Our Oliver John arrived unexpectedly at 28 weeks due to a condition I had developed during pregnancy called HELLP Syndrome. After a fairly textbook pregnancy where I had felt great I began having pain in my right shoulder around my 26th week of pregnancy. It felt like extreme heartburn in my shoulder and would come and go. The episodes worsened over a ten day period when I affirmatively told my doctor that I just knew that something wasn’t right. My blood work looked normal at that point, so there was no medical reason to admit me other the shoulder episodes that were continuing to intensify. I was admitted for monitoring where things continued to look normal and they were preparing to discharge me until I had a severe episode where the pain became unbearable.
HELLP Sydrome can be very tricky to diagnose and can turn critical very quickly. I was very lucky to be in the hospital when this happened. My platelets plummeted and my liver enzymes skyrocketed along with rising blood pressure. The baby was doing fine, but I clearly was not. My liver was failing and the decision was made amongst my doctors that I would need to deliver as soon as possible.
Because I needed both blood and platelet transfusions, my baby boy was born via emergency c-section with general anesthesia. Our Ollie was born weight 2 lbs. 1/2 oz. and immediately whisked off to the NICU. I was then put on magnesium to prevent seizures that can be associated with HELLP Syndrome which prevented me from seeing my baby until I was more stable.
Days after being born I was finally able to meet my baby and hold him for the first time. I felt as though I had been blindsided. I was healthy and didn’t have any of the typical symptoms for preeclampsia. I went from thinking I needed heartburn medication to delivering a baby in the blink of an eye. I had never known anyone personally who’d had a baby in the NICU and was completely terrified for my baby. I soon learned why people describe the NICU as a rollercoaster where you experience highs and lows, good days and bad days.
I felt as though my body had failed my baby and couldn’t help but feel that he was suffering because my body wasn’t capable of doing something that it’s supposed to do. Intellectually I understand that this is absolutely false, but emotionally I felt differently. The NICU was a really challenging place to be, but also a really sacred place to be. I could have done without the constant alarms, viewing my baby in a plastic box, and constantly being worried about infections and setbacks, but what the NICU did give me was an opportunity focus solely on my baby. When I was lucky enough to get to hold him I had hardly any distractions. There was no television, phone, or computer. It was me, my baby and a whole lot of love. On good days I’d get to hold him for hours, feeling my love for him grow and slowly bonding with a baby that I had to leave every night.
Ollie slowly but surely made progress and looking back had a fairly uneventful NICU stay. We learned that making it to 28 weeks drastically reduces risks of some very serious complications. His organs were developed well enough that he learned to feed and grow without any major setbacks. We were very lucky and it was devastating to watch other babies in our NICU struggle with more serious conditions.
Eventually I was given the opportunity to try and breastfeed Ollie in the NICU which he took to very well. We worked our way up to exclusively breastfeeding and it was an incredible experience. Nothing about the birth of my baby had gone like I had envisioned it, but this was the one thing that seemed to be working and it was such a gift. Breastfeeding allowed me to bond with Ollie in a way that I hadn’t felt connected to him yet. As all NICU moms do, I developed so much love and gratitude for the NICU nurses and neonatologists that took such good care of our boy. They’re just as much therapists as they are care givers and really helped me make it through those tough days.
We saw many families come and go during our time in the NICU, and I’m convinced that a short stay can be just as challenging as a longer stay. It’s heart wrenching to have to leave your baby each day and deal emotional ups and downs when you’re postpartum. Ollie came home after 66 long days in the NICU weighing a whopping 4 lbs. 10 oz. He was so tiny, but felt like a giant to us! It was one of the happiest days of our lives and we’ll never forget just how good it felt to walk out of that NICU with our baby in our arms.
Watch the day Ollie came home here!