my weight, I ate pretty well, my blood pressure was normal. The main thing at this point I could not wrap my mind around was the “we’re going to deliver the baby.” I knew from research I had done that 37 weeks was full term. However, I knew 40 weeks was better, and that what I had aimed for. Though, early on I had a feeling we weren’t making it to the 31st. Nothing had prepared me for it to go this way. He called my husband in and explained everything to him. He then told us that my mother-in-law and my stepdaughter could stay in the room we were in now, however I was being moved back to delivery to be watched closely. No children could come back there though. I asked if I could see her before they moved me, and they said okay. Before they let her in though, they hooked me up to an IV and put me in a hospital gown. They had me in a wheelchair before they let her in, and she FREAKED out. She knew something was going on. With the due date being the 31st and her birthday being on the 2nd of April, we were concerned that we may still be in the hospital on her birthday, so we had explain to her that her sister was her birthday present. She still tells everyone that she is her baby that she got before her birthday. I told her it was okay, that we were gonna get to have the baby tomorrow. She then got excited and told me “you mean, my birthday is tomorrow?” I told her no, but she would get this present a little early.
Thank God for kind nurses, the night shift nurse told her that she could come back when she went to check on me, and that she would be checking on me every hour. Like clockwork, my stepdaughter was at the nurses station every hour until at least 2. The nurse came in after she had went to bed and said “I almost forgot to check on you, I thought she was never going to go to bed.” I told her she was lucky. I finally got to bed around 3ish. They started the drip at 5 am on the dot. I was still sleeping, I remember waking up at 6 am to a very very strong contraction. I was afraid I wasn’t gonna know when I was in labor, and had a very big fear of ether giving birth at Wal-mart, or giving birth in my mother-in-law’s SUV on the way to the hospital. However, at that point I knew I wouldn’t have not noticed this. I was in labor for 16 hours. The joke at the store I work at is that our Wal-mart closes at 12, and if you close you leave at 12:30. Rayven was born at 12:28 am on the 15th of March. One of my manager’s said “Of course she was, she was making sure her momma was off before she came.” Labor ended in a c-section. My narrow pelvis got the best of us. My husband was able to be there, and they placed her by me on the pillow. She was perfect. I fell in love with her that very moment. Then my husband took her to the nursery and I was wheeled into recovery. When I get asked if I didn’t get the birthing experience I wanted, I honestly can’t say the birthing part is the part that got me. That went all according to plan. However, about an hour into recovery, I heard them page “Code Blue to the Nursery.” Now, I don’t know why I panicked. My heart jumped into my stomach, and I asked the nurse if it was my baby. The nurse looked at me like I was crazy and said “No, your baby was fine.” I asked her “Okay, don’t think I am crazy, but, would you mind checking? It’s gonna bug me until I know.” She laughed and walked into the other side of the room. I watched her, and as the expression changed on her face, I knew something was wrong. I knew it was my baby. She came back in and said “I’m going to check your blood pressure and then I will wheel you out to be with your family.” I kept asking what was wrong, and she wouldn’t tell me the whole story. I know she didn’t want my blood pressure to go up but, I kept asking and asking, she wheeled me out and I saw my husband, I asked him, in tears “What’s wrong?” He then told me she coded, but they did CPR and got her back. He didn’t know why, but the doctor was on her way to check it out. I got to my room and waited.
The children’s doctor came in and explained that she stopped breathing, and she had no idea why. She said that they were airlifting her to another hospital with a NICU. I asked her when I could go, and she told me I couldn’t until I was released. I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea what was wrong, no one did. What if they take her and something big happens…or worse….I told them I was leaving, the nurses tried to calm me down, one nurse told me that she had my doctor and that something similar happened to her, she told me he would release me early but, I had to calm down and get better. That was the longest 24 hours, followed by the longest week of my life.
She coded because of the magnesium they gave me to keep my blood pressure down. The NICU told us that they were just going to keep her another day or so to make sure everything else was okay. Then, jaundice happened. It was a bad, bad case, so it seemed like everyday we thought we would go home, we didn’t. It was like let down after let down. Not to mention I had just had a c-section. So, not only was I worried about my daughter, I was also in a lot of pain. I don’t know what strength I pulled out, or where it came from, but, I made it. There is a saying that goes, “You never know how strong you are until you have to be” and, it’s true. My biggest issue in the NICU was guilt. I saw mothers lose their babies, I saw very sick babies, and even though I knew Rayven would not be there unless she needed to be, I felt like I should just be thankful, and I was, but, I was also scared, and let down. I felt as if my body had failed me. The one thing it was suppose to do was protect her until she was ready, and it didn’t. Medicine had to force her out. Sometimes I worried about telling people. I didn’t want anyone to think I was being overdramatic or that I was making a big deal out of it for attention. So, I never talked about it. I pretended I was fine, she was fine, everything was fine. It wasn’t until later on that I realized that I was not fine.
The nightmares got me first. That is, when I slept. Once I got home I didn’t want to sleep when she did. I was scared of SIDS. I was scared that maybe it wasn’t the meds and that she would just stop breathing and I would have no idea what to do. When I did sleep I had nightmares. I don’t remember them, but, I know I’d wake up sweating, in a panic having to check on her. Beeping noises freaked me out. Then, I’d have flashbacks. The flashbacks were brought on by the beeping. By the time I was ready to start talking, everyone was over what happened. Most would just say, “At least she is okay now” and change the subject as quickly as they could. I am thankful for Life after NICU and for the blogs out there, like Ain’t No Roller Coaster, Life with Jack and Keeping up with the Kimmels. Reading their stories has help me come to terms with what happened. I figured out it was okay to feel the way I did. It was normal, kinda. I figured out that people don’t understand until they have done it. The NICU experience in itself showed me compassion and how beautiful life is. I have a lot more patience now. I noticed everything the girls do now, because I know I am lucky enough to be able to watch it. I guess I have a better outlook on life now.
March 15, 2013, will be her first birthday. The main thing I have learned from going through everything is that, I now believe in miracles, because I have one.