It's funny how time works isn't it? How a memory can feel like yesterday and a million years ago all at the same time. I remember the exact moment when the ultrasound tech told me that she needed to wait for the doctor before we could talk about anything. At that point, I had been going to the high-risk doctors office weekly for ultrasounds. I told my husband that something wasn't quite right, but he assured me she was just more by-the-book than some of the previous techs we had seen. But then the doctor came in and told us our lives were going to get more complicated because I was being admitted to Maine Med. That first day was the hardest. No one wanted to tell us what was going on and we had to find childcare immediately for my oldest daughter. I remember my husband bringing her out to the garage to meet with my grandparents who would be watching her for the majority of next 2 weeks while I was on bed rest in the hospital.
When I was about 16 weeks pregnant, my regular blood work came back with elevated AFP levels. The immediate concern was that she may have spina bifida. The doctors at the high risk office quickly ruled that out which was a huge relief. But they anticipated that I may have placenta issues that would possibly affect my pregnancy later on. They were also concerned about the length of her long-bones and prepared us for the possibility that she may be born with skeletal dysplasia.
It's a bit confusing but basically, my unborn child was not getting enough nutrients while in utero because my placenta was leaking and at that ultrasound visit right before I was admitted, they discovered that there was an absence of blood flow through her umbilical cord. While I was in the hospital, I asked an attending what exactly was wrong and she had said "basically, you have a shitty placenta". She was probably my favorite doctor that I saw. She wasn't afraid to tell us what was going on, why it was concerning, and I just loved her choice of words. Once admitted, I had NSTs every 4 hours while I was admitted in the hospital and ultrasounds twice a day. It honestly just felt like one really long day. I was on bed rest, and was allowed to get up to use the bathroom or take a quick shower. Other than that my husband was allowed to push me in a wheelchair around the hospital or to the courtyard twice a day for 15 minutes each time.
At one point, I was told that if in 2 days my condition and my baby's condition remained the same that we could talk about going home and doing bedrest there. He even said if I could make it to 36 weeks we could discuss the possibility of having a vaginal birth. I was over-the-moon ecstatic. I had never had a major surgery before and I was terrified by the thought of having a c-section. I had so many amazing friends and family reach out, visit me and help me through this time.
The next day, the ultrasound showed a reversal of blood flow. It's hard to explain and I don't have the medical training to explain it clearly but basically, when the blood flow was absent, that was ok. She was able to stay in and bake as long as the blood flow didn't reverse. But it did. Blood was flowing from my placenta, through the umbilical cord, and then instead of going into my baby, it was bouncing back towards the placenta. This made for a dangerous situation and my dreams of going home while still pregnant went out the window.
When I was first admitted to the hospital, we didn't even have a name picked out. We were told on the first day there that it was a good idea to start deciding. The moment that was said to us, I feel like everything got very real, very fast. So we set out and "decided" on a name. I say decided, because it didn't end up being her name. We told our nurses - "Her name is going to be Caroline!" And the moment it slipped through my lips I started to panic that it just wasn't the right name. Thinking back about it now, I think I had so much anxiety about picking a name because the moment I picked a name, the scary situation we were in would become real. We ended up asking just about everyone we knew about their opinions and ended up writing down each of our 5 favorite names and pulling them out of a paper L.L. Bean bag. The name we ended up picking once again wasn't the name she ended up with but it helped steer us in the right direction and it did solidify her middle name - Hope.
Once it was decided that she needed to come, she needed to come fast. Even for being premature, she was incredibly small for her gestational age; likely because she was not getting enough nutrients because of my "shitty placenta". The stress of labor was not something she would be able to survive. Within 2 hours, I had signed paperwork and was being wheeled into an OR. I was a mess, sobbing uncontrollably and it was by far, the scariest moment of my life.
While she didn't need any assistance breathing after she was born, she did face a list of obstacles. She was too small and weak to feed and had to be fed in tiny amounts through a feeding tube. Even at her size and age, she hated it and would get her tiny fingers under the tube and pull it out of her nose. The nurses were constantly having to redo it and add more tape to try to prevent her from doing it. She also wasn't able to maintain her temperature on her own and by the time she came home, she was still so small that she had to use an angel ride car seat. Being a NICU parent can be extremely isolating. Especially because we lived 40 miles away from the hospital. We made the drive every day and often spent weekends at the Ronald McDonald house. The other thing about being a NICU parent is the struggle with caring for your child. Babies are supposed to be held and I know how important skin to skin contact is for a child's development and it killed me that she wasn't receiving as much as she should. Because she couldn't maintain her temperature, she could only be held for a few minutes at a time. The hardest thing was just the fact that I was not be able to care for her like I had with my older daughter. The nursing staff was absolutely amazing but it was an incredible struggle to rely so heavily on their help.
Abigail Hope was born 7 weeks early. I remember trying to find the best possible angle to make her small and fragile 3lb 1oz body look "normal". It seems like it was just yesterday. I can't remember what I had for breakfast this morning and have to check my schedule 5 times throughout the day but I remember every single detail from this. At the same time though, I look at my boisterous 6 year old child and feel like it was a thousand years ago, or that maybe the whole thing was a dream. She's overcome so much and I just love the kid she's becoming but every birthday she has gets me a little weepy. There was so much uncertainty before she was born and for the first year - 2 years of her life. I wasn't sure what her life would look like. If you had told me that she'd be as fiery and strong-willed as she is, I probably wouldn't have believed you.
I am so thankful for everyone that was in our corner throughout that time and am so thankful for my sweet and sassy girl. Abigail Hope.
And because this is too wordy and everyone likes before & after pictures - here are a couple from when she was born & now.