This is the conclusion to Preston’s birth story. You can read about my VBAC attempt turned Cesearean here and about my postpartum hemorrhage here.
When I said goodbye to my daughter while I was in labor, I had no idea that I wouldn’t be home again for eight long days. In almost three years, I had only spent one night away from her when I was in the hospital to deliver our angel baby. The separation took a huge toll on our entire family.
Preston had been in the NICU for transient tachypnea of the newborn (TTN), but we were able to room-in together as soon as I was moved out of ICU. We finally got to go home when he was seven days old. Being home as a family was surreal. On our first full day home, we sat on the patio while Gabriella played in the backyard and Preston enjoyed some sunshine. It was perfect and exactly how I imagined our life as a family of four.
The next day, Preston had a follow-up appointment with our pediatrician. Though I was out of the hospital, I could still barely sit up, walk or be awake for long periods which meant Brian took Preston to the appointment on his own. I was taking a nap on my recliner when I got one of the worst phone calls of my life. It was Brian and the pediatrician telling me that Preston’s respiratory rate was too fast and he needed to go back to the NICU for further evaluation. A normal respiratory rate for a newborn is between and 30 and 50 breaths per minute, and Preston’s was somewhere between 80 and 110. My heart sank and I felt my world crumbling again.
Just as soon as our family was reunited, we were torn apart. Gabriella was coping with the changes fairly well, but understandably developed some anxiety over being separated from both of us for so long. We committed to making sure that Brian stayed with her at all times, even though we both desperately wanted to be with our baby. The weight of being torn between my two children was almost too much to bear.
Preston was admitted, and because I was breastfeeding, the hospital offered me a room just down the hall from the NICU and I stayed with him at the hospital day and night. I would sit there in the NICU and look around at the tiny and very sick babies and marvel at how amazing modern medicine is. Preston’s bassinet was next to a set of twins born at 25 weeks who were about 6 weeks old and still no bigger than a hand. They required constant care with a dedicated pair of nurses to monitor the frequent alarms and had specialists visiting daily to address the myriad of concerns that come with having a micro-preemie.
After looking at those twins and the rest of our pod-mates, I’d look back at my 10-pound baby who was huge, adorable, cuddly, nursing wonderfully and visibly the picture of health and it just felt wrong to be in the NICU. All of the nurses agreed and even the doctor kept commenting on how healthy he was, but that we had to figure out the mystery of why he was breathing so fast.
After a few days of observation and just waiting for the breathing to resolve itself, I started to get a little feisty. If we were going to take a wait-and-see approach, I wanted to do that at home. Preston was never in distress even when his respirations topped 100. He was still able to nurse and take a bottle fine and was gaining weight like a champ. I felt like nobody was listening to me and my mama bear instincts came out in full force.
I started asking questions and demanding answers. I started talking to anyone who would listen about what it was going to take to get my baby discharged. “Observation” was no longer working for me. I talked with the nurse and on-call doctor at every shift change and wrote down what they said about what our next steps were and what we needed to do to go home. After five days of observation, I began working on a transfer to a larger hospital closer to our house and then the doctor finally started taking action.
After running through some possible explanations for the tachypnea, we agreed to do a swallow study which showed some flash penetration, where the milk doesn’t go straight down to the esophagus, but instead takes a slight detour toward the opening of the trachea, which is a risk factor for aspiration.
The great irony of our story is that the one thing I fought the hardest for and was most important for me was the one thing I had to give up to be able to take my baby home. The treatment for Preston’s condition was making sure the milk was thick enough that it would move slowly down his esophagus instead of taking any detours along the way. I would have to pump and thicken the breastmilk with a formula additive to make sure he didn’t aspirate.
I was skeptical, but agreed to try it immediately. We started feeding thickened bottles in the morning and by dinnertime, the readings on the monitors were shockingly lower. I sent my mom a picture in complete disbelief because his respiratory rate was hovering between 35 and 60 which had never happened before. We went home the very next day.
