When I met my current OB/GYN, he inquired as to whether I was interested in having children. When I told him I had already been informed that I could never conceive, he promised to help me any way that he could. After several rounds of medication to stimulate my inactive ovaries, and months of hope followed by devastation, it was becoming obvious that the only thing responding to this medication was my hormones. I was starting to accept the fact that maybe my body just refused to participate in something as difficult as childbearing. My husband—the sweet, supportive man that he was during this trying time—encouraged me to take the medication for just one more month. Reluctantly I did so, and tried to forget about the mission we were on.
When it came time for my period and it didn’t start, I wasn’t surprised. I told myself it was probably due to a UTI or possibly a yeast infection; I did feel a little different “down there,” after all. Even though I dreaded peeing on that little stick, I knew my curiosity wouldn’t be satisfied until I knew the result. After a quick trip to the drug store, I was back in the bathroom, wanting to see the little blue line that I knew I would never see. Five minutes later, I forced myself to go back to check the results. Surely I was seeing things! Were there really two lines? After I regained my ability to speak, I yelled for Matt and told him the news. After crying and holding on to each other, we began to excitedly discuss how perfect our little one would be. Life from this point forward would be nothing short of perfect. Little did we know, our problems had only begun.
Two weeks later, I awoke to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and discovered I had started bleeding. To me, this meant one thing and one thing only. Our little one would never get to meet the parents who had wanted him so badly. I barely remember calling my mom as my husband rushed me to the ER. After what seemed like an eternity, the doctor came in to check on me and, to my surprise, announced that my cervix was still closed. I breathed a slight sigh of relief, but I still had to have an ultrasound. I knew that would determine if my little one was really still OK. When we saw the little flicker of the baby’s heartbeat on the ultrasound, I was so relieved. I found out that I was one in a small percentage of women who have what’s called a subchorionic hematoma. Lucky me! At only six weeks pregnant, the joy of this experience had been replaced with complete and total fear. I bled almost every day of my first trimester. It came to the point that I dreaded even going to the bathroom.
Shortly after I started into the second trimester of pregnancy, the bleeding finally stopped. My doctor confirmed that the hematoma had dissolved. It was around this time my doctor noticed that a cyst on my ovary had begun growing bigger throughout my pregnancy and was now measuring in at eight centimeters. As he explained that this could be dangerous for not only me, but the baby, I kind of zoned out. What did this mean for my baby? He continued into a lengthy discussion about how surgery between 14 and 16 weeks of pregnancy may be necessary. I was absolutely terrified. How could I have a surgery that would pose such a threat to my baby? I begged him to hold off. The ovary wasn’t bothering me, and I promised to take it easy to avoid the possibility of it rupturing or twisting. I think he just felt sorry for me more than anything, so he agreed to wait. Over the next few months, as the baby grew, so did my cyst. By the time I entered my 24th week of pregnancy, the cyst had grown to 15 centimeters. My doctor decided we may need to deliver at 37 weeks because the baby was getting quite crowded. So with my new due date still quite a bit away, I again began to relax.
But one month later, I found myself being admitted to labor and delivery for severe pain in my left side. The on-call doctor was ready to prep me for surgery. The nurses began giving me information about premature birth because surgery at this point could cause great stress on the baby. They assured me that they would monitor us both the entire time, but I could see it in their faces—they were just as concerned about the surgery as I was. I prayed so hard that the pain would go away, and it wasn’t long before my prayers were answered. The pain subsided and my ultrasound showed no sign of my ovary twisting or rupturing, but the cyst had now grown to 20 centimeters. The doctor felt sure that this thing was going to crowd out my little man. I was instructed to take it easy and try to keep the baby in as long as possible, hopefully at least 34 weeks.
The next day, I was given a dose of steroids to mature his lungs and was then sent home with another dose of steroids to be taken the following day when I followed up with my regular OB. Things went well over the next couple of weeks. I had no more pain and I was enjoying taking it easy and being babied by my family. When I woke up on March 1, I had no idea what was to come. I headed in to a busy day at work. My back started bothering me, but I had been on my feet most of the day, so I thought nothing of it. I was in an exam room, giving an injection when I felt a sudden gush of fluid come out of me. I rushed to the bathroom praying that it was just from my full bladder, but I soon realized it was definitely not urine. I was sure my water had broken.
