Have you ever been in a club? Usually you know something about the club…what it’s all about, its goals, the activities, the responsibilities, maybe even some members or officers. You would never join a club on the spur of the moment without knowing anything about it, without meeting some of the members, or without clarifying the length of your membership.
But when you become a member of the “NICU Moms’ Club,” you do just that. Most likely, you have no idea about what happens in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. You aren’t familiar with all of the medical equipment. It is unclear how much – or if – you will get to care for your baby. You are surrounded by a host of medical professionals about whose roles you are unclear. And you have no idea how long your NICU stay will be. Oh, and you didn’t get to decide if you even wanted to join the club.
I Joined the Club
My name is Sara, and I “joined” the NICU Moms’ Club five and a half years ago. I am a bit of a late bloomer – I married for the first time at 36, got pregnant at 37, and expected to have my first child at 38. Being an expectant mother of advanced maternal age (that a great medical term!), I had undergone some additional genetic testing, but for the most part was having a routine pregnancy.
My job at the time was travel-intensive, and I had just gotten back from a trip to California. While there, I had a stomach bug or had eaten something that hadn’t agreed with me. Once back home, I called my doctor’s office, and they decided to have me come in for a quick visit.
Thursday afternoon, 2:15 p.m. That was my appointment time. I had just hit 25 weeks gestation that day. I was seen, and everything was checking out OK. The PA that I saw said she was just going to have one of the medical assistants come in and do some additional blood pressure checks. The MA’s technique wasn’t up to par (I ended up with blood blisters on my arm!), but because of this, my blood pressure read artificially high. Due to the BP readings, I was sent to the lab for a blood draw, and they found my platelets to be really low.
At this point I was sent to Labor and Delivery for IV fluids and to be monitored. The OB doctor pretty quickly shuffled me to the high-risk OB doctor, and things started to get real. There was obviously something going on with me and with the baby.
The staff in labor & delivery continued to monitor both of us the rest of Thursday and all day Friday. They were trying to rule out a number of problems, including preeclampsia. The entire clinical picture didn’t really add up, so I was seen by several teams of doctors. Hematology did a work-up since my platelet count was low. Infectious Disease came to see me because of the presumed stomach bug I’d had in California. I had a lot of labs drawn, had four ultrasounds, and continued to be monitored.
My high-risk OB was leaning toward a diagnosis of HELLP Syndrome, a very severe form of preeclampsia that can be life threatening to both mother and baby. I was somewhat familiar with preeclampsia, but I had never heard of HELLP before. HELLP stands for Hemolysis (break down of the red blood cells), Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelets, and can be fatal for both mother and baby. The only cure for HELLP is delivery.
Friday evening, an ultrasound showed that our little one was in distress, and the best course would be to deliver, even though I was only at 25 weeks gestation. The doctors explained that our baby would have a better chance outside of me than inside, so we moved ahead with an emergency C-section.
There were about 16 medical staff in the OR when I delivered, about half of whom were there just for baby. The NICU team took our little boy (which was a surprise as we hadn’t known the gender!) and started working on him right away. I got to see him for about ten seconds after they had him stabilized as they wheeled him past my head and to the NICU.
Our little Jacob was born at 9:29 p.m. Friday night. He weighed 1 lb 5.5 oz, and was 10.5 inches long. Because of my health complications, I had to be on medication for 24 hours following the C-section and remain in bed. I got to meet my baby Sunday morning a little after midnight. When I saw him, I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by love for him, awed by how absolutely tiny he was, and amazed at all the technology the NICU staff had to monitor every aspect of Jacob’s being.
It’s hard to even describe how tiny he was. When I looked at him, it brought tears of joy to my eyes because he was so tiny, so perfect. He had all his little parts: 10 fingers and 10 toes, sweet little eyes, ears, and nose, arms and legs perfectly in proportion to his tiny size. God is amazing, and we saw that in Jacob’s perfect little body.
So that was my entrance to the NICU Moms’ Club. I never planned to join. I didn’t know what all it entailed. It was an unexpected and surprise initiation into the club. I wasn’t familiar with the other “members” or “officers.” I didn’t even really speak the language. And yet, five years removed from my initiation, I wouldn’t change a thing. I am a proud member of the Club, and I have so many fellow Club Members as dear friends now. We also keep in touch with many of the NICU staff who cared so diligently and tenderly for Jacob as well as us.
I am a better, stronger, more resilient person for having been on this journey. And one of my missions now is to welcome others into the NICU Moms’ Club with open arms, an understanding ear, and an encouraging word. Watch for future posts about how Jacob’s journey has blessed our lives!
Check out our NICU Families of Eastern Iowa Facebook page to connect with others who have joined the “Club!”