Preeclampsia and prematurity force difficult separation
Posted On Thursday, November 01, 2012 by Jennifer
Prior to the birth of my second son, I was aware of prematurity in a general sense. I knew what the word meant. I knew a few friends, family members, and acquaintances who had dealt with the early arrival of an infant. To me, prematurity meant a baby who was probably no more than a month early and who might be slightly smaller than the 6 to 8 pound newborns that I was used to seeing.
Prior to the birth of my second son, I was even less aware of preeclampsia. I had heard the word before and even knew of a case or two. I looked it up in my pregnancy book out of curiosity and dismissed it almost immediately. Blood pressure had never been a problem for me before and seizures were beyond comprehension. I had already had one successful preeclampsia-free pregnancy. There was no reason for me to worry about this disease. For many moms of premature infants, awareness of prematurity comes as a direct result of preeclampsia. My awareness of both arose simultaneously, when a rather sudden case of eclampsia forced an emergency cesarean section at 32 weeks. There was no preeclampsia diagnosis – there was no hint that it could even be a problem.
\Following the birth, I was moved to the ICU while my 3 lb 2 oz newborn son was taken to the hospital’s advanced care nursery. I was on a ventilator. My son was also receiving oxygen and other treatment. Unfortunately, the hospital where he was born – the closest one to our house – did not have a NICU. He was transferred to a larger hospital about 15 miles down the highway, making a brief stop by my ICU room before being taken in an incubator to the waiting ambulance. This was the first – and last – time I saw him during my eight-day hospital stay.
For me, the physical separation caused by my son’s transfer to another hospital meant that even as I regained my strength and health, I was unable to go see him. The hospital staff did everything they could to help facilitate communication with the NICU, but talking to the NICU nurses on the phone was a poor substitute for actually being there. The separation was jarring and made the recovery process much harder than it probably would have been. My husband, Todd, was left to care for our older son, me, and our premature infant in the NICU across town. With the help of our out-of-town family and friends, he was able to balance the load. But when he developed a mild cold in the week following our son’s birth, he was no longer welcome in the NICU. During his brief illness, my mother-in-law was the only one who could spend time with our as yet unnamed son in the NICU. This separation caused us all to feel like we were spread too thin, unable to care for both our kids and ourselves.
When I was finally released eight days after I was admitted, my husband took me home. He helped me shower and get dressed. It was one of the many things I couldn’t manage on my own. I spent some time with my very confused 4 year old son and then asked to be driven to the NICU. As I walked in, I looked over the 25+ isolettes in the room. I was at a loss. Which one contained my newborn son? I looked to my husband, who had been here before. He showed me to the sink to wash my hands. The nurses came over to greet me – and possibly to take the awkwardness out of me having to ask where he was.
I wobbled over to the indicated isolette and settled into the rocking chair next to him. I looked at him for a moment and could recognize him as ours. At this point he weighed about 3 lbs. I had never seen a child this small (though I would later see that he was far from the smallest infant in the NICU). The nurse maneuvered around the wires and the tubes connected to my son and picked him up gently. After 8 days, I held my son for the first time. The nurses had to tell me how to best care for my son – even how to hold him. For the next 20 days, this was our routine in the NICU. My son was born two months too soon. He is now six years old and in kindergarten. It is for him that I share my experience.