They Understood Everything I was Feeling – the Ibarra-Chavez Family Story

November 11, 2019
ibarra-chavez family, hand to hold, hand to hold giving day, prematurity awareness month
Photo courtesy Vanessa Ibarra

I had a very normal pregnancy, until I didn’t. 

I had no complications during the first four months, but I was stressed. My older son was only eight months old, and I was trying to juggle long hours at work, being a mom and remodeling my house all at the same time. At 20 weeks gestation, I began having pelvic pain and light spotting. My doctor diagnosed me with placenta previa and put me on strict bedrest. I was devastated! I loved my job and couldn’t picture having to be away from my students for the remainder of my pregnancy. 

A few days later, I began passing large blood clots, and my doctor admitted me to Baylor University Medial Center in Dallas for observation. Although a maternal fetal medicine doctor said I did not have placenta previa and told me not to worry, the blood clots continued. My doctor did not want me to leave the hospital until she could figure out why. 

I remember feeling tired during the month I spent on hospital bed rest: tired of being in bed all day, every day, tired of being away from my son, tired of not being able to sleep and worrying about what was going on with my pregnancy.

One night I began feeling a lot of pressure. The nurse assured me that the monitor was not showing any contractions and that the baby’s heart rate sounded great. The pressure continued, and I asked if the on-call doctor could check me. After waiting for what seemed like forever, the doctor checked me and rushed me to labor and delivery. I was dilated to four centimeters. I had in fact been contracting, but for some reason the monitor was not showing my contractions. Everything seemed like a blur. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!

I started praying like I have never prayed before. The nurse who welcomed me into labor and delivery, Steve, was the same nurse who helped deliver my older son. I immediately felt a sense of relief. Steve started me on a medication to stop contractions, and I felt calm knowing that we were going to stop labor and my baby was going to bake for a few more months. But an hour later, Liam was born.  

ibarra-chavez family, hand to hold, hand to hold giving day, prematurity awareness month
Photo courtesy Vanessa Ibarra

My husband and I were in shock when we saw little Liam. He weighed 1 pound, 13 ounces, and he was still inside the amniotic sac. 

This was the day my life was changed forever. 

The NICU team quickly took Liam up to the NICU floor. I felt as if I was in a movie. Everything seemed surreal. I didn’t know if my baby was going to make it. Somehow I held myself together.

The next 127 days passed very slowly. Liam had many ups and downs. I made sure to pump, even when I was tired. I cried many times while connected to the pump, sad because I didn’t have the opportunity to physically breastfeed my baby. I desperately wanted that bond that I had with my first baby each time I would breastfeed him. I wanted to hold him and cuddle him in my arms all day. But having a baby in the NICU makes it hard to establish that bond, because you are not able to hold him or even do simple things like feed, burp or bathe your baby.  

I also missed my older son. Leaving him every day was difficult, but I knew Liam needed me. I felt comfort in knowing that my son was in good hands with my family while I was in the NICU. I could not have done this without them.

ibarra-chavez family, hand to hold, hand to hold giving day, prematurity awareness month
Photo courtesy Vanessa Ibarra

In the NICU it felt like Liam always took two steps forward and then five steps back. He had a small hole in his heart, and we had to wait to see if it would close on its own. Luckily it did. He sometimes had infections and his feeds had to be stopped completely. He required a couple of blood transfusions, spinal taps and a procedure for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). He always had a hard time coming off of oxygen. The first time he had a severe brady I thought I was going to lose him. It was terrifying. No mom should have to see their small baby turn blue and become unresponsive. But these episodes became our normal. 

I felt like the world was crumbling down on me. It was always one thing after another. 

I heard about Hand to Hold in the beginning of Liam’s NICU journey, but I didn’t attend an event or support group until about a month later. I am so glad I did. Before I attended Hand to Hold support groups, I felt very lonely. I had lots of support from my family; however, I felt like no one really understood how I felt seeing my baby hooked on a breathing machine and surrounded by cords. At support group, I met other parents who understood everything I was feeling. We sat and talked for hours, we cried together and laughed together. We welcomed new parents with open arms.  
Hand to Hold provided a different support system that my family could not provide. Thanks to them, I was able to meet a lot of parents that I could relate to. I still keep in touch with most of them.  

ibarra-chavez family, hand to hold, hand to hold giving day, prematurity awareness month, nicu reunion, nicu grad
Photo courtesy Vanessa Ibarra

Liam is now almost 18 months old, and he is doing great. He is a happy and healthy baby. He is almost walking! He has been receiving three types of therapy since leaving the NICU, and recently two therapists informed me that they were discharging him! His therapists became like family, and I was sad to see them go. But I was am glad that they were able to help Liam. His retina specialist said his eyes look great and he will maybe need glasses when he gets older.  

Now I enjoy visiting the NICU. My Family Support Specialist, Suzy, always keeps me informed when Hand to Hold has events. Seeing your baby in an isolette for days and days, it’s hard to picture them one day walking and running around. So now I try to attend the events and meet the new NICU parents and share my story. They see Liam and they are amazed at how well he is doing. I feel like I give them hope amongst all the stress that the NICU can cause.

I encourage parents to embrace every minute of it. The NICU is a scary experience. There are lots of ups and downs. I cried a lot of tears! But thanks to this experience and thanks to Hand to Hold, I met some awesome people who have become family, and my faith has grown tremendously.  

ibarra-chavez family, hand to hold, hand to hold giving day, prematurity awareness month, nicu grad
Photo courtesy Vanessa Ibarra

Parents with a baby in the NICU have up to a 70% risk of postpartum depression, with higher chances of long-lasting mental health challenges.

This month, leading up to Hand to Hold’s Giving Day on November 17, you can ensure families get the vital support they need in the NICU and beyond.

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