Seventy days ago, I was a typical pregnant woman. Dreaming of bringing my sweet, full term, healthy baby boy into the world in late November 2018.
I was soaking in every movement, knowing that in three months or so those moments would be the ones I missed the most after giving birth. Wondering who Eli would look like, wondering all about the emotions I would feel the first time the nurse laid him on my chest, and our eyes met.
Little did I know, that would be the last full day of my pregnancy. I had no clue only twenty-four hours later would be the scariest moments of my life.
I vividly remember the day I found out I was pregnant. I was a 23-year-old girl seven months out from getting married— and firmly feeling that I didn’t want kids for three, or more, years.
But God had other plans for me. My pregnancy was pretty standard. Doctors’ appointments once a month, ultrasounds, nothing out of the ordinary. No signs at all pointing to what was to come only seven months later.
I remember everyone telling me to soak it up because it goes by so fast even though the last few months seem to last an eternity. They told me how much I would miss it all. I just wish I would have known it would end even sooner than anyone thought.
I woke up the morning of August 31st dreading my doctor’s appointment. The glucose test had crept up quickly.
I went into the office like normal. I had my short check in with the nurse practitioner and waited an hour, had my blood drawn, and left not knowing this would be my last appointment.
I went to lunch and did a little shopping with a family friend, then returned home to clean my house a little before the weekend started. I had been having some very mild pain since I left the doctor but chalked it up to Braxton Hicks. I continued to hurt for the rest of the day until midnight when I decided I needed to go to the emergency room. The pain was excruciating.
We arrived at the hospital, where I was immediately taken up to Labor and Delivery to be monitored and evaluated. The nurse hooked me up to the monitor and began to ask me a slew of questions.
After about thirty minutes, a nurse came in to make sure I wasn’t dilating. She did the exam and then came up to my bedside, gently took my hand and uttered words that will be burned into my head forever:
“I don’t know how to tell you this sweetheart but you’re in labor.”
I will never forget the emotions rushing through my entire body at that moment. Fear, uncertainty, and confusion. Mostly fear.
I was only 28 weeks and two days pregnant. I couldn’t possibly be in labor. It was too soon.
Within seconds, five to six nurses were crowding around me. I was crying so hard and was so full of adrenaline I was convulsing. All I could think about was the safety of my baby. This little poppy seed who had become my whole world over the last several months.
They quickly tried to get one of the monitors in the right position to monitor Eli’s heartbeat, but they couldn’t find it.
For the first time in a long time, I cried out to God. I cried out for him to protect my baby. I begged for him to live. And after what seemed like an eternity, they found it.
Around that time, the doctor came in. He was still half asleep and groggy, but he performed a short exam and told me that my baby was breech and I had to have an emergency c section. The nurses began to prep me, and before I knew it, I was being rushed down the hallway with my husband running beside my bed. I was taken into the operating room to do more preparations and receive my spinal tap.
I will always remember the reassurance I received from the nurses. I know looking back I couldn’t have made it through this ordeal without them.
Amazingly, at 3:34 am on September 1st, my two-pound, 15-ounce perfect baby boy took his first breath— on his own. However, he tired quickly. A NICU team was standing by to take him to a different hospital that specialized in neonatal care. He was tiny and bruised.
I begged God to let me hear him cry one time, and God, in his mercy, granted me the desires of my heart. That’s the moment I knew that everything would be okay.
The reality that I was no longer pregnant really set in around 9:00 the morning Eli was born. Everything was finally settling down, but I couldn’t sleep. I cried more than I’ve ever cried, and I finally understood all the NICU blog posts shared on Facebook about mourning the end of your pregnancy.
Eli was alive, okay, and not with me anymore. He was at another hospital being treated. My hospital released me after just a day, so I could go be with him.
I’ll never forget seeing that tiny baby for the first time in person. He was so perfect, and I immediately felt love like I’ve never felt before. It was a cherished moment, and it was also the beginning of our long NICU journey.
I could go on for days about all the amazing experiences we’ve had since then. The first time I got to actually do skin to skin. The first time I got to see my husband hold him. The first time he smiled at us, and when he was taken off CPAP and moved to a progressive cubby where we could dress him in normal clothes and use his own blankets.
We’ve had to watch him have hard days; those were also hard days for us. The first time he experienced an ABD, which is where his heart rate and oxygen rate drop rapidly. DSATs where his oxygen levels dropped when he had to have an IV in his forehead to have a blood transfusion.
I have cried more tears and prayed more prayers in the walls of the NICU than any church I’ve ever been in. The nurses have cared for me just as much as they’ve cared for Eli. They are so invested in him, and I truly feel like they have love for him. They have watched him progress just like me and have celebrated with us at every little milestone.
The nurses have impacted my life more than they’ll ever know. And I’m thankful there is a place like the NICU that can make life possible for our sweet miracle who was ready to come so early.
Hands down the best thing I’ve gained from this experience, besides my beautiful boy, is my growing faith.
Like I said earlier, I have never prayed harder in my life than I have the past 50 days. God has answered our prayers every single time. Maybe not in the way we wanted or in the way we saw fit, but the best thing about God is that his plans are greater, bigger, and better than our wildest dreams.
If I’m being totally honest, I thought I was going to lose Eli. I thought there was no way on earth he could survive being born so early. And in that moment of complete terror, I cried out to God. Figuratively and literally, I begged for my baby. The baby I have loved since the moment I saw the two lines on the pregnancy test.
I prayed just to hear him cry one time; that would be my sign that even though the road may be long and tiring, everything would be okay. So when I heard Eli’s soft little cry, I knew God was there with us. I knew he was watching over all three of us that night. And I knew from that day on, I could never doubt my faith.
The name above all other names is rallying for my baby. It’s unfortunate that it took something like this to strengthen my faith and, even though the road is still long and hard, I’m thankful for all of it.
Our journey through the NICU isn’t over quite yet. As I’m concluding this, it’s our seventieth day. I vividly remember one of our earlier nurses telling me this whole thing would be a rollercoaster. That’s the best comparison I can come up with. You’re at the highest peak and then in a second, you’re in the lowest valley.
The one thing I want other NICU parents to know is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. This is so tough, there’s no denying it. This is something none of us deserve, and it is no one’s fault.
But one day, we will all look back on this journey and count it as a blessing because I’m beginning to realize that this has made every single moment with Eli a million times sweeter. Every milestone means that much more. We’re better parents and better spouses because of this experience.
See, we are parents to extraordinary children. Children who are stronger than anyone will ever realize. Children who are miracles.
Welcome to the club.
For more on this topic, check out IJR’s original investigative piece, “Born Too Soon: Doctors, Parents Grapple with Life or Death Decisions in the NICU.”