Alex and Jenn spent 67 days in the NICU after their daughter was born at 27 weeks and ultimately became a part of our NICU Ambassador team! We had a chance to interview these amazing preemie parents to kick off our Prematurity Awareness Month observances. Here is their story as told in their own words:
*How did your NICU journey begin? Was your daughter’s early birth unexpected?
Our NICU journey began on June 10, 2013. Our oldest daughter was born at 30 weeks, so we were a high-risk pregnancy going into it. We did EVERYTHING that we were supposed to do to try to go full term with this pregnancy. We were seeing specialists, taking shots at home, eating healthy, and taking it easy. We had so many doctor visits, and so many pictures of our baby before she was even born. At 27 weeks, we took a test that if it comes back positive, you will have a baby in the following two weeks, if it comes back negative you should not have a baby in the next two weeks. We took our test on Thursday and the test came back negative.
On the following Monday, around 9 a.m., Jenn’s water broke while she we were both at work. She was 27 weeks pregnant. I was working about 45 minutes away when she called me in hysterics, telling me what had happen. She was taken in an ambulance to our local hospital. I made it there in about 15 minutes! We were both scared, confused, upset, and in disbelief on what was happening. The doctors were trying to slow things down, and keep us from delivery the baby at that time, but she was breached, and was getting stressed, so we were told that we must have an emergency C-section! We were at 27 weeks! Jenn’s water broke around 9 a.m., and Emerson was born around 12 a.m. and she weighed 2lbs 5oz.
The hospital we were in was new and the NICU was not prepared for a baby that small, within about an hour she was transported about 30 minutes away, to Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin, TX. We did not get to hold our baby. Jenn did not get to see Emerson, other than the transport isolette being wheeled by us as they took our baby away to the other hospital. This began our 67-day NICU journey.
*What were the biggest challenges your family faced in the NICU?
The biggest challenges we faced in the NICU were first getting our family together. Emerson was in one hospital, Jenn was healing from her C-section in another hospital, and all of this happened on the first day of summer break for our oldest daughter, who was 9 years old at the time. She was dropped off at her grandparents’ house that morning while Jenn and I went to work, and that was going to turn into a long-extended stay for her! As a father, I was torn. Who do you take care of or go see first? Who needs you the most? Jenn finally was able to leave the hospital after a couple of days, but could not walk.
We were able to stay in the NICU for the first week, which was a huge blessing. Jenn was able to heal, and we were able to be with our baby. We were fortunate that Emerson never had any major complications health wise. We had to deal with all of the other things that NICU families deal with…maternity leave- when and how to take it, the stress of NICU life, taking care of your family and the siblings, and just all the hoping and praying that your baby will be ok and you will be able to take them home soon.
*What gave you hope?
What gave us hope was our baby. She was such a fighter! Seeing her hitting those daily goals and milestones, we knew that we were getting closer and closer to going home, and that she was going to be ok. We also had hope through a very supporting cast of friends and family.
*What kinds of support helped you cope the most during your time in the NICU? How about afterwards?
There were several kinds of support that helped us get through our time in the NICU. Of course, there were our friends and family. They helped by always checking to see what we needed, helping us take care of Mia, our oldest. Some of the biggest support we got was from the NICU staff. Our NICU staff became a second family for us. From the doctors and nurses to the consultants and counselors. They basically held our hands through our entire NICU journey. We also got huge support from organizations like The Ronald McDonald House Charities and The March of Dimes. Afterwards we had support from some local organizations that help monitor our babies progress and others that helped with various therapies that we needed.
*What advice would you give to new parents of preemies who are just beginning their journeys?
The advice that we would give new parents of preemies who are just beginning their journeys are to rest, trust, learn, and accept. Get as much rest as possible! You are going to need it when your baby finally does come home. Your baby is in the best place for them right now, so now is the time for you to rest, heal, and prepare for your baby to come home. Trust that your baby is in good hands. The NICU staff is incredible! NICU nurses have witnessed so many things. You still want to be an advocate for your baby, especially if you think something is not right, but trusting that the NICU staff wants you to take a healthy baby home at the RIGHT time is very important.
Learn as much as you can. Use all the resources your NICU offers you, like lactation consultants. Get advice and learn things that you might deal with once you get your preemie home and there are not nurses there to help. Accept what is happening right now. There is no need for blame or guilt as to why your baby was born early. Accept diagnoses or evaluations that may be given to your preemie. Some of these things are normal for preemies and some can be improved through time or therapies. Some cannot.
*How has your preemie inspired you? And how has your family changed since having a preemie?
Our preemie has inspired us and changed our lives forever! She was a fighter since day one. She made a reputation for herself in the NICU. She was one of the smallest, but she was the loudest, and fought the hardest. She astonished her doctors with how well she did and how fast she did it. She graduated from the NICU before our due date! It inspires us to put things in perspective. When we are sweating the small stuff in life, all you have to do it take yourself back to that time of our preemie in the NICU, and you see how small things do not matter.
Since having our preemie we have had a calling of giving back. We have been drawn to helping other families that have or are going through what we did with our preemie. We still visit our NICU and bring donations and gifts to NICU families and the NICU staff. We share our story as an Ambassador Family for organizations like The Ronald McDonald House Charities and The March of Dimes, as well as part of the Graham’s Foundation NICU Ambassador program.