There are no words or adjectives to describe how it feels to carry your baby for 7 months in the safe home of your belly, feel your baby move everyday inside you in the protection of your arms that constantly rest on your belly.. and then have to walk back into your home with an empty stomach and empty arms as your baby still lays in the NICU.
The moment I held a positive pregnancy test in my hands, my husband and I were on top of the world. Soon after, we told our families, we started the nursery, we registered for the baby shower, we saw our baby in sonograms doing wonderfully and life was perfect! Waking up on a Monday morning of my 34th week, I remember feeling incredible the entire morning until I realized I was bleeding. We went to Labor & Delivery at GBMC where they said everything seemed fine and I would be going home shortly, until I started feeling tightness every few moments as we watched the monitor jump up and down. The Nurses came in and asked if I felt those contractions they were seeing develop. It was official, I was in premature labor. The nurses and doctors said they were going to do their best to stop them because I was way too early. My amazing midwife, Jeannette Wolfe, insisted I stay the night as a precaution and thank goodness…the ways they were trying to stop them did not work and in the middle of the night, they came back stronger.
At 6am, they gave me one of the two shots of medicine that was to help open up the baby's lungs just in case since they would not yet be fully developed. The second shot was to be administered 24 hours later and I needed to come back the next morning at 6am. We went home Tuesday morning with a pill to take every 6 hours that they said is the last option for trying to stop them and hopefully it would work. I remember vividly asking my doctor if she thought it would work, and she said, “If the baby is ready to come, there is no stopping that.” Ironically enough we went to our Lamaze class that evening, went to bed and at 4am our lives would change. I woke up in a puddle, my water had broken. In a little bit of denial, I didn't want to call the hospital but of course, my husband insisted. My doctor told me, "That was your water breaking, you are having this baby today. I will see you in 30 minutes." We did not have a bag packed, the nursery was only half done and we didn't have a single baby item since my baby shower was still 2 weeks away. When we got to the hospital we were admitted, yet again, and the nurses at GBMC who took care of us a couple days before, emotionally welcomed us back and checked on us the entire day even though we were not on their rotation.
That day was the most emotional day of our lives. Scared for not being prepared, scared for not knowing what would happen, and then devastated when the term, "NICU" was used and it dawned on us there was a good chance our baby could be delivered not breathing, spending months away from us, or more. Neither of us knew much about the NICU and never in our wildest dreams thought we would need to until that day. Dr. Helou, the amazing NICU doctor, came in and spoke with us giving us hope that everything that could be done, would be, and our baby would be in the best care. He told us the NICU team would be waiting next to us in the delivery room to be handed the baby, given oxygen and taken immediately up to the NICU. I remember Mike and I looking at each other with broken hearts showing in our eyes as we realized we wouldn't even be able to hold our baby. After 12 hours in labor surrounded by our families, it was time. The NICU team was waiting at the door and after a few pushes, our tiny little one was here…crying. My husband yelled immediately, “How are the lungs??” and the Doctor responded, “You hear that crying, don’t you??” We watched as the NICU team smiled and stepped back as they realized that our baby was breathing on her own. The Doctor placed our teeny little one on my lap and we realized that we still had no idea the sex…my husband then yelled, “What is it?!?!?” and the Doctor replied, “A girl.” I looked at her and whispered, “My Emmy…” They cleaned her up and came back asking if we wanted to hold our little girl. With tears and shock in both of our eyes, I opened my arms. We had prepared ourselves for not being able to hold her, so the 20 minutes we had before they took her away were spent staring at her in awe and soaking up every second.
After they took her, we didn’t see her again for 5 hours. When we finally were able to see her, we entered the NICU, washed our hands (which I still can remember feeling like it took forever), and walked past heartbreaking rooms of babies in enclosed bassinets with wires and breathing tubes every which way. We saw posters that said things like, “Happy 2 months” on the baby doors and we started to shake. Then we walked into Emmy’s room and she was in an open bassinet with just a single heart monitor. Grabbing our chests, we asked why she wasn’t hooked up to more and the nurse said she didn’t need anything else, that she was perfect. I think we almost fell to our knees. The NICU nurse told us how Emmy loved her bath and was all smiles the whole time during it. She then took off her hat to reveal a full head of strawberry blonde hair. I know that day we were incredibly lucky and that we are one of the few that have children in the NICU that are that lucky. We thank God everyday, multiple times a day, for keeping her safe.
She stayed in the NICU for 5 days, and a couple of the nights after I was discharged, we stayed in the parents room at the hospital they had for preemie Mommies & Daddies to stay on site. We used so many of the preemie sized hats, sleepers and onesies they provided for us to keep. The morning of the 5th day, we walked in and the Doctor was examining her. The Doctor looked at us, smiled and said, “This is her discharge exam.” She finally was able to keep her temperature stable and we could take her home! During those 5 days, the nurses at the NICU were our family. They gave us advice, gave us hugs, jumped up and down with us when she would eat more than the time before, and gave us a shoulder when she wouldn’t be able to keep her temperature up. We would see the NICU nurses and doctors in the cafeteria and they would remember us by name as come up to ask us how we and Emmy were doing. They gave us print outs to read and what to expect, and when we left with her, everyone came in to congratulate us and say goodbye. They sent in-home nurses to check on her to make extra sure she was doing well over the next 2 weeks. The experiences we had with the NICU touched our hearts forever. At her first Pediatrician appointment, she dropped down to 4lbs, 12ounces, but now she is now a year old and you would never know she was born prematurely. Our little Emilia is 21lbs, 29.5 inches tall and is a walking, crawling, babbling, blue-eyed little beauty! Her belly laughs make our hearts grow and her snuggles have changed our lives forever.
After being allowed entrance into the NICU, you wash your hands as it counts for 60 seconds and you pass by room after room of babies struggling to hold on. It is an experience that you cannot even fathom, but when it is your child laying in these walls, it is a life-changing, religion-finding experience. The Nurses and Doctors at GBMC's NICU should have "Angels" written under their name on their name tags, because that is what they truly are. The Moms & Dads of premature babies do not get to experience the wonderful arrival that they always imagine...having their child placed in their arms after delivery to hold and squeeze for hours, having family & friends visit them with smiling faces, Mom resting in bed for a few days in the hospital with their newborn in a bassinet next to her, going home with their newborn as a new family... Instead the day of labor is filled with worry, their child is on another floor, and instead of Mom recovering, she is gathering strength to walk up and down to the NICU to spend as much time as possible with her baby through the emotional and physical pain. We can’t put into words the thanks to these Angels that help bring as many happy endings as they do.
More than approximately 400 babies come through GBMC's NICU each year. Help support the start of their lives at our 29th annual Father's Day 5K. With 12 rooms in the NICU, there is always equipment that needs updating, new technologies to incorporate and resources critical for these more fragile babies, who require 24/7 care. Your support can help us provide these resources. We cannot thank you enough for your support in Team Emmy Lou!
*Donations will need to be in by 5 p.m. Saturday, June 17 to be considered.