And So It Begins: Alphie’s NICU Story by Sharlisa Thompson
And so it begins. I go to my weekly exam, but instead of a routine checkup I’m admitted to the hospital. I’m only 22 weeks pregnant. Allow me to back track a bit...
This was my third pregnancy with an incompetent cervix. After having two previous losses, I knew from the beginning of my pregnancy that I’d need a cerclage in order to keep my baby in the womb. I met with a midwife at my birthing center and got a referral for the Maternal Fetal Specialist that I wanted, one of the top specialists in the region. I had my stitch placed at 12 weeks. Everything looked great at my 13 week check up, but I was put on 24hr bed rest just to be sure. The following week I was told that my stitch was bulging, and that I would need another one placed. Because of this, I went in for a second surgery at 14 weeks.
I went for weekly visits, and during my 21st week I was told that I may have to be admitted to the hospital for the duration of my pregnancy. At my 22nd week check up, I was admitted. I finally got to meet with my doctor and he told me that my water would break at anytime. He also told me that I would need to have surgery to remove the 2 cerclages, and that they would give me shots to try and stall labor, as well as shots for my baby’s lungs once we reached 23 weeks. My doctor explained that the chance of my daughter’s survival was only 25% at such a young age, and what this may entail health wise for her if she was to survive.
“She may have a host of issues,” he said, “But the NICU will help your baby grow.”
At this point he explained the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), and he highly recommended it. My husband and I talked it over, and he asked me this question:
“Who’s report do you believe, the doctor’s or God’s?”
Our decision was made, we didn’t sign the form.
I received my shot for her lungs and gave birth 5 days later. Alphie Weekes was born at 23 weeks and 5 days. She was the size of my forearm, weighed 1 lb. 6 oz. and was breathing on her own. They immediately took her to the NICU. My husband went with her while I went under again to have my placenta taken. When I woke up my family was there to wheel me upstairs to see her. The only feeling I had was “God, I’m so overwhelmed...”
When I saw her, her eyes were still fused shut. Her NICU team explained the long list of medications that she was on. They also told me that although she had no complications at that point, she might need a lot of intervention once she finally realized that she wasn’t in the womb anymore. On around the 10th day after delivery, I was able to hold her. The only thing we could do up until that point was cry, try to keep the energy positive, pump breast milk for her, and read books to her so she could hear our voices.
I cried all the time. I felt guilty that my body couldn’t support my baby, and that she was going through this because of me. The hospital had a therapist that would come around to see us and to help us cope with everything. I had to remember that I would deal with this in my own way and that my husband would deal with it in his own, but we were still in it together. Every morning the doctors would call us to give us updates. I had to research medications, procedures and anything else they communicated, because at this point we were her advocates.
The doctors also explained that some things that applied to general medicine might not be the same in preemie medicine. Our daughter dealt with everything from heart and lung issues, oral aversion, reactions to medications, physical therapy and the list goes on. Every day it seemed like she needed more medicine or a new machine. It was like being on a roller coaster. The nurses were so helpful and eager to show us some things that we could do so we didn’t feel so helpless. Sometimes it seemed as if we’d take 3 steps forward and 7 steps back. You really don’t know how strong you have to be for your child until you are in the NICU experience.
Alphie spent 163 days in the NICU. She came home on an oxygen and apnea monitor, and 16 medications. She had appointments weekly for almost 6 months until she was off of all machines and medications. She is 4 now and has more energy than the sun. She loves to read, travel and speaks 3 languages. She is incredible!
Because I know how overwhelming this can be, I’d like to leave some tips for those going through the NICU experience:
1) Get some rest. Some times you have to step away for a few days and just get some rest. Remember your child is in the most capable hands and very well cared for.
2) Worrying helps nothing. It's hard, but as much as you can, try not to worry. Put that energy into doing what you can to relax and keep your baby feeling great.
3) Surround yourself with those who are positive. This goes a long way toward healing and recovering, not only for you but the child as well.
4)Mom, remember you are also healing from birthing a child. Rest, a good healthy diet, and plenty of water is needed. Especially if you are pumping breastmilk.
5) You may have had a whole birth planned out and it didn’t go your way, but its ok. Everything that’s supposed to happen does for a reason. You will get through this.
6) Lastly, having a non-judgemtal person to talk to at anytime or just a shoulder to cry on. This goes for mom and dad. If you don’t have someone available, there are really good preemie groups on Facebook that you can join where others can give help and support.
Sharlisa is an adventurer, children’s book author, wife and mom. She enjoys splitting her time living between Atlanta GA and Playa del Carmen Mexico. Follow her journey on Instagram, @global_citizen2 .