“We know Oaklee has a long journey ahead, but we couldn’t be more proud of her. She’s beautiful. She’s a major blessing. She made us parents, and for that we are thrilled.”
A continuation from Trip 6.
I didn’t sit alone in recovery room number one for long before my husband found his way back to me from our baby’s shared room over in the NICU. He’d been asked to leave the room for a sterile procedure they were going to perform on our baby, the placement of an umbilical cord IV of which they could not get done.
We briefly caught up on what little bit had happened between the operating room and our next steps before Dr. L, the neonatologist working with our baby came in to give us an update that shattered us. We’d gotten to 27 weeks and 5 days. That meant we were so close to a 95% chance of survival, yet here was Dr. L telling us, with a somber look on his face, that our baby was requiring more assistance than they’d anticipated.
He said, “I’m going to be honest, we have probably 80 babies over there right now, and if she’s not the sickest baby there, she’s in the top three.”
He went on, lacking optimism, to explain our situation. Our baby had been placed on a high frequency oscillator for respiratory support at 100%. This was the maximum amount of support they could give a person through the highest level of machinery that could be involved.
And still, they were pulling out all the stops.
She was being given nitric oxide, a treatment believed to help the blood vessels in the lungs to relax and improve breathing. She was undergoing pulmonary surfactant therapy to treat respiratory distress syndrome. They’d detected a pneumothorax, a pocket of air outside her lungs, indicating a leak somewhere that may require the placement of a chest tube. She had patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), an improper blood flow through her heart… Things like jaundice and anemia weren’t even mentioned in this brief meeting, because they were meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
Dr. L made it very clear that our baby might not make it. There was nothing more they could do. Her lungs, the ones that had been constricted in her body that’d been shrink-wrapped in my waterless womb, were being put to the ultimate test 12.5 weeks short of the amount of time they needed to properly develop. They just weren’t ready.
Dr. L left us alone. We sat with the news like an elephant on our chests. It was 6:00 am. We hadn’t yet told our families we were going into delivery, let alone, that our baby had been born. We hadn’t even shared her name with a single person. And now we wondered if we were losing her.
When we thought we’d mustered up the courage to tell at least our parents, we took turns crying through phone calls, “We had our baby. She’s not doing well. Her name is Oaklee. Please tell our siblings for us. Please pray.”
Again, we found ourselves thinking about the end of a life at the beginning. With every extra day we’d fought for in the past 35, we thought we’d moved past having to think this way.
When I’d recovered enough, the nurses took the both of us, me still in my bed, over to the NICU to see her for the promised 5 minutes I would get with her before focusing on my own recovery. Dr. L shared with us, bedside, the small bit of progress Oaklee had made, noting she may be beginning to stabilize. Still, I gazed at my baby through the plexi-glass isolette, her tiny chest vibrating rapidly from the oscillator, her pulse ox glowing, her body covered with wires and sensors and I cried.
This is my greatest failure in life.
I tried so hard to stay pregnant for her, but there was just nothing I could do. I was devastated. My body hadn’t just failed me, it failed my husband and, worse, it failed Oaklee. My part was done, sure, but it wasn’t done well.
The nurses told me it was time to go, and they wheeled me back to my old room. I ordered breakfast and we began crafting the message we’d send to our families and eventually our closest friends. No words felt right. I’d wanted to send the happy text – we’re parents! But I wasn’t certain we’d even be parents much longer. I couldn’t bring myself to even acknowledge in this first announcement what we were really facing, because I didn’t want to believe it myself. Instead, I landed on the disjointed, emotionless text below. She’s born. Her name is Oaklee. Please don’t talk to us.
“Good morning everyone. While you were sleeping early this morning, Kevin and I welcomed Oaklee Ann into our family. She is currently stable, but is having a lot of difficulty breathing. Please do not share our news with others, visit or expect us to be communicating much at this point as we navigate these first few hours… Prayers would be gratefully accepted.”
Many people say the day their baby was born was the best day of their lives. Mine was the worst. The day my baby was born was the day a doctor told me they were doing everything they could to save my child… and they still might not be able to save her. No parent should ever have to hear that.
At 4:09 am, I was relieved to no longer be solely responsible for the health of our baby. At 7:09 am, I just wanted her back in my war torn womb. I would have done anything to give her a better start. I had failed. I had failed. I had failed. And in the worst way – the way that could cost someone – my own daughter – her life.
We invited our parents to come see their granddaughter that night. With both visits, the four of us huddled around her little isolette. We stared at her and talked about how small and how beautiful she was. We ignored the elephant in the room – whether she was going to make it or not, this moment was sacred. The parented had become the parent. It was our Lion King moment, in a zoo sense – not allowed to hold our baby up, we showed her off through plexi-glass.
It was day one of a journey that would either be long or short. We prayed for long.
“She’s yours, God. Save her.”
In the stats:
Gestational Age: 27 weeks, 5 days
Days of blood: 64
Days of bedrest: 85
Pre-Hospital Stay Doctor’s Appointments: 8
Days in the hospital: 35
IV starts: 6 (12 IV pokes)
Magnesium drips: 5
Trips to Labor & Delivery: 6
Sets of visitors to see Mandi: 53
Gestational Age: 27 weeks, 5 days
Days in the hospital: 1
Sets of visitors to see Oaklee: 2