24. The number of hours in a day, the number of carats in pure gold, the number of characters in the Greek alphabet… Seemingly an insignificant number, but suddenly the number that became the center of my entire universe. A number I hyper-focused on for weeks as if I were training for the finals of Wimbledon.
24. The number of gestational weeks in which NICU stats dramatically shift. While viability shifts from hospital to hospital and state to state depending on altitude, I was only focused on 24. A 24-week baby’s chances of survival jump from about a 32% chance to a 73% chance of survival with strong stats for a great quality of life. I woke up shortly after midnight on January 3rd, quickly looked down at my belly, felt our son move and it was as if I could breathe for the first time in months. See – he was never supposed to get there. Everything was stacked against him and most women in my situation lose their babies by 19 weeks. He did it. We did it. We made it past the first, huge hurdle.
Now, let’s catch you up on our journey: I’ll try to keep this short, but you know how long-winded I can be!
John and I found out we were expecting in early August and were eagerly awaiting announcing our joyous news to our world, but sadly, we weren’t sure we would ever get the chance. Beginning at about week 9 of this pregnancy, I began experiencing isolated episodes of heavy bleeding and cramping.
We were in and out of the ER several times and spent many weekends prayerfully and peacefully awaiting a miscarriage, but it never came. Baby boy began defeating all odds even then. Early on, the midwives referred me to Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM), specialists in high risk or difficult pregnancies. There they diagnosed me with a Subchorionic Hemorrhage: a common pregnancy condition and one that is most often resolved. It is essentially a portion of the placenta tearing off the uterine wall causing a pocket of blood (sort of like a blood blister, if you will). The plan was to continue my care with my midwives and return to MFM in 4 weeks to check in. Stats are very hard to find in this area because there are too many variables, but at this point in our journey, I was expected to fully heal and move on with a healthy pregnancy and still keep my wish of delivering at Seasons Midwifery.
I was instructed to continue normal life, which I did, and as the weeks went by, I noticed fewer and fewer symptoms until they were completely gone! I was on cloud 9. It was the night before Thanksgiving where everything changed again. That night marked the beginning of chronic bleeding and cramping. When we returned for our follow-up, the diagnosis shifted to Chronic Placental Abruption. It is essentially the same thing, but they use the different terms based on gestational age. We were placed in a holding pattern due to his gestational age. All we could do at that point was pray and keep moving forward. I’ll pause here because I’m sure you’re thinking, “Why didn’t you go on bedrest?!” At least, that’s what everyone in our world was wondering. Stats on bedrest for my specific condition don’t prove to help baby and can have negative effects on mom and can even increase bleeding. It was made very clear that the best and only thing I could do was to Just. Keep. Going. So… we did, and that was arguably the most difficult month of my life to date. Thank you to every single person who had to deal with me. Add chronic crying and fear to my list of chronics.
At my third appointment with MFM, my symptoms remained unchanged, and my doctor explained that at that point, the conversation needed to change and needed to change quickly. I was 22 weeks and the risk was (and is) preterm labor. With chronic bleeding, it weakens the membranes and opens a pathway for bacteria which also weakens the membranes. It was made very clear that if I could make it to 23 weeks (a big if), the best place for him would be at Presbyterian St Luke’s (P/SL). They have an antepartum floor dedicated to high-risk pregnancies and where my MFM docs practice. P/SL also has a Level IV NICU, the highest rated NICU and a top rated one at that. There are moms here that travel from Nebraska, Montana, Utah, etc. to receive this incredible care for both mom and baby.
I had a tearful goodbye with my midwives who actually refused to leave my side and continue to call and check in on me – amazing. In preparation for my stay, I received a round of betamethasone shots which jumpstart lung development in baby and help fight against brain bleeds after birth. After being able to spend a wonderful Christmas with John and the girls, I was admitted on December 27th, the day of official viability for our son – 23 weeks on the dot.
Where we are now:
The adjustment was difficult to say the least. On an extremely intimate note, I will share one reflection I wrote on a down day, “I have been forced into patience because everything has been taken from me. I have no privacy, no autonomy, no control over my body or this pregnancy. I’ve been completely removed from my Vocation, my home, my friends and family, my work…”
I know, I know – dramatic. But hey, I am me after all and you all need to know that I’m still me. And like I said, that was a down day. For the most part, the days are good and positive. I share that snippet with you not to gain sympathy, not to attract even more attention… Truly, I share that because that is how I am deeply challenged in this time. And those are the prayers I need. The truth is that the Lord guided me directly to this hospital, to this NICU, to this incredible care without me even realizing it. I chose this MFM group simply because their appointments worked with my and John’s work schedules! But the Lord knew that this is where we needed to be. The bigger truth is that I have been given graces beyond what I have ever experienced. To name a few: The Lord remains faithful despite my severe lack of trust, baby has defied all odds, John is the strongest man I’ve ever known, our girls haven’t lost their joy and hunger for life, all of our friends and family have gone above and beyond – altering their own lives to meet our needs, I have met warrior moms, etc. One particular warrior, I haven’t officially met, but we were providentially connected. She walked my same path two years ago and her daily texts of encouragement, coaching, and guidance have been an anchor for me. Her son is now two, happy and healthy!
Since being here, we have had three big scares. Shortly after being admitted, my water broke, and two other instances after that, he was showing signs of distress. Each of those instances, I was nearly rolled to the OR for an emergency C-Section, but he pulled through. I will go in more depth of what happened on another post.
For those of you who know Bonnie’s birth story know that the biggest mystery for me remains to be, “Why were we the recipients of this severe mercy?” (If you don’t know her story, perhaps that’s a separate post as well.). This question extends with each day our son remains safe and healthy in the womb. The docs call him the happiest baby on the floor, and I don’t know why we have been blessed in these ways, but I for one, will take it! My eyes have been opened to this side of suffering, and not just in pregnancy, but hospital living across the board. John and I have met families with incredible stories of perseverance and with burdens beyond imagination. Living here has shown me a deeper layer of what “sanctity of life” means. Life is unbelievably precious and a tremendous gift for however long we have it.
I would like to thank each of you and I wish I could do it in person, but I am fully aware that I have never even met most of the people praying and rooting for us. There is even a name on our meal train of a person I don’t even know! Thank you all for giving your time and prayer to strangers! Thank you to our amazing parents who have moved Heaven and Earth to cater to our every need. Thank you to the priests for coming and giving me the Sacraments and the volunteers for bringing me the Eucharist. Thank you to our friends and family for the phone calls, letters, texts, meals, babysitting, visits, gifts, and the things you are doing that we don’t see. Thank you to my amazing staff for giving me so much patience and continuing to rock the school year. Thank you to my boss and colleagues for your prayers and understanding. Thank you to my incredible care team on this floor – the docs and nurses are heroes! Thank you to my midwives who continue to care for me. And of course, thank you to the incredible NICU team that I wish I never met in this way, but who have fought for children like our son. We have an incredible support system and again, I am left in awe and wonder. Please continue your prayers and know that we are eternally grateful for you, and I pray for you as well as I walk the halls of the hospital and realize how graced I really am.
As I finally finish writing this, I am proud to share that we have made it to week 25! I am eagerly awaiting John and the girls to join me for a 25-week celebratory dinner. My goal is to share weekly updates with you so keep checking back.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!