My Birth and NICU Story by Katie Gonzalez
Upon finding out we were pregnant with our son after pregnancy loss, infertility issues and multiple surgeries, we were on cloud 9. We planned and prepared for his big entrance from the day that stick read positive. Because I only have one tube from a previous ruptured ectopic pregnancy, I immediately have to go into my OB-GYN’s office for blood work so I can be closely monitored and to make sure we keep my remaining tube as safe as possible. I’m considered high risk because of my ectopic and pregnancy induced hypertension, so I also see a perinatologist throughout my pregnancies. As hectic as all the appointments, tests, and monitoring was, it reassured me that everything was status quo. By the time I reached about 30 weeks, my blood pressure began to increase continuously. I kept in contact with my doctor, completed 24-hour urine tests, watched my BP closely and took my medication daily. My husband is a paramedic, and I myself am an EMT, so we knew what to look for as far as numbers, signs and symptoms. It was on my daughter’s 8thbirthday when things started to go south. While we were out for bowling and pizza, I started noticing that I wasn’t feeling right, and my vision started to blur. I decided to stay seated and watch everyone bowl to give my body a break. When we got home, my BP was reading 152/98. This is not great news in the pregnancy or non-pregnancy world of numbers. I decided to lay down for a bit to see if that would help and it did, slightly.
The following morning, I called my doctor and was encouraged to go to the hospital to be evaluated. I was immediately admitted and started on an IV that was difficult for the nurses to administer because the swelling had gotten so bad. After being monitored I received the news that I was preeclamptic. My doctor decided to give me a few rounds of steroid shots to help develop baby’s lungs in case I ended up having him early. My heart sank. I was only 33 weeks and 5 days, and even though I was ready for the baby at home, he wasn’t ready to come into the world just yet. I was given my blood pressure medicine via IV, and my body responded great to it. My blood pressure started to normalize after 12 hours but I had to wait to be discharged until my following round of steroid shots. During this time, I received two ultrasound bio-physicals that measured the baby’s fluid, flexing motion, breathing and movements. Each measurement is worth 2 points and Carson scored an 8 out of 8 each time, surprising the tech with how active he was. What a sense of relief! I felt better, my blood pressure was normal, and I was released just 24 hours after being admitted. That night at home, as my husband was preparing to go on shift the following morning, he questioned whether he should call out of work or not so he could stay home with me just in case. I assured him I was feeling fine and my blood pressure was staying right where it needed to be. I was 34 weeks the following day, but still too early for Carson to make an appearance. I woke up the next morning and I still felt good, and my blood pressure was where it was supposed to be. But by noon, I realized I had not felt Carson move quite as much as he had the day before, or at all for that matter. I thought maybe he was asleep, so I tried drinking Gatorade, eating candy, other foods, moving around, laying in certain positions, etc.…. still nothing. I called my doctor and she advised me once again to go get checked out. I found myself back in labor and delivery triage (with my 3-year-old), hooked up to machines. Carson’s heart rate was monitored for an hour and it was in normal range, so I was automatically comforted. The nurses told me that all I needed to do was to get an ultrasound to confirm, then I would be on my way home. I waddled on down to ultrasound for what would be my third bio-physical ultrasound in a 36-hour period. This time was very different. This ultrasound changed everything. And after nearly 40 minutes of fake coughs, laying on my side, getting up, sitting down, and trying my hardest to get Carson to move, he just wouldn’t. His bio-physical score was a 2 out of 8, and the 2 was for good fluid levels. Everything else he failed. There was no breathing, no flexing, no movement.
As I made my way back to L&D Triage holding hands with my 3-year-old, I decided to call my husband on our way to the elevator. All I could say to him in tears was “there’s something wrong.” At that moment he left the fire station and came as fast as he could to the hospital. I entered the L&D Triage doors, trying to keep my composure. As I sat there waiting, I was approached by a nurse with a gown, an IV bag and a face of concern. The first words that came out of her mouth were, “Do you have someone to stay with your daughter?” I calmly told her that she would be in the room with us when I delivered, along with her older sisters. That’s when I knew things were not going to happen the way I had hoped. She answered me by saying, “I’m sorry, but she can’t go into the OR with you. We need to deliver the baby right now by c-section. The NICU is already on standby with a bed waiting for him.” I am literally tearing up as I type this, because those are some of the most gut-wrenching words that a parent can hear.
