Today is World Prematurity Day. Every year on November 17th, the March of Dimes focuses on the ongoing crisis of premature births and children. They donate to research and development in this area, demand #BlanketChange on policies for mothers and babies, and ask everyone to wear or display purple in support of this cause. For more information, please click here.
Read Dani’s experiences with premature births and children – we thank her for her candor and her honesty on this difficult subject.
I knew from a young age that pregnancy didn’t always end with a bundle of blue or pink joy coming home from the hospital.
For my Nanny, her first pregnancy was a still-born son.
For my Mama, several miscarriages at various stages of pregnancy occurred before my little brother was born.
For my first pregnancy in 2000, I ended up becoming a statistic of the 1 in 4 women who experience a miscarriage. It was devastating and left me wondering if I even wanted children considering the family history and now my own experience.
In 2006, I found myself pregnant while my husband was in basic training.
I was scared and excited at the same time. I read pregnancy books. I cut out caffeine and anything else the books or doctor said was a no-no. I was overly cautious to the point of having to explain that this wasn’t my first pregnancy to a few people.
A few months into my pregnancy, the doctor assured me everything was fine, even after I told him of the pain in my side. He told me it was because I was short and did not have as much room for the baby to stretch. Things seemed to be going according to plan and with the green light from my doctor, I moved at six months pregnant from South Carolina to Texas to be with my husband, now at his duty station.
Two days after arriving, I was in the hospital.
I still remember knocking on my new neighbor’s door to ask directions to the hospital; my husband’s frantic driving to get me to the ER; the calm that settled over me as I assured him that even if the baby came now, it could survive.
On my third day in Texas, I was rushed to surgery for an emergency C-section at just 27 weeks pregnant. With my arms strapped down to the table, the doctor talked me through it as they used a mask to give me gas. I tried to scream and fight, terrified I was having an asthma attack from a reaction to the anesthesia. My last thoughts before the gas turned the world black was that I was going to die and would never see my son.
I awoke in a fog to my husband and a new doctor talking about the complications during surgery and about the baby. I was told I couldn’t see the baby just yet, but I pushed the issue. I didn’t care who saw him first. I wanted reassurance. I sent my husband down to that NICU. I had lost a lot of blood during surgery and was not even allowed in a wheelchair, so that evening (at my insistence), they wheeled my whole bed into a separate room of the NICU so I could meet him.
Cameron David Wade was born 13 weeks early and weighed a whopping 2lbs 7.8oz. By the next day, he weighed 1lb 9oz.
I was told that Cameron’s umbilical cord was in a knot at his feet, and he had been in distress. I was released to leave the hospital after five days and assuring the doctor that I was fine. After a couple of days on Earth, Cameron decided to take matters into his own hands and extubated himself. He was breathing on his own! The head of the NICU Dr. Marshall always referred to Cameron’s fighting ways with, “He’s a pistol!”
But despite his tiny fighting spirit, he had many medical battles.
When Cameron was one-week-old, tests were run. Cameron had a Grade 4 head bleed. This resolved on its own but left behind scar tissue that blocked the ventricle in his brain.
Weekly spinal taps were performed to relieve the pressure. Once Cameron gained and maintained a weight of 5lbs, the neurosurgeon at the children’s hospital would perform his surgery. There was an infection to fight as well as bradycardia and apnea episodes to manage. I suffered from postpartum depression and had panic attacks every time the phone rang. I was so afraid it was the doctor calling to tell me my baby was gone.
Cameron came home two days after he’d had shunt surgery for hydrocephalus. He was three months old and on a monitor to track his breathing and heart rate.
I debated internally for a while if maybe Cameron should be an only child. Due to his premature birth and complications, he exhibited neurological and behavioral issues that became more evident.
Was it fair to a baby to take the chance and possibly have my body not be able to protect it? Was it fair to Cameron who had special needs to have that time and attention diverted to a new baby?
Cameron was in preschool, and I remember being exhausted and sick for over a month. I took a pregnancy test about a week and a half before Christmas. I woke my husband by me bouncing on the bed and shoving a test in his half-closed eyes.
“Haha, who’s test did you borrow?” ”
Those things aren’t accurate, take another.”
“I’ll believe it when you take a blood test.”
As you can guess, this was not planned and if I’m honest, I wasn’t happy to be pregnant again after the complications of Cameron’s birth. I was terrified it could happen again. Cameron still had issues but at least we’d gotten to bring him home. What if next time we weren’t so lucky?
I was depressed and struggling to come to terms with being a mom again. At the same time, I also felt incredibly guilty that I had become pregnant so easily. I hid it because my friend was struggling with infertility issues. I knew it hurt her every time another friend got the dream she’d been waiting for.
