Friday, September 20, 2013

Deciding to Risk the NICU Again (Or Not)

Even as I was pregnant with Early Bird I was already thinking about having another child. Both my husband and I had wanted more than two kids, four being our "ideal" number. But then I had my second you're-going-to-die-if-you-don't-have-it-now emergency c-section, this time with a 3lb 1 oz premature baby and our view changed. Having gone through 7.5 weeks of having a baby in the NICU really took a toll on us. Was that something we wanted to risk going through again?

I asked my husband what was the worse thing about our NICU experience. He said feeling out of control, being completely dependent on strangers for the care of our fragile child. He said that it felt almost like giving our baby up for adoption and we only got visitation. And because we had another child we couldn't spend all day and night with Early Bird; we had to be home for Builder Boy, too.

For me, the separation was the worst. It was an hour's drive to the hospital and another hour's drive home. We had to schedule the visits right because that NICU only allowed us to hold him for one hour when he was being fed every three hours. We weren't allowed to hold him at other times so if we were late, we missed out and had to wait. With prayer and anointing, we emotionally handled the medical problems pretty well. It was the disconnect, I think, that affected us both the most. The disconnect that led to delayed bonding for me.

Early Bird at our first NICU reunion picnic
Before we brought Early Bird home, I desperately wanted to ask other the other moms in the NICU if they were willing to have another baby after this experience, but I felt it was too personal to ask an almost complete stranger. Thankfully a few months after Early Bird came home the NICU had a reunion picnic and the mothers of the two babies who were next to Early Bird in the NICU were there and we exchanged numbers. We connected on facebook and became good friends. We lived to far away from each other to see them often, but we've kept in touch and enjoyed watching each others NICU Buddies grow up. This year was the first time we couldn't make it to the reunion picnic and we really missed it. (This is the post about last year's picnic.)

The decision to have another child is individual for every person and their circumstances. Talking to other parents who have been in that situation helped me, so I'm blogging about it to help others looking for answers to that question, but don't have anyone to ask. Obviously my husband and I decided to go ahead and risk having another premature baby. We had intended to talk to a high risk specialist before conceiving to see what our chances were, but that didn't happen. We did make sure I was seen by a high risk ob/gyn so that this time around my concerns wouldn't be ignored and we were dealing with a doctor who was experienced with problem pregnancies. After being so horribly ill with this pregnancy, and having to be on bed rest and not being able to take care of my family we decided that this would be our last biological child. By the grace of God we made it through, somehow. But I don't want to deprive my family like that again. I am very happy that we have Lady Bug. I am annoyed with my body for being so bad at being pregnant. (That makes me feel a little bit like a failure, even though I know that's not the case.)

Lady Bug in the NICU
My extended family was not supportive of the idea of me risking my health and life again. They told me (before I became pregnant the third time) that it was selfish of me to risk my life and possibly leaving my children motherless and my husband as a single parent. But this decision was between my husband, God, and me, so I chose not to involve any others in the process. We prayed about it for a long time, starting when Early Bird came home. For a long time I really felt like God's answer was "no," and I respected that. Then it felt like was got the spiritual "go ahead" and despite the miserable times, I really think we did the right thing. I confess that very early on in the pregnancy, before I got on anti-nausea medications that worked, I did wonder if I had done the right thing. Even though I am pro-life, I wondered how I could possibly take care of my children when I couldn't even get off the couch or out of bed. I was in so much pain and constantly vomiting, I wonder, for a brief, dark moment, if it would all be too much and if I should end the pregnancy. But I held firm to my beliefs and my faith and I got through it. I never could have brought myself to get rid of the life growing inside of me; and I felt miserable for even thinking it for a moment. But I'm sharing this because if you're thinking about trying to get pregnant again after a previous, difficult or life threatening pregnancy, you should be prepared.

To that end I asked my two NICU mom friends to answer a few questions about their own experience and what they thought of risking having another preemie baby. When I asked a week and a half ago they both only had their NICU preemie child (their first born for each of them.)

