Prematurity Awareness Month

Who knew? Well, Aimee did! She keeps up on this stuff like I can't believe.

Her little boy was a premie, as was my first child. I was very young, 18, when I got pregnant with my eldest daughter. I was good, never drank or smoked or took any kinds of drugs – even the good kind. Early in my fifth month of pregnancy I got pleurosy. Let me tell you, I've been through some painful things before but never where I felt it was life threatening. With pleurosy, it hurt so much with stabbing pain to breath that I didn't even want to – and we all know how sucessful not breathing can be! After a couple of days of hot compresses it got to a managable point and finally went away. Hurdle one was jumped.

In December the ex-husband and I had just moved into a new apartment. The phone company were being stinkers and couldn't come out for a couple of weeks to install a phone line (even though the ex tried to tell them I was very pregnant) and I was sick. Finally it was diagnosed as a kidney infection. Although I wasn't wanting to take medicines, the doctor finally persuaded me I needed to in this case. Another painful ailment, it made it impossible to get comfortable. I wouldn't want anything to touch me, touch the bed where I was, or invade my space. At all. This went on for a couple of weeks, never seeming to improve.

Finally, late one afternoon I was in the bathroom… how do I put this nicely?… trying to go to the toilet. If you've ever had a kidney or bladder infection you know the routine. You constantly feel as if you have to pee, but then can't. It isn't a pleasant feeling. So, I was home alone, sitting there, sick and tired of being sick and tired. Almost exactly at the same time the ex walked in from work, my water broke.

Seeing as we had no phone, luckily our apartment complex was next door to a convenience store. The ex ran over and called the doctor, who proceeded to ask if contractions had started. No, they hadn't. We were told not to get too excited then, but just come on down to the office and he'd take a look. By the time the ex came back to the apartment to give me the news, I not only had started contractions, but had started bleeding like a bad horror flick. The ex rushes back to the store, phones the doctor again, and is told not to waste time but to get me to the hospital.

I don't remember much of the trip except for the fact that it was at least a 15 minute drive to downtown and I'm just sure we made it in about 5, and I was blind the whole time because I didn't have my glasses. To this day I don't understand that. I always put on my glasses. Even in the darkest hour of the night, I'll put on my glasses anytime I get up. Yet? Here I was, evidently sitting on the toilet and then rushing to the hospital without them!

When we got to the hospital it was one of those scenes you find on TV. The nurse took one look at me, wheeled me into an exam room, whipped off my pants, and proceeded to start yelling. It was amazing I didn't give birth in the car, as fast as my daughter was coming! I think she was born within about 3 minutes of them wheeling me into the delivery room.

They whipped her away from me, finished up all the gory details with my body, then took me to a regular room. Because the best NICU in town was at another hospital, they were going to take my daughter there immediately. I remember they wheeled her into my room in the incubator so I could see her, but because I couldn't take her out of it and I didn't have my glasses, I really didn't 'see' her for days… and what a horrible few days it was.

After giving birth, all the pain went away. I mean, instantly. After my ex mother-in-law did a little research, she found out one of the side effects of the medication the doctor had given me for the kidney infection was possibly causing labor! Yikes! After having given birth a couple more times, in thinking back I'm not wondering if I hadn't gone from kidney infection directly into labor – probably back labor – that was causing the latter pain, and that was why it dissapeared after the birth. I'm sure if it was pain from the infection it wouldn't go away that quickly. Because I'd been so sick, though, and had lost so much blood, they made me stay in the hospital my then-required three days. Three hell ridden days while I was in one hospital and my child was in another – and it was not known if she was going to live.

She only weighed 3lb 6oz. At the time, she was one of the smallest the hospital had seen. (Just a few weeks later they would have their first one-pound-something.) I could talk to the NICU nurses, who were terrific and encouraging… then I would talk to the ex and my parents (who were allowed in to not only see my daughter but hold her!). They were all gloom and doom and "prepare yourself for the worst". So I spent my days tossing and turning, worrying myself silly not knowing whether she would live or die – or even what she looked like for sure.

