Did you watch the TLC special last night about the birth of Josie Duggar, the 19th of Jim Bob and Michelle's children? Josie was born 15 weeks early back in December. Her due date was March 18, still 17 weeks away. She weighed only 1 pound and 6 ounces and still has a long road ahead in the NICU.
As Josie's parents talked about their experiences thus far, memories of our own time in the NICU came flooding back. Our son was born prematurely, 9 weeks early. I remember the feeling of helplessness. I remember the hope I had that God was in control. I remember the ups and downs, the wondering if we'd ever bring our baby home. I remember the last day at the hospital, hardly believing our stay there was coming to an end after ten weeks.
My pregnancy had been uneventful. By the book, Charles said. By that he meant if the book "What to Expect When You're Expecting" said certain symptoms would appear at so many weeks, I starting having those symptoms at precisely that time. He finally asked me to stop reading the book!
I didn't gain much weight, but I was huge. I mean it. I know all pregnant women say that, but from 24 or 25 weeks on, I was measuring really big. My OB thought I had gestational diabetes. I took that awful glucose test three times and each time it came back negative. At my 30-week appointment, she scheduled an ultrasound just to be sure the baby wasn't getting too big to be delivered naturally.
I left her office with an ultrasound appointment for the following Wednesday. The baby was born on Monday so there was no need to keep the appointment.
My water broke as I was getting ready to leave work. I gushed fluid for an hour. I'm not exaggerating. I had so much amniotic fluid that when Charles finally got me to the ER, I left a trail on the way up to the maternity floor. The OB on call decided to send me over an hour away to the University of Alabama hospital in Birmingham (UAB) to deliver since they had a NICU. But when I started bleeding, he decided an emergency C-section was the best option. The baby could be transported to UAB and I would stay at our local hospital. Not the ideal situation, to say the least.
Mr. Lego was born at 6:32, weighing 3 pounds and 7 ounces. He was 17 inches long. Very large for a preemie. But still so very, very small. I had to wait to see him until I got out of recovery. He was so tiny in this huge, huge bed with tubes and monitors all around. I stroked his tiny hand and then a special team from UAB whisked him away. I wouldn't see him for another two days.
A friend drove Charles to Birmingham to be with the baby. I slept. When he returned at 2 am, he very soberly told me there was something wrong with the baby. His esophagus wasn't formed correctly and he couldn't eat. He'd have to have surgery, but no one knew when. I was under the influence of pain killers and cheerfully nodded. If he had told me the baby needed a brain transplant, I probably would have reacted the same way.
Then the realities of the NICU hit on Valentine's Day, the first day I visited my baby. He was stable and breathing room air, which was a good thing. But he wouldn't be able to grow and be healthy until the esophagus was repaired. He had a tracheoesophageal fistula. The top part of his esophagus ended in a blind pouch. The bottom part of his esophagus that came from his stomach had wrapped itself around his trachea and grown into it. This diagnosis helped explain why I had so much amniotic fluid. He was unable to swallow in utero. This is one way amniotic fluid is regulated. But mine just increased and increased until I popped. Like a balloon. Seriously. That's what the doctor said.
The TEF repair would be a highly delicate surgery because he was so tiny. So many things could go wrong. The surgery team decided to go ahead and try the repair. So at 5 days old, my baby became one of the smallest babies to have this type of surgery.
After the surgery he endured the typical NICU problems. He had issues with keeping his body temp up, so I didn't get to hold him until he was 10 days old. And then I could only hold him for 10 minutes because Charles needed a turn. He had graciously let me be the first to hold the baby, and I will be forever grateful for that.
While his lungs and bowels developed well, his upper digestive tract did not. The TEF repair had shortened the length of his esophagus so the muscles that keep the food in the stomach had no motility. They were stretched too far to work properly. Everything that went down came right back up. A j-tube was inserted through his nose down his throat and directly into his intestines, bypassing his stomach altogether. While this helped, he still wasn't able to keep down all the nutrition he needed. And even though he was so tiny, his fingers would get caught up in the tubing and he'd pull the j-tube out. The nurses remedied this by putting socks on his hands. Doesn't he look like a boxer?
The surgery team decided he needed a Nissen fundoplication. Basically, the top part of his stomach (the fundus) would be wrapped around the bottom of his esophagus to form a collar. The collar would hold the stomach contents in. He also had a gastrostomy tube placed at the same time so if he didn't want to eat orally, he could still receive nutrition while recovering from the surgery.
Two weeks later, he was able to come home! He was roughly six pounds. One of our neighbors bought him a GAP bear. We put it beside him to compare sizes. The boy wins by a foot!
It's very difficult to condense ten weeks of a NICU stay into a few paragraphs. There were good days and bad days. Fear often got the victory over faith. But through it all we had each other and we had the Lord. It wasn't easy and many times throughout the experience, I thought I wasn't going to be able to make it one more day.
But here we are, almost nine years later. Next Friday is Mr. Lego's birthday. He is healthy and happy. He has no memories of his NICU stay. I'll never forget it.
I'm so thankful for the good outcome our family had. As I watched the Duggars last night, I prayed for grace and strength for them. I prayed for wisdom for the doctors. I prayed for health for little Josie. And I remember. And pray harder.
This posted is linked to Heavenly Homemaker's Gratituesday.