This is Megan’s story, as told in her own words for our November Prematurity Voices series. Would you like to add your voice? Send your story and pictures to email@example.com.
It was early Thursday morning, around 4am, when I went into labor.
Being that it was my first pregnancy, I had no idea I was having contractions or what was going on. I lay in bed, trying my hardest to get comfortable and fall back asleep, but gave up on that after getting frustrated because the pains only returned. I went to the bathroom, trying not to wake my fiancé Justin with what I thought were just gas pains, only to find the worst possible evidence of what was really happening: blood and a lot of it.
I yelled for Justin to bring me my phone. It was one of those yells you hope you never hear so he came in pale white and shaking. He knew something was wrong. This had happened before, just 13 weeks prior. There was a little blood, a hospital visit, tons of monitors and IVs, then a clean bill of health for both me and our baby. But something was different this time. There was just too much blood, too much pain, and with every pain more blood would come.
I called my mom and we ruled out driving. I couldn’t walk, the blood wouldn’t stop, and the pains were getting worse. Justin called an ambulance and we stayed on the phone for the longest 10 minutes of our lives… I was on my side on the couch, covered in blankets, counting between pains, controlling my breathing, following every direction the operator gave us, praying and hoping our little girl was ok.
They load me up. Justin rides along, scared to leave my side. The contractions are coming every five minutes and the bleeding won’t stop. We arrive at the hospital. My clothes are unsalvageable. We’re calling our parents, scared to death as we wait to hear any news at all about our baby girl. Finally with our parents there and our doctor on his way the contractions increase to every 2 minutes and they hook me up to the IVs and the monitors that will watch the baby. Justin stands by my side holding my hand, tears in his eyes. My mom has my other hand, and she’s paying close attention to the monitors.
After what felt like forever the doctor came in. Everyone talked and decided Emily had to come then. I sat straight up, fear in my eyes and heart. There was no further discussion. I was losing too much blood, and we could lose either one of us. I was going to have an emergency c-section. I would be put under and they said that no one could go back with me. I cried. I freaked out. I wouldn’t see my baby girl, and I didn’t know what would happen. Justin wouldn’t be there to make sure everything was ok. I tried to push for an epidural but they wouldn’t have it. It was ‘too risky’ considering the rate at which I was losing blood and how much I had already lost. My vitals were out of the normal range. and it just wasn’t something they would do.
But I refused to go under, I couldn’t stand going through this alone, and I couldn’t stand leaving Justin crying in the hall after being stopped at the OR doors. After a quick discussion and a rundown of the harm I could cause myself they placed the epidural high in my back, numbing my body from the neck down, and brought Justin back. It was a single sliver of happiness in the disaster unfolding before us.
Looking at each other, Justin and I waited and waited and finally we heard her little voice. We saw her purple little hands, her full head of hair. I knew they were taking her away. They prepped us in the room about that, at least. ‘She’ll be quite small.’ ‘She might need extra support.’ ‘Her organs won’t be fully developed.’ So many warnings. With all that in my head I couldn’t even touch her – I was afraid if I even tried that they would pull her away. I was afraid I might even hurt her.
They took our Emily at 7:23 that morning. She was 3lbs and 9oz but every bit of her was beautiful. She looked so perfect but so small, and she screamed and she cried and I thought in that moment everything was ok, that she could stay with us. But no.
I woke up in my room. This part I can barely recall. I don’t remember what happen after they showed her to me or what happen between my waking up and NICU taking her. They brought Emily in with an oxygen tent over her head – she was in her own little box and it hit me so hard when they said she had to go and not just to the nursery. I felt the worst loneliness when I let Justin go with her. The two people I love most in this life were now an hour away from me. Mom and dad showed me where to look out my window, and I saw her ambulance, lights and sirens, then our car. Justin following close behind, starting the drive that was the beginning of our NICU journey.
The days spent in the hospital where I delivered were miserable. I couldn’t see my baby, I hurt so bad I couldn’t eat (not that the food had any taste to me anyways), there was nothing Justin could do to cheer me up, and no matter how many times I called NICU to check on Emily it was never enough to satisfy my need to actually see her.
Then the day came that I was transferred! I was finally going to see our angel! The epidural came out of my back, I finally got the compression things off my legs and my IVs were disconnected, though not out. And then on the third day I was put in an ambulance to be with my baby. Justin followed in his car, just like he had the night our daughter was born.