William Carter Wade graced us with his presence at 35 weeks pregnant after using me as a trampoline for months. I nicknamed him “Froggy”.
I don’t think I will ever be able to forget Carter’s pregnancy. This time I was considered a high-risk pregnancy and had my regular OB and a specialist monitoring me. I took weekly shots starting at week 20 and even ended up on bed rest for a short period of time. During one ultrasound the specialist actually told me that his foot was in my sphincter. Just like his daddy, a pain in my butt.
Throughout my pregnancy when Carter stretched and bounced, I shot up to a standing position in pain. I shot to that standing position moments before my water broke a little after midnight. My husband had just arrived home from work, and luckily the rug was drenched instead of the couch.
Unfortunately AND fortunately for me, my doctor was not on call the night Carter decided to make his debut. Once the doctor turned Carter over to the nurses to check him, he returned to me and I found out that night why I have such a difficult time carrying a pregnancy to term. While closing me up the doctor startled my husband and me when he exclaimed excitedly, “You’ve got a blahblahblah!” I responded by trying to lean up and see over the little blue curtain and asked, “I’ve got a WHAT?”
A bicornuate uterus only occurs in 0.1-0.5% of women in the U.S. This means my uterus is heart-shaped and has about half the amount of space for a baby. We were told that further pregnancies would have to be carefully monitored with weekly shots, and I would have to again have to be extremely careful if I wanted to carry close to term. My husband and I wanted to try once more for a girl so after being assured that a pregnancy could be successful, we opted not to get my tubes tied at that time.
Carter began as a Mama’s boy (although he’s definitely his Daddy’s shadow now) and cried if he didn’t have physical contact with me. I should have seen the foreshadowing then of his need to be with people. Carter came home with us, no time in the NICU being necessary.
Several years later, I was at my wit’s end with two precocious (I’m being nice here) little boys. I told my husband that when he came back from his deployment, he was getting a vasectomy. I was done. There was no way I could handle a third on top of Cameron’s ongoing behavioral issues. Little did I know…Charles Matthew Wade was already in the making.
The doctor was not pleased when I turned up pregnant in his office again.
He was worried about me. I was 35, nearly 36, and considered a geriatric pregnancy now. Add that to past complications, and I had an OB who was not a happy camper. Join the club dude-neither was I. I would be doing the majority of the pregnancy alone. And again, here I was pregnant and now had two friends struggling to start their families. I definitely felt guilt over being the “Fertile Myrtle”.
The pregnancy went easily enough…to start.
We picked a name before my husband left, and my friend keeping me in my pregnancy craving, hard to find jelly beans. But one day, I left the boys with a friend to go to a check-up and never came home.
After confirming that I had preeclampsia, the doctor checked for a heartbeat and couldn’t find one. I called my Key Spouse a sobbing mess and left a voicemail to see if there was any way to get in touch with my husband overseas. I was taken to labor and delivery. The nurse did another ultrasound and calmed me down; she had found the heartbeat with no problem.
My pregnancy ended at 34 weeks. I was given an IV of medication to reduce the risk of having a seizure due to my preeclampsia. I was relieved when my friend Emily came through my door; I had thought I would be alone. She Skyped with my husband, held my hand, and was the first to see Charlie and take pictures for me.
Charlie, unlike Carter, was not able to come home with me. His lungs were not developed enough to breathe on his without help, he had fluid in his lungs, and he was jaundiced.
Thank goodness for my Military Mama Tribe.
My husband was deployed for several more months. I had yet to firm up arrangements for the boys while I would be in the hospital. They all pitched in and took shifts while I was in the hospital. Emily, a teacher, got the phone call from my friend watching the boys and ditched her students in the hallway with her principal and sped from the next town over to be with me!
Several of my Military Tribe (before they were moms) also watched the boys so I was able to visit Charlie the two weeks he was in the NICU. If you’ve yet to find your tribe, I HIGHLY encourage you to do so. These women are the ones you can count on through the good and the bad. My tribe has scattered and changed through the years, but I still love each of them dearly.
For all the parents of premature babies, I know how scary it is to not bring your baby home when you leave the hospital. I understand how terrifying it is to wonder if they will get to come home at all.
I’m still in touch with some of the NICU nurses that took care of Cameron; some of them even took care of Charlie! A couple of other NICU moms and I, from Cameron’s time there, keep tabs on each other periodically. It’s surreal that some of your most life-changing moments can literally fit into the palm of your hand. The world with a premature baby is a completely different experience than the full-term baby I first expected when I decided to become a mom.
It’s not lost on me that Charlie does things in a memorable way. He was due on Christmas Day. He started preschool on World Autism Awareness Day. And that six weeks early that he came… well that one made his birthday World Prematurity Day.