The Silver Lining of a High-Risk Pregnancy and NICU Stay

June 8, 2012

When I found out I was pregnant with my fourth child in February 2009, I was ecstatic! I always wanted to have four children and I felt like my family dreams were finally reaching completion. At 13 weeks gestation, at a routine sonogram screening, that dream was abruptly shattered.

I learned not only did I have what appeared to be an extreme case of placenta previa, but that my baby had an abdominal wall defect, an omphalocele. My doctor did not say, “Congratulations!  You are having a high risk pregnancy and a beautiful NICU baby!” Instead, we were thrust into the world of perinatology and genetic testing.  We were overwhelmed with switching to a high-risk OB/GYN, deciding which NICU our baby would reside and meeting with a pediatric surgeon to learn about treatment options.  Adding to the stress, I was to be admitted at 34 weeks for bed rest and have a planned c-section/hysterectomy at 36 weeks to avoid bleeding to death.  To say my thoughts and emotions were on a roller coaster is an understatement!

I was confused, angry, resentful, irritable, tearful, lonely, and most of all scared.  I had three other young boys who needed their mother and I could not fathom the possibility of them being left motherless, let alone imagine how we were all going to get through what lay ahead.  I found it impossible to feel “excited” about my progressing pregnancy, and hard to respond to well-meaning friends and colleagues who said things like, “Oh, your fourth child. Congratulations! You must be so happy! ” or, “Your last child; I bet you are savoring every moment!”  My husband was my rock  and did everything he could to be supportive.  Yet, the fear and helplessness I felt were overwhelming.  At some point, for my own sanity (and his too), I made a conscious decision to switch from the scared, helpless, it’s not fair, poor-me mode to the “let’s stop the pity party, get the facts and take action mode.”

First, I educated myself.  I researched placenta previa and omphaloceles tirelessly.  I scheduled consults with two pediatric surgeons to learn about different approaches and treatment options.  I toured our local NICU, consulted with a neonatologist to better understand what I could expect after delivery and brought written questions every time I saw my OB and perinatologist.

Second, I got extra help. I briefly saw a psychologist who specializes in high risk pregnancies to get her advice and perspective on things I could do to help myself and help my family prepare for what was coming.

Third, I started talking, out loud, about things. I had frank discussions with my OB and perinatologist and together we made a detailed plan.  I was beyond fortunate to have a prominent high-risk OB, who assembled an amazing team for my delivery.  He ensured I knew exactly what to expect and the contingencies in place if a complication occurred.

On October 2, 2009, Reece Daniel was born at 36 weeks, my fourth boy and last child.  I was awake for the entire fifteen-hour process, which included several procedures before the c-section and hysterectomy to minimize blood loss and damage to my internal organs.  It was the longest, scariest and hardest day of my entire life, but I survived.  Although I had to deal with the loss of not being able to really enjoy my pregnancy like I had with my other children, and the constant fear of the unknown, there really was a silver lining.  I had the opportunity to prepare, as much as is possible, and prepare my children (next month’s post will focus on how I accomplished that feat!).

Taking action helped me feel like I had some semblance of control during a time when I felt very powerless. It enabled me to get the information I needed in order to have a sense of what to expect. Finding out your pregnancy is complicated and/or that your baby will need to stay in the NICU is never easy, no matter when you find out, how much you know or how prepared you are.  However, looking back, I am grateful I had opportunities to advocate for myself. It’s never too late to begin taking steps to feel more empowered!

  • Educate yourself. Get reliable information from any resources you can.  Ask your doctors for research references, schedule tours, schedule consultations with specialists, etc.
  • Get the support you need.  Get connected with a Hand to Hold mentor, let your family and friends know what you need and how they can best help and consider getting professional support from someone specializing in reproductive psychology or trauma.
  • Start talking.  Sit down and make a plan with your doctor. It should be a team effort, with you as an equal part of the team.  Share your needs and concerns and have a sense of what you can expect.
  • Forgive yourself.  It’s okay, and completely normal, to have less than warm fuzzy feelings about your pregnancy and to not be your typical “happy” self, when you find out things will not go the way you anticipated.  You WILL bond with your baby.  Your friends and family WILL forgive you.  You WILL move forward.  And, you WILL come through the other side.  It’s humbling that someone so tiny can teach such powerful and large life lessons!

Today, Reece is a 2 ½-year-old feisty and healthy toddler!  I look at him 1,000 times a day with utter amazement and awe and know that just as he did before he was even born, he will continue to teach me!