Once there, he pushed me down the hall to the NICU and I know my joy was written on my face. We waited at the doors, showed our bracelets, and Justin took me right to her side. I stood by her box until I couldn’t stand anymore, then a nurse brought over a chair and I sat with my baby till shift change. There’s no word to describe how you feel about your baby at first sight… no words are enough. She was beautiful! It was hard to ignore the monitors, the leads and IVs hooked up to her, the mask covering her face, the black cloth hiding her eyes, the PICC line connected to her little head, the tiny diaper folded twice over just to fit her, but that didn’t matter. What made it hardest not to cry was holding her hand, feeling her fingers hardly wrap around my finger. It was hard not seeing her face, knowing the oxygen was hooked up to her, seeing the brace around her head, the tube in her mouth, the PICC line in her head… It was so hard seeing her struggle, it broke us down. Nonetheless, she was a blessing and her birth was a gift I’ll cherish my entire life.
The next day was Justin’s birthday. He turned 24 the day our baby girl turned 2 days old. My family came with cupcakes, gifts, and a traditional box of cigars, and the made it a day given that briefly eased the stress, the fear, and the worry. It didn’t take long for it to return, however. The very next day I was discharged. The staples were taken out of my belly, the IVs were pulled out, and prescriptions were written. All that didn’t matter. What mattered was we left the hospital that day without our baby. I cried the whole way home and once we were home we cried together. It was an uncontrollable sob, a cry that hurt just to cry.
For 33 weeks I felt that flutter in my belly, her kicking, and her presence… and then it was gone. There was a solid weight of hurt and loneliness pounding in my heart that made sleep impossible, hunger a stranger, and purpose useless. We got along, though, driving back and forth every other day, struggling to get by, struggling to see our angel, until finally the week of Thanksgiving our application for the Ronald McDonald House was accepted. We were now minutes from her instead of miles, and we could be with her every day!
It was two weeks before she was moved to the Lvl. 2 NICU and we were able to hold her. Able to wrap her up and have our baby girl in our arms. Then the fun began., and a little humor, too. We taught her how to use a bottle, we learned what the alarms meant and how to change her, how and where the leads go after bath time. We learned how to care for our fragile baby in ways most parents never have to. But in the midst of learning and teaching her, our little girl was on a mission to teach us and to help us learn. It was a lesson we wouldn’t put together till after our journey.
It was the day of my 21st birthday and we got to stay in the parent learning center wing of the NICU – the place parents go to get into the swing of the coming home! It was a long night. We had a terrible scare when she had reflux with her bottle. She just turned blue… didn’t cough or anything. Her monitors and vitals were all normal, but she clearly wasn’t.
Justin runs for a nurse. She comes in and grabs Emily, turning her face down, rubbing and patting her back, and finally her color returns. After that, she was put on Zantac and it seemed to help a lot.
She finally came home the next day, weighing just over 5lbs. She was amazing, she was beautiful, she was a gift from God, a tiny miracle! We faced challenges – two more hospital visits due to RSV and bronchitis, many scares with her reflux, and countless sleepless nights sneaking out of bed just to check on her across the room. During our journey we learned how to care for a preemie, how to prevent a PICU visit. We hit bumps in the road, of course. We had to learn about breathing treatments, how to use her nebulizer, how to work with her reflux, but we moved passed it all and now she’s thriving. She don’t know what she taught her Daddy and I. She doesn’t know she taught us the meaning of strength, of holding on and not giving up, the purpose of success and of failure. We learned that in everything that happens, there’s a reason, a lesson in itself.
On November 8th, our baby girl turned one, but even though a year has passed the journey is still fresh in our minds. I doubt we’ll ever forget it. It was a journey filled with triumph and failure, and one that brought me and Justin closer together. The doctors don’t know what caused her to come, what caused the placental abruption, but it’s not going to fill us with fear. One day we’ll try again and if it is in our future to walk the NICU path again, I will know we are strong enough, I will know that not all journeys are the same, and that each preemie is different and has his or her own story. I will know that it’s ok to feel weak because we are human. But the most important thing we learned, the one thing our Emily taught us over and over again, is how to be strong and how to hold on.
Would you like to be one of our Prematurity Voices? Email your story as a Word doc and jpg images to firstname.lastname@example.org.