I fought it. I begged for a vaginal delivery. I begged to keep him in there longer. I begged for answers as to what was wrong with my baby. But the fact of the matter was, he needed to be delivered because no one really knew what was going on in there. As I was being pushed to the OR, I had no choice but to leave my daughter at the nurse’s station until my mom arrived to sit with her. I saw my husband running in, and he was handed a gown and hair net to put over his uniform (he made it just in time). They quickly got him caught up on what was happening. I could tell that for someone who deals with emergency situations regularly, there was fear in his eyes, but he tried to be strong for me and keep me calm. The c-section was a blur. I just wanted to hear him scream. I wanted to know that he was breathing. I wanted to hear something that would let me know that he was alright. My doctor held him up for me to peak over the sheet at him, and I remember her saying, “He looks full term!”, but I still didn’t hear him scream just yet. They took him over to the table, where I heard one screech and then silence. He was breathing, but then he stopped. He went into respiratory distress, but our medical team worked their magic and he was breathing again. His cord was cut, and they brought him over to me. I was able to kiss his sweet face, smell his delicious newness, and feel the warmth of his cheek against mine. He was here, early, but here! They took him straight to the NICU and I was sent for recovery back in triage. On my way up to the maternity floor, they stopped at the NICU so I could see my baby. He had on a C-PAP, feeding tube, monitors, IV…and it was beyond unsettling. All you ever want for your children is for them to be safe, healthy and perfect. This was not the start I was expecting. Carson’s sugar levels were off, he had a pneumothorax (a hole in the lung caused by respiratory distress), jaundice and he was born too early to be able to eat on his own. But those were all things that just needed time to improve. There’s something eerie about giving birth and not having your baby bedside. Being discharged from the hospital, leaving your baby behind and still getting up at night to pump as often as you would to breastfeed. Having a hard time getting your milk to flow and feeling pressure to get it to come in so you can try to feel like a mother that can provide for their little one who is stuck in the hospital. No matter what, it’s just hard, and the emotions all came in waves. I cried, a lot. I would pump all day and night. After I was discharged, I would go in early in the mornings to the NICU around 6am, bring my milk from the night, and try to work with Carson to teach him how to take a bottle. I’d leave around 10am for work, then my husband and I would switch, and he’d spend the day with Carson after he dropped our older children off at school. He’d leave around 2pm to pick up the kids from school and we’d return around 5pm with more milk and to just sit with him. It was exhausting, and every time we left, that wave of emotion would come down on us like a ton of bricks. It started to take its toll on my body. Preeclampsia lasts 3 months postpartum, and in general a lot of times us moms forget to take care of ourselves. My blood pressure ended up spinning out of control. I called my doctor in hopes of getting a stronger medication, but she refused and admitted me to the hospital. In another moment of panic, I heard ER “OB STROKE ALERT, OB STROKE ALERT” over the loudspeaker. All of the ER nurses, doctors, L&D nurses, and even the NICU admins came down as a team to assist the stroke alert, only to find out that I was the person that they were referring to.
Once again, I was setup with a magnesium drip, IV, and I to have blood work taken every 3 hours. I ended up having to spend 3 days in the ICU. I can handle all those things, but what made it even more difficult was the bed rest. I couldn’t get up to go see my baby for 3 of the longest days of my life (que the postpartum blues). I pumped like hell and the nurses would Facetime me when they brought it to him. My husband made sure to send me pictures every 30 minutes but let’s face it, that wasn’t enough. My baby was right down the hall from me, and yet so far from my reach.
Over a two-week period from the day Carson was born, he did a lot of growing. His lungs healed, his jaundice settled, his sugar normalized, his breathing and O2 levels were stable, and he learned how to take milk from a bottle. It was rocky and felt like a lifetime, but his stay in the NICU was just a few weeks. I know there are babies that spend months in the NICU, have worse health conditions, and there are some who never make it home. Believe me, I know. I saw them, I bonded and prayed with their parents, and we cheered each other on when our babies made progress. Regardless of how long the stay, all NICU babies are warriors, are fighters, and so are their parents.