Finally, my time was up and I was released and allowed to go see her. She was the tiniest thing I'd ever seen. She had lots of light brown hair with silver frosting… the nurses said they'd never seen anything like it. It just looked like it was frosted! She had fur on her body, too, which was strange… but I found out not abnormal for premies. Of course it went away. When the ex made a fist, it was the size of her head. I mean, she was tiny. At first I was very timid with her, but then you watch how the nurses handle them and you realize they aren't going to break and they are sturdier than they look. I spent hours at the NICU, just holding her and watching her. She was overall incredibly healthy for her size. She had a little bit of jaundice and had to be kept under the special lights, but other than that it was just a matter of letting her lungs finish developing and growing… growing to five pounds. That was the goal. She could go home when she reached five pounds.

She was born two months early, and it took almost all of that two months to get to five pounds. You wouldn't think it would take so long, when as adults we can just look at a pan of fudge and gain 10! Part of it is when they are so small they just want to sleep. They aren't used to getting their nutrition in a way they have to work for it, so they will sleep… until they die. They have to be kept awake in rude fashion (rubbing their heads, snapping the bottom of their feet) until they take at least an ounce. Every two hours. I'll just head something off at the pass here, too. I did not breast feed. I couldn't have even if I'd wanted to.

Finally, she was 'big' enough to go home. The feeding schedule continued and I lived on no sleep. Each feeding took at least an hour, then it would be sleep for an hour or two until the next feeding. 24 hours a day. As healthy as she'd been in the hospital, it wasn't long after she was home she developed an ear infection and because of it she lost a pound. Back in the hospital she went. This time not in the NICU, but in the general childrens' area. She was back in for a week.

I think back on it and know it was a crazy time. The times had not caught up with premies yet and there were no premie diapers or clothing… so newborn disposable diapers had to be folded to work, an aunt of mine gave me some doll clothes for her, and she lived most of her time in the shapeless sleeping 'bags'… just so she could be warm and would kind of fit into something. My heart goes out to the parents of premies who have medical problems… and sometimes have learning problems later on. We were so very lucky. Our little girl had it a bit touch and go at the beginning, but all turned out well.

I forever thank the wonderful nurses and doctors who work so tirelessly for these children. Without them, my sweet daughter probably wouldn't be here. What a blessing she is. Just think, the next time you look at 5 lb of hamberger in your supermarket. That was the weight my daughter had to get to! It puts things in perspective quickly.

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Middle-aged. Anti-social. Mom. Grandma. Town-raised farmer's wife. Iowan. Want more? Come read the blogs.

11 thoughts on “Prematurity Awareness Month”

  1. I used to work in an NICU before my son was born – he’ll be 24 in January so it’s been a long time. I think the smallest baby we had in the 2 years I was there was around 650 grams (can’t remember what that translates to in ounces) – sadly I don’t believe that little one survived. Many babies were in the 800-900 gram range I could lift with one hand… their head would be supported by my fingers and their bottom would be at the base of my palm.

    I know things have improved dramatically since then with better things available all the time. That’s actually the job I liked best as a nurse.

  2. My oldest has had 5 premies–three of which have been in the NICU, one of which was stillborn–and I agree the medical personnel are amazing. Thankfully, all of the grandkids don’t seem to have any health problems. Glad to hear your daughter had things work out well for her, too.

  3. Beautiful story, thank you for sharing it…and thank you for your comments on my blog..I REALLY appreciate it! Unfortunately I probably won’t get to keep him..its a long story but time well tell how it will develope. For now I just love him 100 different ways…..

  4. my friend gave birth to a 2 pound preemie a few years ago. and she says that neo-natal nurses are some of the kindest people she’s ever met.

    thanks for sharing this story, sue. you are an amazingly strong woman. i admire you alot. 🙂

  5. What a story, thank you for sharing it. Your kidney infection also likely played a role in your labor; infections can cause pre-term labor. I cannot even imagine what you went through in those days. And how far we have come with preemies in the years since! It is truly amazing.

  6. It took a great deal of personal courage for you to have shared this story. Although I will never experience the joy/pain of birth I have been there when it happened. Fortunately both of my kids were born healthy at the normmal time. But mmy stepdaughter had a stillborn .

    Mrs A. and I stood in the hallway afterwards and cried and asked why?

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  7. My daughter was born a month early at five pounds, five ounces. Her weight went down to four-eight and I brought her home when she was four-eleven. Those were scary times and, like you, it all worked out just fine.

    Your story brought back memories for me.

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