I called the OB’s office and they told me it was nothing to be concerned about and that it was probably just hormonal. At my mom’s urging, I finally decided to go to the hospital. When we arrived, the resident performed a test that could tell if I was leaking amniotic fluid and called for an ultrasound. An hour or so later, he returned to tell me that the test was negative; my ultrasound looked good and I was ok to go home. I questioned him because I was still having gushes of fluid every time I rolled over or stood up. He assured me again that it was fine, it was only hormonal, and I could go home.
When I awoke the next day, it was time to get ready for my 30-week check up with my OB. I informed him of the past day’s events and explained that I was still dripping fluid and even gushing at times. When he checked me, I saw his forehead crease with worry. He told me that he was almost certain my water was broken, but he would go ahead and perform the test to be sure. Minutes later, he returned to tell me what I already knew; my water was broken and I would need to be hospitalized immediately. I was furious at the doctor who had so carelessly sent me home the night before. After I was hospitalized, so many residents, med students and doctors came and went that I couldn’t tell you many of their names. My nurses were my guardian angels. They helped me through 19 painful bags of IV antibiotics, uncomfortable sleepless nights spent on the fetal monitor, and a roller coaster of emotions. My sweet mother never left my side unless I made her get out for a few hours. But the doctors and NICU staff were so discouraging. I was told over and over that the baby must stay in as long as possible because all odds were against us. Not only was I having a “wimpy white boy,” but I was a gestational diabetic and my water was broken. “Three strikes,” they told me. I must have heard a million times that if he came early, his lungs would not be fully developed, he would be on a ventilator as soon as he was born, I wouldn’t be able to hold him, don’t be surprised if he’s not breathing … the list goes on and on. The neonatal respiratory doctor even went so far as to tell me that even if we did make it to 34 weeks, as my doctors had planned, that our odds were still grim.
I was a nervous wreck. How could all of this have happened? What did I do to cause this? I couldn’t remember doing anything out of the ordinary, but it still felt like it was my fault that we were both in such great danger. The day of March 13th started no differently than any other in my hospital prison. I had been on the monitor for 14 hours the night before because my little man just wouldn’t cooperate. He was overly excited and had several decelerations in his heart rate that had us all on edge. I was so relieved when I was finally granted a break from the monitor and allowed to get in the shower. I went to the bathroom and that’s when I realized I was bleeding. The nurse checked my pads and told me to keep an eye on it. As the day went on, I got more and more uncomfortable and the bleeding steadily increased. Finally, around 6pm, the on-call doctor came in to check on me. She explained that she couldn’t check for dilation with her fingers because that would put me at a greater risk for infection. Instead, she would have to check me by sight with the speculum. She told me I wasn’t dilated, but perhaps we should start an IV and antibiotics just in case I should happen to go into labor.
After the doctor checked on me, everything else was kind of a blur. It wasn’t long before I started having distinct cramping in my lower back. At first, it was just enough to take my breath for a second. But as the night went on, the pains became sharp, gripping my left hip and lower back. They started getting closer and closer together. I kept watching the monitor, but no contractions were showing. I couldn’t figure out what was going wrong. The nurse kept offering pain medications but I wouldn’t take them. She finally convinced me to take some Tylenol, which I threw up when the next pains hit. At midnight, the resident on call came in to assure me that I was not in labor. He said I was having no contractions and that checking me again was more risk than it was worth. When one of these pains hit during his little spiel, he was a little more concerned than he had been before. Reluctantly, he proceeded to check me. After he checked me—not once, but twice—he declared that my baby had a beautiful black head of hair. I immediately assumed the baby was coming and thought I needed to call my family who was two hours away. “You’re not in labor,” the resident told me again. I was only dilated to two centimeters and, according to him, I would not have the baby that night.Apparently, women with premature rupture of membranes go through episodes like these without having full blown labor. I agreed to take some Stadol by IV and began to get a little relief through my quickening pains.
