It's been quite a while, but being a full time mom of two kids with a crap ton of appointments (and who both prefer to annoy the hell out of each other) has taken up quite a lot of my time. But down to the real reason for my post: I'm on emotion overload right now.
A little over a year ago, Tom and I left the house around 12:30 at night because of the first major complication of my pregnancy with Zoey and I thought at the time, as the result of the very complete placenta previa I had been diagnosed with at 20 weeks. I was 27 weeks pregnant. Upon arriving at Highland Park Hospital, the nurses and doctor on call assured me that everything with Zoey was fine but that they would want to keep me overnight for observation and to make sure nothing else happened. I was scheduled to have another ultrasound a few days later so the doctor moved up the appointment as long as I was there already. At the ultrasound the next day the high-risk obstetrician confirmed everything was fine with the baby, but also discovered my complete placenta previa, that was unlikely to resolve, had resolved. But so as not to get the easy way out, instead, they found that I had vasa previa instead. I was placed on limited activity and told to come in immediately with any new complications.
Fast forward one week and a new, more serious complication came up. I was sent directly to Evanston Hospital and at 8:43pm, our sweet, tiny, very fragile little Zoey was thrust into the world. After I came out of the anesthesia, I was wheeled up into the ISCU and could place my arm through the protected opening in her incubator to touch her, but that was it. I remember feeling very foggy about everything still and very much in disbelief that very all of a sudden, I was no longer pregnant. She was so unbelievably small, and I felt fear and worry for her health, but they assured me she was okay.
The next week was a blur of scary news about Zoey, healing, missing my big girl so much my heart hurt, and visitors who were only able to see her through plastic. After nine days, I was able to hold her and I thought my heart would stop. I had never held something so small that was so very much alive and fighting. After nine weeks, we finally were able to bring our baby home.
I wish I could say I've come to grips with what happened, but I know I have not. This past month or so, I have spent a lot of time thinking about activities, events, and outings that we had while I was unknowingly only going to be pregnant for a few more weeks, instead of months. I am very aware that she is truly here and relatively healthy, but it is an event that I will never forget, for both good and bad reasons.
One of the hard parts for me work through still, is not even all Zoey, it's the fear I felt during those hours leading up to my c-section, and then the very crazed few minutes right before they took her. It went from watching and monitoring, to almost feeling out of the woods but knowing I was going to be there for a few days for observation, to all of a sudden knowing that something had to be done immediately. Once the choice was made, it was very rushed, and controlled chaos. I signed the form allowing the procedure, they wheeled me back, and I experienced more fear than I ever remember feeling before. The day after Zoey was born, the anesthesiologist came to visit me and apologized for the emergency c-section. He said they never prefer to have to put a patient completely under, but that the circumstances dictated that it had to happen. While he was apologizing, I was thanking him because not only was I safe, and Zoey was safe, but if I had to remain awake while all that chaos was going on and while knowing it was dangerous, I don't know how I would have been able to handle it.
I've spent more time than I want to admit, asking, "why me? why us? why our baby?" I know it doesn't change anything and I know that all things considered, she is doing great. But I'm not always strong enough to accept those things.
On Saturday we celebrated Zoey's first year of life with many of our family and friends. We celebrated with food that she isn't ready to eat yet, cake that she can't have yet (she tends to choke), and drinks that she obviously can't have for another 20 years... My sweet little 15 lb one year old has spent 10 weeks of her life in a hospital. She spent almost five months straight, sick, and did much of it with a smile. She has been crawling for a month, can climb the stairs, can drink from a straw, can pull herself up on anything, and has a tenacity matched only by her big sister. She is determined, spunky, happy, loves her momma and daddy, adores her big sister, moves constantly, can get by on little sleep and food, and is a tiny little fighter with so much heart. I get stopped multiple times every time we take her out, by strangers who comment on her beautiful huge blue eyes that are constantly taking in everything in.
Zoey is in the company of some other fellow preemies that also amaze me. These tiny little humans that have such a dangerous and heartbreaking start to life are forces to be reckoned with. Don't ever underestimate the power of a preemie baby and the fight they have. On the second day of Zoey's life, the neonatologist on call came into my room around 5:30am to tell us that Zoey's lung had collapsed. They had had to insert a chest tube, but she was stable. The doctor told us that our little girl was feisty. A few days later a different neonatologist told us the same thing. And then a few days after that a nurse told us. At that point I remember questioning how that feistiness would play out when she was a teenager, but they assured me that as a preemie, it was one of the best qualities she could have and they were right. After nine weeks in the ISCU, Zoey came home; about three weeks before her due date. After a very rocky, dangerous first week of life, she had few setbacks after that. She had survived two lung collapses, a level 1/2 brain bleed, a PDA, hypothyroidism, slow weight gain, struggles to maintain her body temperature, and having to learn how to breathe and eat on her own. She left the hospital at just under five pounds. In the time she's been home, she's had RSV, pneumonia, six ear infections, tubes, and countless sinus and upper respiratory infections. But aside from preferring the company of momma much of the time, you would never know the struggles she has endured.
One of the very difficult things for me to hear is of other people's first memories of their children. Granted, our first few minutes with Tera were incredibly happy and of the typical variety, but that only lasted a short time before we were delivered her diagnosis. And Zoey? Forget holding her and doing immediate skin to skin or nursing. I didn't hold her until she was nine days old. So every single story I read or hear about the importance of bonding during those first few moments is like a knife in my heart. What effects will my poor baby feel with the loss of that initial bonding? Has that contributed to her separation anxiety now? And if not, than what? Why is all that emphasis placed on those first few minutes if it doesn't have long term effects?
I know I will never be able to change Zoey's start to life. And I know she is here with us now. But doesn't change the fact that I lost that time with my baby. That somebody else was the first person to care for her and hold her. That her first nutrition didn't come from me, or even a bottle from me, but a machine that delivered fluids because she wasn't ready for milk yet.
This is not meant to be sad. I am celebrating Zoey's first year of life. It's just what goes through my mind regularly and some of the things I still deal with. But the rest of the time I just watch in amazement at everything she does. At what she's overcome. I try, difficult though it may be at times, to enjoy the minutes I have with her because I missed out on so many at the beginning.
The next time you see Zoey, whether in person or in pictures, don't feel sorry for what she's been through. Be proud of what she's overcome. Let her inspire you with her fight and her will. And let her remind you that there are always things to be thankful for. I know I am.