Our second homecoming didn’t happen with quite the same level of joyfulness as the first. I was devastated about not being able to breastfeed and devastated that I was bringing home a two week old baby. It seemed surreal that time sped by around us yet we were still waiting to start our life together at home. We missed out on family naps, bonding with big sister, newborn photos and all of the things you do when you bring a new healthy baby home. Nevertheless, we were glad to be out of the hospital and together again.
The next several weeks were filled with many doctor appointments for Preston with our pediatrician and a pulmonologist who ultimately diagnosed him with reflux and prescribed Zantac to further control the rapid breathing. After six weeks of feeding thickened bottles and Zantac, Preston was given a clean bill of health and the tachypnea had totally resolved.
During this time, I struggled with my own recovery and challenges including part of my incision that opened up and took 10 weeks to heal, low iron and the accompanying exhaustion, and an IUD that perforated my uterus. For someone who is incredibly healthy and rarely visits the doctor, I was so done with hospitals and doctors.
With the hospital and doctor visits and health concerns behind us, I was able to begin breastfeeding again after eight weeks of bottles. I owe much of my success to the advice a friend and lactation consultant who gave me the confidence I needed to believe I could still make breastfeeding work. During our time feeding bottles, I pumped every two hours around the clock. I aimed to pump at least double what Preston was eating because I wanted to make sure my milk would be able to replace the calories he was getting from the added formula. I let him latch a few times a day, just after I was done pumping, to ensure he would remember how to nurse. It wasn’t easy, but we did it. We’ve been exclusively breastfeeding since he was eight weeks old and I am so thankful we were able to make it work.
I can’t think back on this challenging time in our life without thinking about all of the friends, family and complete strangers who stepped in to care for us. My cousin who took my daughter into her family for a week without hesitating. My mom made the 30-minute drive between our house and the hospital multiple times a day and took care of running our house while we couldn’t. My postpartum nurse Bianca who was by my side the night I hemorrhaged and tearfully visited me in the ICU. The amazing team of midwives who visited me daily in the hospital and took a heartfelt personal interest in my recovery, especially Lauren who has been with our family through so much now. My doctor, who listened to me and saved my life. My ICU nurse April who had a sense of humor and gave me the gift of laughter even in the most desperate of times. Many, many blood donors who took the time to donate blood so that mine could be replenished. My former midwife and acupuncturist Jan who was the most calm and wonderful source of support through pregnancy and beyond.
My friend Dannie who wiped the sweat from my forehead and held my hand during one of the toughest times while recovering in the hospital. My dad who sat with my son for hours in the NICU to make sure he wasn’t alone. My sister flew in from California for 10 days and was the best nurse/chauffeur/chef/nanny and exactly what I needed to get back on my feet. My sister in law stocked our freezer with the best chicken soup ever and other meals while we were in the hospital. My friend Stacy donated breastmilk to nourish my baby while I was in the ICU. My friend Melanie came to the hospital to take photos since I didn’t get the chance to take the newborn photos I wanted.
My friend Lina coordinated a meal train and countless friends provided meals for us for six weeks after we got home. Our neighbor picked up and delivered a recliner for us so I would have a comfortable place to sit when we got home. Our doula Nikki who checked in on us daily for weeks. My husband’s team at work who went above and beyond the obligatory flowers to take care of our family and was completely understanding of his five-week paternity leave. This list could go on and on and though I can’t list everyone by name here, the list of those who cared for us is imprinted on my heart forever.
When we began this journey to having a second baby, I had no idea what a test of faith it would be. It’s such a cliche of a song, but it perfectly captures the essence of the twists and turns we’ve taken on this road:
Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart they were like Northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
The miracle and happy ending to our story is sweet baby Preston. He is an absolute delight and lights up our world. He smiles from the second he opens his eyes in the morning until the second he latches on to nurse before bed. His blond curls and bright eyes make me smile every day.
He is the perfect addition to our family and worth every ounce of suffering and distress endured during his entrance into this world. I thank God every day for the miracle of life. All we have is now. Every minute, every breath is a gift and I will never take that for granted.