Chapter Four: First Impressions

A week before I had Scarlett, I took a second field trip down to L&D. I was terrified all over again; the only thing I kept thinking was, “God please don’t let her come out. She’s still not ready.” On the way down they called NICU and one of the Neonatologists met with me. I wish I could tell you exactly what she said but honestly, I was distracted by how pretty she was. (Funny right?) I remember hearing words like “underdeveloped”, “too small”, and the scariest phrase of all, “there’s not much we can do”. But other than that – I was completely blinded by the doctors’ long eyelashes and pretty blue eyes. It’s funny when I think about it now, here I was in one of the scariest situations I had ever been in, praying to God that he would let me carry my daughter a little longer and the only thing I remember – were big blue eyes.
Thankfully, she came back a little while later and I was in much better shape mentally & emotionally. I was actually listening to what she was saying this time. She explained to me that if Scarlett came that day (I was 22+6), she would still be too small and her lungs would be so undeveloped that any intervention on their part wouldn’t be very beneficial. But, she told me, if she did come they would still have a team come down to asses her just in case they could be of some help to her. I understood what she was saying, but hearing it all broke my heart a little more. I had done some research on my own, and in some places, hospitals will intervene as early as 21 weeks. I also read that in those instances the mothers had already been given steroids to help improve the baby’s lungs and development. I hadn’t had that yet. I guess it just depends on where you go and who your doctor is that a mother is given steroids that early on. There are just so many factors to consider.
However, since I was almost 23 weeks I asked when and if they would be able to give me the steroids. At first, the doctors were a little hesitant, it was still too soon. In the end, though, I was given one set of steroids later on in the week and I am so thankful that they did. I truly feel that because I was able to have at least one round of them (I believe you can get up to two rounds – I might be wrong), Scarlett’s lungs were a little stronger than they might have been.
That’s not saying much though.
When Scarlett was born they immediately took her back into NICU. I didn’t actually see her until 8 or 9 hours after I had her though. I can’t describe what it feels like to have waited so long before seeing my daughter. It was torture. I was exhausted; the nurses let me rest a little while before helping me to the bathroom. This was the first time my feet touched the ground in over two weeks. Afterward, I was transferred to the postpartum floor and after a little more rest, someone from lactation came in and showed me how to work a breast pump. Once she was done, the doctor who performed my rescue cerclage came by to see me. I hadn’t seen him in week, and I wasn’t in the mood for any visitors. Especially after hearing what he had to say.
He had just come from seeing Scarlett before he came to see me, and he didn’t have great news to share. He said she looked okay, but she was very small and her lungs were way more underdeveloped than we thought. Our goal was to try to get to 26 weeks, and I hadn’t quite made it to 24. He said in most cases when babies are born before 24 weeks, they only have a 10% chance of survival. After that, he left and I have never heard from him again.
I had been looking forward to enjoying a long and full pregnancy. I would’ve given anything to be able to experience that huge belly & swollen feet. I would have gladly suffered sleepless nights & all those not so fun things most women complain about during pregnancy.
But I couldn’t.
I didn’t.
I might sound crazy because I’m sure most women always wish to skip that part. Believe it or not, a few people actually told me I should be glad I didn’t have to go through all of that.
Poor souls. If only they realized how insensitive that statement was.
I know they meant it in a comforting way. But here’s the thing – it’s really not. In fact, it goes on the list of things NOT to say to a mother of a preemie. When you’re a parent, it’s hard to see your child sick, especially if they are really sick. You always wish you could trade places with them, better it was you than them. (I know I am not the only parent in the world to think or feel this) So believe me when I say, yes, I would have GLADLY endured whatever pregnancy did to my body if it meant I didn’t have to watch Scarlett fight so hard to LIVE.
Walking into NICU felt so surreal. It was cold and quiet and you have to wait and sign in before you can go back and see your baby. It’s a whole other world in there. The first time I went to visit Scarlett, her nurse that day (who by the way is one of the sweetest people I’ve met) started telling me everything they had done with her so far. She walked BJ & me over to an isolette where Scarlett lay inside covered in plastic. She had tubes and wires coming from every direction and on her tiny little head were the smallest glasses I had ever seen. Because she was born on Halloween, she had on crochet pumpkin hat (all the babies in NICU get holiday-themed hats or bows). She was so small. Her skin was red and so transparent I could see every vein and bone in her body. She looked so fragile. The first time I changed her diaper, I was afraid I was going to hurt or break her. With the direction and help of her nurses, I learned how to handle her gently. Because she was born so early, they needed to be really careful with her, too much of anything (touch, movement, noise) would cause more stress for her. So I could only reach inside during what they call Touch Times. These are set times scheduled every 3 to 4 hours (depending on how Scarlett was doing that day) and either BJ or I (we usually alternated) would take her temperature, change her diaper and do oral care (occasionally). Then we were allowed to place a hand on her head for a few moments to reassure her that we were there.
This was my very unique and strange introduction to motherhood. It wasn’t at all what I pictured for myself. But it was what God had planned for me and I had to go with it.
We had a lot of visitors within those first few days that Scarlett was born. People came to congratulate us on welcoming our baby girl into the world. If they were healthy enough (and brave enough) either BJ or I would take them to visit Scarlett. New babies are always exciting, but of course, Scarlett was fragile, so after those first few days visitors weren’t around so much.
Since BJ & I live out of town, the Ronald McDonald House opened its doors to us. I am so grateful that the place exists. It’s located just across the parking lot of the hospital so I didn’t have to travel too far to see Scarlett every day. The day I was released, I felt like I was floating on a cloud. I didn’t want to leave. It didn’t seem fair that I was leaving but my baby had to stay behind. I wanted to stay close to her. I wanted her to be with me. But for now, she was where she needed to be.

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