About an hour later, I realized my bladder felt like it was ready to burst. After waddling to the bathroom, I discovered I couldn’t pee. Perhaps a side effect of the medication, or irritation from the pains I was having? The nurse wasn’t concerned, so back to bed I went. Soon thereafter, the pain came back. I realized that not only were these pains worse than before, they were coming every two to three minutes apart, sometimes less. All I knew was that if I wasn’t in labor, something was terribly wrong. It wasn’t long before a nurse came running in to check the monitor because the baby was having several decelerations. While she worked on trying to locate the baby’s heartbeat, I realized I had the sudden urge to have a bowel movement. She ordered me to stay in bed and then ran out of the room. Seconds later, she returned with the doctor who had checked me earlier. She ordered me to roll on my side, and then onto my hands and knees because the baby’s heart rate had dropped even more. He must have been pinching his cord.
After what seemed like an eternity, his heart rate came back up and she got me into position to check me once again. I felt her barely insert the speculum before she tossed it onto the bed, then I felt the pressure of her hands and heard her tell my nurse, “she’s complete”. Complete? I thought I wasn’t in labor? What about an epidural? He couldn’t really be coming now, could he? I was only 32 weeks pregnant. This was not good. I kept telling the doctor, the nurses, and my mom that I couldn’t do it. He couldn’t be born, it wasn’t time. But I knew it really was time and that I had to do it, whether I wanted to or not. The doctor called for NICU and about a minute later, I was in position to push. I started to cry. I was so scared and poor Matt would miss his only opportunity to witness his son coming into this world. Thank God they at least let my mama get to my side before I started to push.
Three pushes and five minutes later, it was all over. Kayde Michael Ray arrived at 2 a.m. on March 14, 2012. He weighed 4lbs, 10oz and was screaming his head off. He needed no oxygen upon delivery, and I was blessed enough to hold him in my arms for a minute before he was whisked away to the NICU. After what seemed like an eternity, we were allowed to go upstairs and visit him for the first time. He looked so tiny and helpless in the isolette that would be his home for the next two weeks. There were oxygen tubes, IVs and wires everywhere. I wanted to hold him so badly, but we were only allowed to touch his head or his feet for a few minutes at a time. The nurses continuously reminded me that he needed to grow; therefore, he needed to rest. I would be allowed to visit and touch him for about 15 minutes every three hours. That’s when they would wake him up to take his vitals and change his diaper. I felt like a total stranger to my only child. I tried to remind myself to be thankful that he was doing so well, and I was, but at the same time, my heart was breaking into a million pieces. Complete strangers were taking care of my child.
I had never felt more helpless in my life. I couldn’t even room in because the hospital was having renovations done. My mom and I were forced to stay at a nearby place across the street. When I was allowed to go back and visit, I was amazed. At four hours old, my little fighter had removed his own oxygen and his stats were doing great. The NICU doctor congratulated me on his progress and told me that later in the day, I could try and feed him a couple of milliliters of breast milk by bottle! I was in total awe because no more than two hours before, they had told me that most preemies aren’t allowed to try and eat until day five. (Even then, it’s usually through an NG tube, not a bottle.) Things were really looking up for my little miracle man. The next time I got to visit, I learned he had pulled out his IV as well. He was already developing quite a personality! They had to replace the IV, this time in his head, because he needed his essential amino acids for the first few days of life. They kept telling me how amazing he was doing and how he was not acting like a 32-week preemie at all. My spirits soared. Perhaps this would be a shorter road than I had originally thought.
The rest of the week passed quickly. I did my best to not miss a feeding, and he was doing so well. The nurses began to encourage me to start feeding him by breast instead of bottle. They were so proud of how quickly he caught on, and I was thrilled that I was doing such a good job. But that same night, the nurse told me that breastfeeding was just wearing him out and he was losing weight, so it was in his best interest to let the nurses feed him by bottle. I was also told he wasn’t taking the proper amount of food so he needed supplement feedings by NG tube. I didn’t think it was possible for my heart to break any more than it already had, but it did. I felt like it was my fault. To me, it felt like a setback even though the nurses assured me it was not. Three days later, I was told we would be able to go home. I kind of brushed it off because it was only the nurse’s opinion; the doctor surely hadn’t said so. They just told me three days ago he wouldn’t be coming home until his due date. When I returned to the NICU later that day, they told me again that I needed a car seat and we would be going home the next day. They went ahead and did his circumcision and put him in an open crib. My mom and I spent the remainder of the day with the nurses in the NICU doing discharge teaching and CPR and car seat classes.