 Victoria Smith
1) What was your medical condition that led to having a premature baby?
My medical condition was preeclampsia. My blood pressure got up to 199 over 119 before they decided to do a c section.
2) What were his/her birth stats? (gestational age, weight, etc.)
 Abby was 2 lbs 2 oz , 17 inches long, and I was 29 4/7 weeks along when she was born.
3) What health issues has your child had to deal with? Any lasting health complications for you?
 No lasting health problems to speak of. As with all preemies she is susceptible to asthma and things like that. She had a heart surgery but has no complications from it. Nor have I had any lasting complications.
4) Is there a greater possibility that you will have the same problems if you became pregnant again?
  Yes and no. There is the same chance I would have the same problem as before. And regardless I would have to deliver early via c section. But not necessarily a greater chance no.
5) Are you still interested and willing to have another baby, even with a higher risk of complications?
 Still that doesn't stop me from wanting more children. In fact I recently found out that I am pregnant again, and while I'm scared of more problems, I also have full trust in God for His perfect plan for me and my child.
6) Any words of advice?
 Going through a premature baby is one of the toughest and scariest things I've ever endured. However it has given me a greater appreciation of the frailty of life. I see my daughter as a miracle and thank God every day she made it through with flying colors. 

Amanda P.
1) What was your medical condition that led to having a premature baby?
 At 22 weeks pregnant I went to my gyno after having some lower abdominal pain and found out my cervix was open and I was dialated to 3 cm. From there I was referred to a perinatologist in Sacramento which was 1 1/2 hours from home and from their office I was admitted to Mercy San Juan Antepartum unit. Over the next week I was loosely diagnosed with an incompetent or waving cervix and stayed in the hospital for the next 7 weeks. My blood pressure spiked and dipped a few times but I think it was mostly due to the slew of horrible medications I was on. My water finally broke at 29 weeks after the amniotic sac was funneling through my open cervix for about 3 weeks and I had an emergency c-section on March 17, 2009
2) What were his/her birth stats? (gestational age, weight, etc.)
 Ayden Andrew was born at 29 weeks gestation and was 2 lb 6 oz and 13 inches long then dropped to 1 lb 11 oz 2 days after birth. He was so tiny and precious.
3) What health issues has your child had to deal with? Any lasting health complications for you?
 Currently Ayden struggles with asthma and is very susceptible to getting sick. He has a pretty weak immune system and he is also anemic. I am thankful that is all we have to deal with because the first 2 years of his life he was incredibly sick and had a lot of health problems. He had high blood pressure until age 3 and random seizures which have both subsided. He was also on at home oxygen and an apnea moniter until he was approximately 9 months old. I myself have had no lasting health problems due to my pregnancy or delivery.
4) Is there a greater possibility that you will have the same problems if you became pregnant again?
 I have a high probability of having the same complications again, about 80%, and I would have to also deliver via c-section. It is hard for my doctors to know until I'm pregnant how severe I would be so I would be put on bed rest from 16 weeks on and a cerclage of my cervix to try to prevent the opening of my cervix so soon.
5) Are you still interested and willing to have another baby, even with a higher risk of complications?
 I hope to someday have one more child but it will definitely be planned this time. If I do decide to get pregnant again I'll have to be at a point in my life where I can take care of myself and have the support to help me through what will be a tough road. I don't know if God has that in His plan for me right now but we will see.
6) Any words of advice?
 My advice to anyone dealing with a complicated pregnancy and/or the birth of a premature child is to reach out to all your resources whether it be the hospital social workers, your church, your family. Anyone and everyone you have that can be encouraging to you and supportive. That really helped me. Also, I read A LOT of books during my 7 1/2 week hospital stay about premature babies and all their possible medical problems and issues at each week gestation as I came to it. I also asked my doctors and neonatologists a lot of questions so I could feel more comfortable and confident with my son's care. I spent as much time as possible with my son in the NICU and since I lived so far away I utilized the Ronald McDonald house and the Friends of NICU at our hospital to help me afford to commute to be with my baby. Support is key! My son is such a miracle and a daily inspiration to me. We went through so much together but I wouldn't go back and change anything about our journey. Being a young mother, 20 years old when I got pregnant, I was definitely not "ready" or really mature enough to be a mother at that time in my life. Our experience really changed me and also drew me closer to God. I know now that everything happens how it is supposed to and I probably love my son even more because I know how fragile life is now and how precious each breath he takes is. ♡

A few years ago I made a facebook page NICU Babies for parents of NICU babies to connect with and talk about preemie issues. It's not a huge page, and I forget to update it at times, but if you have any preemie questions or want to ask parents who've been-there-done-that it's a good place to go. I'll be monitoring it so if you want to ask my or my friends any questions, we're all part of that page.

All difficult pregnancy, c-section, hospital stay, and preemie issue posts can be easily found on the Pregnancy and Preemies Page.

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