My first born, Trenton, just turned 4 in March and his story is different from his sister's, but equally amazing and important to share. He was a preemie born at 29 weeks who had a very rough start in life and has grown to be an amazing little boy. I have been encouraged to share the story of Trenton's early entrance into the world. Here goes...
For me the birth of my son, Trenton, was all at once the most joyous and frightening experience of my life. I was a healthy 27-year-old woman. It was my first pregnancy. I was elated when I found out I was going to be a mother and my husband was equally ecstatic that he was going to be a father. The pregnancy progressed very well. All ultrasounds and tests showed that this was a "normal" pregnancy. Our baby was due June 8th, 2007. However, he was born prematurely on March 22, 2007. 11 weeks early.
It began like any other day. I got up in the morning, kissed my husband goodbye, and went to work. Little did I know that in a mere 12 hours I would be welcoming my son into the world. I was living in Huntington Beach, California at the time and working in medical billing. After work that day my husband asked me if I would be willing to drive up to Reseda to check out this new car that was for sale by owner. I was beginning to feel some pressure in my lower abdomen and had a horrible headache, but agreed to go if we could eat first and if he would stop anytime I needed to use the restroom. Like any expectant father, he was used to these demands so he agreed and off we went. We hadn’t made it very far up the 405 when I had to take my first bathroom stop. I was feeling pretty bad, but we kept on driving. After quite a few more stops we finally made it to Reseda. He loved the car, bought it, and we were on our way home…he in his new M3 and me in my Honda following behind.
On the drive home I began contracting. And in no time at all I was in extreme pain, sweating, and praying for God to help keep my car on the road until I got home. I remember Michael Bolton’s “I Said I Loved You But I Lied” came on the radio. I didn’t particularly like the song before then, but I couldn’t take my hands off the wheel, so I listened to it and began to cry. I honestly remember thinking that it had the most beautiful lyrics I had ever heard. In the song he is saying that he feels so much more than love and basically that he just can’t express it into words. How sweet is that? That is how I felt about my husband and my unborn child. Deep, deep love. So with one hand on my stomach and one hand on the wheel I continued to follow my husband’s tail lights on the dark highway.
We ended up making it home to our apartment safely around 9:30 that night and I went to our bedroom to lie down. The contractions weren’t letting up at all, so I called my doctor’s office. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me, maybe food poisoning from that Subway sandwich I had for dinner? Or could this be those Braxton Hicks contractions that I had been reading about in my pregnancy books? I definitely never thought that I was in labor since I was only 6 ½ months along. The answering service for my physician assured me that they would have the doctor-on-call call me back as soon as possible.
Well, after an hour and a half with no call back and some bleeding when I urinated, my husband and I decided to drive to the emergency room and have things checked out. That was my first ride in his new car. I grunted at him over every bump in the road or turn that wasn’t perfectly smooth and he told me to please not to let my water break in his car. We both laughed. As if I had control over something like that! While we drove down the scenic Pacific Coast Highway toward Hoag Hospital we held hands and prayed that the worst wasn’t happening, although, looking back, I am not sure of what we thought was actually happening.
My husband and I arrived at the hospital a little after midnight and I was immediately taken up to labor and delivery. I can still remember the dirty looks we received from an elderly couple in the waiting room of the ER who were very perturbed that I just walked in, was put in a wheel chair, and taken back so quickly while they were left there to wait. I was put in a gown and given an IV. The nurse performed a vaginal exam and then excused herself from the room quickly. She said that she wanted to get a doctors opinion and would be right back.
When the doctor came in the room to check me out he had a very relaxed demeanor and seemed as if he was just going to check me out and send me on my way. However, that is not what happened. He slowly introduced himself, put on a glove, and casually checked my “status”. I will never forget the look on his face. His head tilted to the side, as if he was surprised, and he told me to get ready because, “We were gonna have this baby tonight. Within the hour.” I couldn’t believe it. The labor had progressed so quickly. I kept thinking to myself, "How can this be? I am only 29 weeks along.” Since I was fully dilated, effaced, and in full on labor, there was nothing they could do to try and stop it or even slow it down.
