Surviving Prematurity: One Mom's Perspective
It was a Thursday in late August and my daughter Jocelyn and I went to the park for a play date. I spent much of the afternoon resting on a blanket while some of the other mom’s chased after the kids. I watched as Jocelyn perfected her walking skills, having just put one foot in front of the other two months earlier. I was six months pregnant, tired, and a bit more uncomfortable than I was accustomed. On the walk back to the car I started to feel pressure, as though the baby was sitting extremely low in my belly. Once in the driver’s seat, I looked down and realized I was bleeding. My daughter Aja decided that she couldn’t wait to meet us, and she wasn’t going to be bothered by a little thing called a due date.
Following an emergency c-section, I was told that I had a placental abruption. That’s the what of what happened. The why remains a mystery. And although thoughts of why still creep in between my morning coffee and changing diapers, the only way I could stand to get out of bed each morning was to put the questions aside and accept the situation as it was, and move forward. Aja weighed 1 pound, 15 ounces when she was born. The doctor said to expect that she would remain in the hospital until her original due date, which was three months away. What else we could expect would change from day-to-day. “One step forward, two steps back.” This was said again and again. I think at that moment I was still in shock, and all I really wanted to do was see my baby girl. I had been able to see her for just a moment as she was whisked by me in the operating room. When I saw her again a few hours later, she was in her incubator in the NICU. It was her new home. When you spend as much time in the NICU as my husband and I did, it quickly changes from a terrifying place to a place of comfort. It started out as a place of unrest, with beeps and alarms, and constant poking and prodding. The first time I saw a nurse handle my daughter I was horrified at how rough she flipped her over. Soon I realized that Aja was stronger than she looked.
There were days, in the beginning, that I could barely stand to be there. In truth, I continued to visit because I thought it would look bad if I wasn’t there. But for nearly a month I couldn’t hold her, and at most I could touch her hand. It was hard to watch. Looking around at other babies in the room, all bigger than my daughter, it seemed as though she would never grow. It was not long before we encountered complications. Aja had to have heart surgery to tie up an open vessel, and she did get an infection, separate from the surgery. These events happened within the first month and a half, and then we slowly started to see real progress. The nurses and doctors talk about the benefits of holding your baby, and once I was able to hold her, we really started to see improvement in her overall health. I know that we had it luckier than some of the other parents. We lived within five minutes of the hospital, and my mother had just recently retired and was able to be there whenever I needed help. The entire situation was so stressful, and I can’t imagine how much worse it could have been if we were far away or I wasn’t able to visit on a regular basis.
Through all the stress I think that it was my daughter Jocelyn that saved me from falling apart. She was so young at the time—just 13 months old—and she had no idea what was going on. She woke up each morning and needed to be fed and changed. She wanted to play and have fun, just as she had the morning that Aja was born. I had to keep her life as normal as possible, and in return she kept me smiling and laughing. In any other circumstance I may have spent hours on the Internet searching for information. Yet this was not a normal situation, and after one simple search it was clear that there was too much information out there—scenarios that could inflict a sense of fear in me that would be hard to shake. I have never thought of myself as an overly positive person, but my method was that of positive denial. I never imagined that Aja wouldn’t come home, and I had to be happy and strong for her when I visited. I also couldn’t think beyond her homecoming, for issues that may pop up in the future.
Aja has been home for four months and she’s doing great. Her milestones are smaller than other babies her age, like the moment she stopped clenching her fists, or the night she first slept with her head turned to the left rather than the right. There have been numerous doctor appointments, to check her eyes, her kidneys, and her overall health. We have regular physical therapy appointments to check on her torticollis (stiff neck) and general motor skills. There could be cognitive problems in the future that we have yet to encounter, but Aja constantly amazes me. She now weighs over 12 pounds, and she smiles constantly. She is the toughest person I have ever met, and she has taught me to be a stronger and more dedicated mother to both my girls.
Michele lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two daughters.