Stella and Eli are almost 8 months old.
They were born 2 months early, or at 32 weeks if you like official pregnancy-math. Most commonly referred to as preemies or as the neonatal community likes to call them….NICU Graduates. So, as parents of preemies/NICU Graduates, Erin and I were invited to attend the World’s Prematurity Day held at the Foothills hospital…..where Stella and Eli were born.
Sporting our I LOVE PREEMIES bracelets and gorging ourselves on mini cupcakes, it became obvious scanning the room that we were the lucky ones. A lot of the babies were born under 30 weeks and looked like wrinkly old people. Then there were the babies still on oxygen and a few with feeding tubes. More humbling yet was the vase of white flowers. The flowers represented all the babies lost. We seemed like frauds. Our babies are healthy. They are thriving. They came home.
I have been dragging my feet on telling Stella and Eli’s story. Their arrival into the world remained packaged up in the ol’ memory under “do not disturb.” It was the hardest time of my life, which seems silly to say given what we saw in the hospital on Prematurity Day. A large dose of humility quickly reinforces how blessed you are. Our story is a happy one.
Erin had a routine appointment 31 weeks into her pregnancy. Our doctor, a specialist and a resident came to the same conclusion…….Erin was not well. A nurse arrived with a wheelchair and escorted Erin, Mabel and I through an underground tunnel to the main hospital. This would’ve been super-spy-like-cool under any other circumstance, but not today. Erin would be admitted to triage. I had to scramble with my first of many speed dials to Gramma for help. In an hour, I dropped Mabel off at home, high fived Gramma at the door and was back at the hospital.
Erin was in having an ultrasound when I showed up. The doctors wanted to see if and how the babies were tolerating her condition. It was the first of many blows when the radiologist said that baby “B” (which in our case stood for Boy) wasn’t growing and hadn’t grown for a couple of weeks. That pill would have been large enough, but seeing Erin now……I couldn’t quite get that pill down. Her lips were blue and her body wouldn’t stop shaking. Symptoms of preeclampsia (pregnancy- induced high blood pressure). The high blood pressure was also causing a secondary condition called Clonus which are spastic reflexes that put you at the risk for convulsions….in the form of a seizure. So…..she was shaking….a lot. And one of our babies wasn’t growing.
That was April 15.
The doctors reconvened when Erin was back in triage. 3 doctors turned into 5. Probably not a good sign when doctors start to multiply. Erin’s shaking got worse. They gave her some magnesium which among other benefits, it would increase her tolerance for a seizure, should she have one. I started to cry. A doctor hugged me apparently. A resident. I don’t remember it. I sat there numb. The doctors deliberated and not once did I hear the words, “it’ll be ok.” Even the huggy resident never said it. The phrase I remember was “best chance.” It was like metal on my tongue.
The prognosis was to keep Erin calm, keep her blood pressure in a reasonable range, pump her full of magnesium (which made her look a little grey-green)…..and wait. They gave Erin steroids, not for her…..but for the babies. The goal was to keep the babies in for 48 hours. This would allow the steroids to have maximum effect. Apparently, steroids are often given to babies born preterm between 28-34 weeks. It decreases their risk for lung disease and increases their chances for everything else…..like surviving. So, when 5 doctors tell you steroids are your babies “best chance” you say…. hells yes….to steroids.
They moved Erin into a “quiet” room which is a bit of an oxymoron with all the beeping monitors and the revolving door of medical staff. There was a nurse stationed in the room 24-7 and a rolodex of researchers, residents, specialists, neonatal doctors and obstetricians. Apparently Erin’s “case” had hit the hospital newswire. Yet despite all her celebrity notoriety, Erin still didn’t believe she was that sick. This worked out well for me, because I needed a whole lot of consoling. Selfish I know, but Erin is crisis-material…….I am not.
Erin looked in good shape. Well….better. Selfishly I was so glad for this. I needed someone who was crisis-oriented when the Neonatal doctor showed up to go over the procedure of a preterm labor. Most of it I didn’t understand….except the part when she said our babies had a “good chance.” And here comes ugly-cry-face…….and where was that huggy resident when you needed her? So, in 24 hours…..we’d pray. We’d pray for all the things she told us “could” happen….don’t happen.
The doctors finally let Erin eat something. It’s amazing what a hospital-grade grilled cheese sandwich does to one’s spirits. Erin looked so good (minus her enormously fat cankles)….but otherwise pretty tip top. We even laughed a little. She would make it to the 48 hours……no problem. We were good. We got this. I went home.
5am. Gramma had to wake me up as I slept through my cell phone, our home phone and several texts by Erin. It was time.
The doctors talked about a honeymoon phase for Erin. The sweet spot. The time before the magnesium would start to lose effect and her blood platelets would be high enough for delivery. Apparently, we were in the sweet spot. 40ish hours would have to do.
It would be a C-section. Her body wouldn’t be able to handle delivery. Gramma and I gowned up and were shuffled into the viewing room while the doctors prepped Erin for surgery. We met the delivery doctor. Finally a doctor who said “it’ll be ok.” I loved her so much for saying that, I ignored the fact that she looked like she was 16. I was so happy…….now if I could just stop crying.
Each baby had its own Neonatal team, just like the Neonatal “good chance” doctor had told us there would be.Erin, the hospital celebrity, had her entourage of obstetrics….so I just tried to stay out of the way and and hunkered in beside Erin. I had really good intentions of saying a bunch of motivational crap to get her through this. Instead I just starred at her with my ugly-cry-face and prayed she could do this on her own. She was brilliant. She was in momma bear mode.
The babies came out in short order. Stella was first. She looked so much like Mabel, but was so much Stella…..and was absolutely perfect.
Eli was 4 minutes later. He was so scrawny…and the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
It took us 30 days to get these peanuts home.
30 days of the most kindness and generosity we’ve ever experienced in our lives.
30 days until we were a family again.
30 days we’ll never forget.
Stella and Eli came home.