The next half hour or so was such a whirlwind for me. They tipped me back in the bed to get the room ready for delivery and when I was tipped back down it was time to push. It seemed as if all delivery decisions were now out of my control. It was too late for them to administer any pain medication to me plus I hadn’t even decided if I wanted anyone but my husband in the delivery room with me and now there was a crowd at the foot of my bed. The NICU doctor came and introduced himself to me and gave me all the grim details of what hurdles our baby would possibly have to face being that he was not fully developed yet. I can remember lying in the bed signing papers for consent to treat my child, but I really had no idea what they said. I was scared. Too scared to think rationally anyway. But in my quest to be brave, I just smiled and nodded and went with the flow. Even though I felt like curling up in the fetal position and pulling the covers up over my head. After three hard pushes Trenton was born at 1:42 am by normal vaginal delivery.
He weighed 2 pounds 10 ounces, was 15 3/4 inches long, and not breathing when he came into the world. The delivery doctor quickly handed him off to the NICU staff, which were standing by with an incubator and all sorts of medical supplies. I couldn’t see him at all from where my bed was. I kept asking my husband what he looked like and how he was doing. The NICU doctor intubated him there in the delivery room and then his team whisked our baby away to the NICU. We were not allowed to go with him. My nurse promised to get us an update as soon as she could. My husband and I sat in the delivery room awaiting news from the nurses about our baby's status for what seemed like days or weeks, but in reality was only about an hour.
Finally a little before 4:00 am Trenton was stable enough for us to journey down to the NICU and see him. I will never forget how it felt to be wheeled into the NICU and placed beside his incubator. It was dark and quiet. Quite a pleasant space really, however, there was a heavy sadness that accompanied it. His bed had a sign on it that read, “Minimal Stimulation”. What did that even mean? How sick was he? I couldn’t even see his face. There were so many sensors and IVs and wires hooked on to his little body. His skin was purplish looking and he was so swollen that he almost appeared shiny. But despite all of that, he was the most beautiful and perfect being that I had ever laid eyes on. I had loved him for the last six months while he was growing in my belly and now that same love had become very overwhelming. He was mine. I was going to fight for him. Pray for him. And do whatever was needed to make sure that he made it out of that hospital and home safely with his dad and me. I was able to take one photo on my camera phone that night and then was taken back to my room.
The nurse brought me a turkey sandwich on wheat bread and a glass of milk. I drank my milk and picked at my sandwich, but I wasn’t hungry. I felt sick to my stomach. She told me to try and get some sleep. I finally did manage to fall asleep. I slept for almost 2 hours. When I awoke and realized where I was, I quickly remembered that it wasn’t a dream and I asked to go and see my baby again. They told me that I needed to wait for the doctor and lactation consultant to come in and see me. Wait? Wait! Are they kidding me? I was fine. I just needed to be with my son. He needed me.
That night began a roller coaster ride of emotions for me. For the next 66 days I was a permanent fixture in the NICU. I used to sit there for hours staring into the incubator lifting my precious little boy up in prayer just asking God to please give my husband and I strength to deal with this hurdle facing us, to carefully watch over my precious boy, and to give wisdom and a caring heart to all of his doctors and nurses.
I did not get to see Trenton’s beautiful face for 2 days. I know that may not seem like such a long time, but for a new mother it is an eternity. When the nurse finally lifted off his breathing tube and eye mask for a moment so that I could take a peek, I couldn’t believe it. His poor little eyes were so bruised. The respiratory therapists even called him Rocky. It seemed fitting. He was my little fighter. He was fighting for his life. It was amazing when I looked at him all alone in his isolette. How tiny and helpless he was; and yet there was a sense of strength and life that shone through. I knew he was going to make it and be okay. He just was. And once again, I fell deeper in love with my little boy.
I did not get to hold him for the first time until he was over a week old, and even then I was only able to hold him for 20 minutes. It just didn’t seem long enough at all. But I happily took what was given to me. I had been waiting for this moment! When they handed him to me he felt like he weighed no more than a bag of marshmallows. It was incredible. But since he was still hooked up to so many machines I felt a little nervous holding my own child. I know that was silly of me. But I didn’t want to do anything wrong. I wanted him to be safe. Soon I realized that he was completely safe in my arms and I began to relax. I had never felt so much happiness. I could have stared into those little eyes forever. He was the love of my life. Nothing else mattered. I had been waiting my whole life to be his mom. It felt perfect.
I loved visiting with my baby and wished that I could just stay there with him 24 hours a day. Every time I had to leave him I would try and be strong, but somewhere between the 6th floor where the NICU was and the parking garage I would fall apart. It just isn’t natural to have to leave the hospital without your baby. It feels so wrong and sad. I hated it. Even though my husband was there by my side giving me love and support every step of the way, I felt very alone. I don’t know why. But it was what it was. I was happy when I was with my son and really depressed when I wasn’t.
