One of our newest parent volunteers is Michelle Stevens, a mother of a preemie who was born three months early, weighing one-pound, eight ounces. Michelle is a former congressional staffer and lobbyist. She recently replaced her power suits with t-shirts and yoga pants. Conference calls and meetings on Capitol Hill have been replaced with diaper changes and pediatrician appointments. Michelle says that everything is different, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Below is her story:
In August 2012, I took a pregnancy test, followed by another, and yet another. I took a fourth test and even scheduled an appointment with my ob-gyn to be sure of the results. I couldn’t believe it. All of the tests were positive. I was pregnant!
I couldn’t believe it. I had a bun in the oven. Yet, I was over the hill, according to the medical community. At the ripe old age of 36, I was considered to be of “advanced maternal age.” Some in the medical field called it a “geriatric pregnancy.” Sure — I color my hair to hide the grays and am always game for an early bird special, but I don’t think anyone would describe me as elderly.
I’m not sure how or if my age or my husband’s age may have may played a role in my challenging experience, but my pregnancy wasn’t a merry-go-round. It was a roller coaster ride, complete with twists, turns, and many ups and downs. There were countless challenges and frightening moments. I experienced substantial bleeding early in my pregnancy and was told that I would miscarry. Multiple alpha-fetoprotein test results were abnormal. I ended up requiring special care from a perinatologist and was diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction (more commonly referred to as “IUGR”) and small gestational age.
For months, I had ultrasounds and blood work conducted every two weeks. The baby — a teeny tiny little girl — clearly wasn’t growing like she should. One doctor, who I now refer to as “Dr. Gloom and Doom,” sighed heavily when looking at my ultrasounds. He compared my pregnancy to men attempting to survive an Antarctic winter without food. I still remember him saying, “some live, some die.” Another doctor suggested that I speak to a neonatologist about the challenges my daughter would face — and indicated that I was approaching the gestational age limit for obtaining an abortion — which wasn’t of interest to me or something that I was willing to contemplate.
At that point, I switched doctors. I wanted to find a physician who could see the positive side of things — and I wanted to do so without breaking the bank. Initially, I had been going out-of-network for ob-gyn and perinatologist services, with higher out-of-pocket requirements. When I realized that our baby would likely enter the world early, I made the switch to an in-network ob-gyn, perinatologist, and hospital — complete with a level three Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
The presents had barely been opened. On December 26, 2012, I was 25 weeks pregnant and had back-to-back doctor’s appointments. The first appointment was with the ob-gyn and the second was with the perinatologist, who conveniently had office space inside of my designated hospital. The ob-gyn warned me that I would likely be hospitalized at some point in the future, but I never expected to be an inpatient the day after Christmas.
My husband, Craig, and I drove the hour-long trek to the perintologist’s office. After a long and detailed ultrasound, I was unexpectedly admitted to the hospital for reverse end-diastolic flow. My baby was feeding the placenta instead of the placenta feeding the baby. In other words, a hungry customer was feeding the local McDonald’s instead of the local McDonald’s feeding the hungry customer.
A nurse tucked me into a wheelchair and whisked me away to the Labor and Delivery Department. That’s where I filled out paperwork that I honestly didn’t read. I didn’t have a to-go bag packed as we never expected hospital admission so early in my pregnancy. My street clothes were exchanged for an unflattering hospital gown that completely exposed my heiney.
The doctors and nurses put me on continuous electronic fetal monitoring. Wide, stretchy bands were placed around my stomach. One band monitored my daughter’s heartbeat, which was somewhat comforting since I couldn’t feel her inside of me. Another band monitored my contractions — which were completely non-existent — given that I was only 25 weeks pregnant.
The nurses conducted Doppler readings every few hours and gave me two rounds of steroid shots — 12 hours apart — to help my daughter’s lung development. The approach was to wait and see. If my daughter showed any signs of fetal distress, the doctors would conduct an emergency c-section.
I ended up becoming a long-term hospital patient. Although it was agonizing, hospital bed rest helped me and my daughter. Instead of reversal of flow, the doctors saw intermittent flow. My situation still sucked, but it was an improvement.
I was confined my hospital bed and was only allowed a shower every other day for five minutes. I got a rash all over my face and torso from the hospital towels. My body was sore and puffy, so the nurses gave me knee-high inflatable compression socks to help with swelling.
Every day my daughter stayed inside of me was a good thing. I celebrated New Year’s Eve in the hospital and made friends with the nurses and the restaurant staff — most importantly, the smoothie delivery ladies. After two weeks, I actually thought about changing my mailing address to the hospital.
During my hospital stay, I had a few scares. One morning, I was surrounded by a team of doctors and nurses. My daughter’s heart beat had reduced. The doctor suspected that my baby was laying on top of the umbilical cord. I was promptly put on oxygen and my body was maneuvered into different positions in an attempt to get a better heart rate reading. Another day, I was leaking fluid.
At 28 weeks, reverse end-diastolic flow was found once more. I was promptly given another round of steriod shots; put on magnesium sulfate to help reduce the risk of cerebral palsy; placed on oxygen; and given the dreaded catheter. The doctors performed a c-section the very next day — and I gave birth to a beautiful, inspirational, and heroic one pound, eight ounce baby girl, Emily. She is my preemie blessing.
Emily’s strength allowed her to survive a hostile intrauterine environment. She also endured a 67-day stay in the NICU. In the end, the roller coaster ride was an amazing experience — and the journey has only just begun.
Emily turned one (nine months adjusted) in January of this year. She’s crawling and pulling herself up to stand. She even babbles a bit — and my heart melts when she cries out, “Mama.” Her energy and determination amazes me. I am proud of her each and every day — and feel blessed to be her mom.
We are so excited to welcome Michelle to our team of Parent Resource volunteers and wanted to say ‘stay tuned’ because later this week we’ll be featuring some of Michelle’s expert tips for advocating for your preemie!