I returned late that night with his car seat and received some bad news. He had gotten choked at his morning feeding and had a severe heart rate deceleration in the 80s. The nurse told me it was probably incidental, and if he didn’t have an episode at his next feeding, he would still be able to come home. I began feeding him—and he was doing great—when he suddenly went limp in my arms. I sat him up just as the monitor started alarming and I yelled for the nurse. When I looked at the screen, I saw that his heart rate was 48. I felt my stomach churn as I handed him over to the nurse. He was already turning blue. She turned him on his stomach and rubbed his back and patted him repeatedly. Slowly his heart rate crept back up and his color started returning to normal. I was afraid to even touch him, but she handed him back to me like nothing had happened and told me to continue to feed him. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I realized that he probably wouldn’t come home the next day, but I knew I really didn’t want to take him home now. I was scared to death of him.
I awoke the next morning to the sound of my phone ringing. When I saw the NICU’s number on the caller ID, I immediately panicked. I knew that something had gone terribly wrong. It was his day shift nurse calling to tell me that he had passed his car seat test with flying colors and would need to be discharged before her shift ended that day. I was speechless. That meant in less than 12 hours, we would be on our way home. I began panicking. What if he had more of these episodes? I don’t even know how I made it through the next few weeks. Yes, we were home, but I’d never been more petrified in my life. My mom went back to work that next Monday and I found myself alone with him for the first time. My grandmother came over at feeding times so I didn’t have to be alone if he got choked. My dad came home from work early so I didn’t have to feed him in the evening by myself. I still had to pump regularly to keep my milk in because he now refused to be breast fed. I struggled to try and keep him on the same schedule he had at the hospital. He tried to sleep through his feedings, and still got choked on a daily basis. He got choked so badly at times that my dad and I had to blow in his face to get him to breathe.
There were times when I just wanted to scream. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling the way I did. I was so blessed to have this little person in my life, but at the same time, I was scared to death of him and all things associated with him. I began questioning whether I was meant to be a mother or not. I was even afraid to hold him and cuddle him because I just kept hearing the nurses’ voices in my head saying he needed to grow, not be held. I wouldn’t let anyone else feed him or care for him. I didn’t even want to take time out for myself to shower. Some days it would be 5 p.m. before I realized I hadn’t eaten anything. Leaving the house for anything other than his doctor appointments was out of the question. I know my family was getting worried about me, but I just couldn’t snap out of it. In an attempt to get me out of the house, my mom started forcing us to take Sunday trips with her to Johnson City and Bristol. I would go along, but be miserable, nervous and cranky the entire time.
Things were getting worse instead of better. My boss had agreed to allow me to bring the baby to work with me whenever I was ready to come back, but I was too scared and uncomfortable to do even that. My milk began to dissipate because I was so stressed and just didn’t have the time or energy to pump like I needed to. I didn’t want to admit I was getting depressed after everything I’d just gone through, but I was, whether I denied it or not. After years of never truly understanding postpartum depression and downing women who claimed to have it, I was now one of those women. I was so ashamed of myself, which only made things worse. After a particularly long day at home alone with the baby, my mom came home to find me in tears. She let me cry it out and took care of the baby almost completely by herself that night. She woke me up the next morning to tell me I was going to work. I protested, but eventually she won the fight and I began getting ready. I found out that work was exactly what I needed. I could still care for my son, but I could also get back to my normal routine and include him in it. After a couple of weeks at work, I began to get more relaxed and actually started enjoying being a mom.
Now my husband, my little man and I have moved into our new house and are trying to get settled into our routine. I have never been so in love in my entire life, and looking back, I now realize that maybe love was what scared me so terribly. It’s terrifying to love someone so much and have no control over their fate, especially when you consider how many times I almost lost him. There are still times when the anxiety comes creeping back in, but I can better deal with it now. My birth story may not be the traditional fairy tale of becoming a mother, but that’s OK. It’s the story of a little boy who fought against all odds to grow inside the mother whose heart was beating for him—a little boy who loved her so much that he couldn’t wait another minute to be in her arms. It’s the story of my amazing little preemie, Kayde Michael, who changed our lives forever and taught us what real love is all about.