World Prematurity Day is observed on November 17th each year to raise awareness of preterm birth and the concerns of preterm babies and their families worldwide. Approximately 15 million babies are born preterm each year, accounting for 1 in 10 births. This year, guest blogger and Sarasota mom, Jessica Hughes, shares her preemie story with us.
November 24, 2005, started like any other Thanksgiving Day.
My husband, Todd, and I were busy cooking in the kitchen and making last minute preparations for my family to join us for our Thanksgiving meal. We had so much to be thankful for. We had recently been honorably discharged from the Army, made the move back to Sarasota, and were expecting our first baby in February.
We had no idea our lives were about to change.
As evening came, my family left and we got ready for bed. I started experiencing pains and immediately felt something was wrong. My husband took me to the hospital. As we were in the Labor and Delivery department awaiting assessment, I began to bleed. At this point, I knew something was, in fact, terribly wrong.
Orders for an ultrasound were rushed and the doctors discovered I had a placental abruption, a serious condition where the placenta separates from your uterus before the baby is born. This condition can deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients, and the severe bleeding is dangerous for both mom and baby. My precious baby girl and I were dying. I placed a frantic call to my parents telling them I was going in for an emergency C-section and signed a flurry of papers.
It was all a blur. Time held no relevance.
My husband was by my side praying for me and assuring me I was going to be okay. My family arrived in time to see me before I was rushed to the operating room. I remember looking at my mom and telling her I was scared. She did her best to hold back her tears.
I was taken to the operating room and was so thankful Todd stayed by my side through the C-section. I could only hope and pray that my baby girl was going to make it. The procedure seemed like it went on forever, but in reality, it was quite short. I remember feeling pressure as they reached in to take out my baby. I strained to hear something, anything.
Then I heard what sounded like a little mouse squeaking.
That was my baby. That was my preemie. She was alive! She was rushed off to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and I woke up in recovery. I recall coming in and out of consciousness and asking to see my baby. I was finally released from recovery and allowed to see my baby in the NICU. My eyes were blurry but from my bed, I could see this tiny, perfect baby laying in the incubator. I couldn’t believe this was all happening.
The next morning my husband and I were formally introduced to the NICU.
We were greeted by the doctors and nurses as we came in to see our baby girl. She had to be intubated and was now on a respirator. She weighed 2 pounds, 1 ounce, and was one of the tiniest babies in the NICU at the time. Due to her fragile state, we were not able to hold her but could touch her for just a moment. She was the most perfect thing in the world. But I cannot describe the feeling of seeing something so precious have so many tubes coming from everywhere. Not to mention the monitors and the sounds of the alarms.
I felt completely helpless.
I had so many questions for the doctors and nurses. I was so confused and didn’t understand why this was happening to us or how it happened. I had done everything right in the pregnancy, but did I somehow cause this? They met my questions and concerns with the reassurance it was nothing I did. In fact, abrupted placentas and the resulting premature births happen more often than we think. We had so many questions about what to do and what was to come. We were told that our experience in the NICU would be like a roller coaster ride with a lot of ups and downs, twists and turns.
As it would turn out, a roller coaster ride was the perfect description.
Our precious baby, our preemie, Bailey Allyssa Hughes, would spend 2 ½ months in the NICU fighting for her life. We experienced days where everything seemed to be right in the world; days that gave us a sense of hope. And other days where our world came crashing down with the sound of monitor alarms going off, bad news from the morning chest x-rays, or being faced with the heart-wrenching decisions to try new courses of actions which could inevitably make things worse.
The first time I was finally able to hold Bailey, she was 1 week old.
I looked forward to that day and I cherished every minute of our brief moment. We held her using the kangaroo method, where her bare body would be placed against our bare chests and covered with multiple warm blankets, in an effort to maintain her body temperature outside of the incubator. However, due to her unstable condition, it would be some time before we could hold her again.
Many days we could touch her through the portholes, but some days she couldn’t be touched at all. I sat by her bedside all day, every day telling her stories and reading her books. By the time she left the NICU, we built up quite an impressive library and this established Bailey’s love for reading at a very young age.
There were lots of firsts in the NICU.
We celebrated the first time she was able to wear clothes – a baby doll dress. Her first outfits in the NICU were Build-a-Bear clothes since preemie clothes were still way too big for her. She even wore special diapers since preemie diapers were huge. To give you another idea of her size, my husband’s wedding ring could slide up and down her entire leg with room to spare!
We also celebrated her first bowel movement, being able to drink from a bottle while maintaining her oxygen level, and being able to tolerate her first bath. Bailey would spend her first Christmas and New Year’s Eve in the NICU as well.
During our time there, we met other families enduring their own heartaches and some experiencing the wonderful feeling of finally being discharged. It seemed as if that day would never come for us.
I cannot describe the feeling of leaving the hospital every day without your baby.
When we were discharged it was the best day of our lives. The next year would be filled with weekly appointments to doctors and specialists. We weren’t sure how being born 3 months premature would affect Bailey. There were risks associated with her lungs and eyes due to the use of oxygen, and the chance of developmental and physical delays. Bailey was such a trooper through all of the testing and doctor’s visits. In the end, the doctors determined she wouldn’t have any lasting negative effects from being born so early.
Bailey will be celebrating her 12th birthday on November 25th.
We are so thankful she’s in our lives. From her small beginnings to the amazing girl she has become, she has never ceased to amaze us in every way possible. She has such a passion and love for animals and many call her the “animal whisperer” since even the shyest animals seem to flock to her. She is very involved with 4-H, raising animals and learning everything she can about them. She has plans to attend the University of Florida to pursue a career as a large animal veterinarian.
Bailey has a personality bigger than life and lights up every room with her genuine smile. She possesses a strong will, unwavering determination, and has a huge heart full of love and unselfish motives. She truly is remarkable and touches the lives of everyone she meets. We are beyond thankful for her, and we know this could have had a completely different outcome.
We are so thankful for the doctors and nurses who cared for Bailey and saved her life, as well as the technology and advancements that helped make her journey possible. We formed such great relationships during our time in the NICU, and those relationships were such a blessing. God was truly watching over us.
We will never forget our experience in the NICU.
The tears and sleepless nights. The worrying. The hope. The heartache from bad news, the joy from good news. The sanitizing and hand-washing routine before and during every visit. The feeling of finally holding your baby next to your skin. The watching of monitors and knowing exactly what the stats should be. The happiness and jealousy of seeing mothers leave from labor and delivery with their newborns while your baby remained in the hospital and praying for the day you could leave with her too. The excitement on the day the feeding tube was removed and she ate from a bottle. The day she was switched from a respirator to a nasal cannula. The day she was breathing on her own. The day when we were told to bring in the car seat for the car seat test. The day going-home pictures were taken. And finally, the day when we got to bring our Bailey home.
The experience truly was a roller-coaster ride. One that truly changed our lives.
Jessica Hughes is an Army veteran who spends her time volunteering for the Wounded Warrior Project and is the mom of Bailey (11) and Xavier (8).