LB was born at 35 weeks 2 days gestation. She was relatively small throughout the pregnancy, but the doctor never seemed overly concerned. I was small at birth as well, so we figured it was just how she would be. Towards the end of the pregnancy, she landed me in the hospital three different times with kidney infections. Not my favorite! She was monitored very closely throughout, but in Germany, where she was born, it was common to get ultrasounds done every month.
My final hospitalization, I was told that I would get an ultrasound done on my kidney in the morning. So that morning, I woke up and ate breakfast. When I went down to the ultrasound, I was surprised to see that they were checking on LB, not me. It took an hour, and the German doctor finally put the wand away. He looked at me very seriously and said, “When’s the last time you ate? That baby is coming out today.” I was floored, to say the least. She was also breech, which meant I was having a c-section. Unfortunately, I had just eaten so I had to wait the longest 8 hours of my life. I called my husband at work and he joined me at the hospital to welcome our new addition.
LB was born at 3 lbs 15 oz. She was considered growth restricted. The official term is IUGR (Intrauterine Growth Restriction) but we didn’t know that then. We also didn’t know until later that my amniotic fluid was very low. She came out screaming and feisty. At one point, my husband started to laugh. The doctor was checking her hip rotation and she yanked her little legs out of his hands. Apparently, she was having none of it.
LB spent 19 days in a German Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). We visited often, and she initially started off with 3 separate IV lines to provide nutrients. She did remarkably well in the NICU. She had a feeding tube (Nasogastric tube, or NG tube, that ran down her nose into her belly). When we tried to bottle feed her, she would just fall asleep on her daddy and not wake up for anything. Finally, the day came to bring her home. At this point, the doctor mentions casually, “Obviously, she has a hole in her heart, so that will need to be monitored.” As a first time mom, and a first time preemie mom, I was floored. I now know that when babies are born full term, this hole closes itself before birth. However, preemies often are born before that point. Sometimes it closes on its own within a year, which is what happened with us. Thankfully.
At 6 months old, LB was hospitalized again with bronchitis and borderline pneumonia. I now believe she had RSV, a brutal respiratory virus that tends to attack small babies. In adults and healthy children, RSV appears as a cold. Small babies and preemies often end up hospitalized and on oxygen support. LB spent another week in the hospital before we were able to bring her home again.
Over the past 8 years, LB has taught me a lot. Prematurity has left its mark on her. She suffered from many delays that resulted in years of occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT). Her nervous system did not develop as quickly as it should have, which led to a long period of trying to develop her fine motor skills. She has anxiety still, and poor proprioception (which means she has a hard time telling where she is in relation to things around her). She also has asthma, which has landed her back in the hospital a few times for steroids, oxygen, and respiratory support.
LB is a happy go lucky kid. You would never know, looking at her now, that she was born prematurely. She loves to sing and draw, and will spend hours singing songs to herself while she creates new artwork. She gave me a crash course on how to be a mom and how to handle premature babies and complications. She faces each challenge thrown at her with a smile and determination.
Did you know that September is NICU Awareness Month? The NICU can be a scary place for any parent, whether it is their first time or third time experiencing it. However, with proper awareness and support, NICU parents can receive the guidance and support they need to make it to the other side with their new baby.