What happened to Trenton in the NICU was nothing short of a miracle. Even though time didn’t always move fast enough for me and progress didn’t happen as quickly as I had hoped for, God was there with us the entire time, working in a big way. I watched with my own eyes as my baby’s skin color went from purple to pink. He went from complete intubation, to a c-pap machine, to a nasal cannula, and then finally was able to breathe room air on his own. What an achievement that was! He had an umbilical catheter, many IVs, a PICC line, and a core pack (feeding tube). I can't even describe in words how wonderful it felt each time a wire or tube was removed from my baby. His nurse even fashioned a cake out of a diaper and colored q-tips when he hit the three pound mark and we celebrated. He was finally reaching some milestones and it was very encouraging.
Once he was off of so many machines I was able to do Kangaroo Care with him. That was the absolute best! I was able to hold him to my chest. Skin to skin. It was amazing to see his body temperature and heart rate regulate when I was holding him close to me. To me, that was concrete evidence that he loved me as much as I loved him and that he needed me as much as I needed him.
Even though the NICU was often a little scary, so many amazing moments took place there. Of course if I could have had him born at full term I would have. No doubt about it. But sometimes, when I look back, I am grateful for the time that he and I spent there getting to know each other and think that it ended up being a pretty special experience. It is where we bonded. I cherish every single one of the moments that we spent there together. I can’t even count the number of hours I spent just cuddling with him in the rocking chair or holding his hand while he slept. Every day I would check with his nurse to see if he gained weight or had any changes take place. With every ounce that he gained, it was like I gained a bit more confidence that we were going to be alright. It gave me hope to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I needed that. Desperately.
He came home Memorial Day weekend 2007 on a heart rate/apnea monitor, Reglan for his reflux, and iron supplements. All things considered he was doing extremely well. He had grown to a whopping 5 pounds 14 ounces and was 19 inches long. He did not have ROP (Retinopathy of Prematurity) which can cause blindness and had been a big concern since he was on oxygen. And he had no brain hemorrhaging either, which I had been told was very common in preemies. We were very blessed. Feedings were sometimes a struggle, but we managed to get through it together. Then there were times when he would “forget” to breathe and we would have to rouse and stimulate him. I have to admit that it was a bit intimidating at first to be at home alone with him, but at the same time it had been so exhausting to have him in the hospital for a little over 2 months. I felt such relief and happiness to finally have my baby home with me, where he belonged.
When you become a mother things change anyway and you instantly understand everything that your mother once told you, every silly cliché about how they fast they grow and how it is a love like no other…you realize it is all true. But when you have a baby born prematurely, sick, or with a special need, in a way, it is like you instantly become a member of a special club. Every other mother that you encounter along your journey in the NICU gives you that look and maybe a comforting hug to let you know that she knows how hard it is and that she has been there.
Taking home a preemie can be a bit scary. It teaches you so many things so fast and soon you know them like the back of your hand. You learn to take regular 20 calorie baby formula and make it into 22 or 24 calories so that your baby can be assisted in brain development and weight gain. You know just what to do when your baby stops breathing for a moment and don’t even skip a beat. You just do what is necessary. The medicine schedule becomes so routine that you almost don’t even have to look at the clock anymore. And soon that feeling that you wouldn’t know what to do without the nurses there with you disappears and you know that you can handle it on your own. Because you are a mom and that is what a mom does.
I hope that my story can bring comfort and encouragement to families out there struggling with prematurity like we were. I want to show them that even though it may seem like your NICU stay will never end...it will. There is always a rainbow after the storm. God has promised that to us. Having a premature baby and going through all that it entails has made me a much stronger person. It definitely strengthened my dependence on God and has made me truly cherish every moment I am given with my beautiful family. Life is a precious and fragile gift. Once you have seen someone struggling just to live and breathe it changes your outlook on life. I have absolutely been forever changed by my experience with Trenton.
Trenton is 4 years old now, but I will never forget the challenge of his early entrance into this world. It can still bring tears to my eyes when I think about it. Partly because it was so touch and go with him for a few weeks. And partly because I am just so happy that he is here with no more than a few tiny scars on his heels. We were told of so many complications that he could have, but he has none. He may have crawled and walked a little later than the other kids his age. But, he did it. He is here. Alive. And thriving in this great big world. When I look at him I truly do feel God’s blessing in my life. He is without a doubt the first of two wonderful gifts that I have received from above. I love him with all of my heart and am so excited to see what the future holds for my little miracle boy.