Hand to Hold's Official Blog: Written by Parents for Parents

The Day After the Baby Shower

Ella in the NICU

Our weekend began with a happy baby shower surrounded by friends, my mom and aunt and husband. A day later, my husband and I made last minute plans to attend the hospital’s maternity wing tour for expecting mamas, so we would know what to expect when the baby came. There was so much to do before the baby came, and I felt so behind. Not long before we sat down for dinner, my water broke. After a short consultation with the nurse, we were on our way to the hospital not really believing that we would be having our baby that evening.

Tests confirmed that our baby was indeed on the way – just a scant four hours from the time my water broke. The nurse seemed alarmed that our daughter would be early. But, I had read that I was far enough along that I was not overly worried. At the time, I was busy with the single-mindedness of focus that it took to endure the waves of pain that come with child birth. There wasn’t time for pain medication, and as the contractions came closer together, many people filled the instantly obscenely bright room with many faces that I could not see behind the turquoise nose masks. “Push harder. One more.” Ella Therese emerged not long after, and she was carefully cared for by a team of medical professionals as I recovered nearby.

Though I was in a fog, a carefully washed and wrapped burrito of my daughter was thrust in my arms for about 30 seconds as we carefully observed one another in complete shock and wonderment before the attending neonatologist carefully informed me that she was having some trouble breathing and they needed to help her in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I didn’t know what to think.

Ella was born at just five pounds and 18 and a-half inches long and just a few days shy of being only four weeks early. It was a little too early for her, though. Her stay in the NICU completely blindsided us. Our daughter spent the next 10 days in the NICU at first with a canula with oxygen, an IV connected to her belly button, and attached to numerous other monitoring devices. Within the first few days, she had a complication with her breathing causing a collapsed lung. We were very frightened by this diagnosis, and my husband and I felt helpless and ashamed that this happened, though we had no reason to be ashamed. Eventually, her lung did heal on its own and Ella was treated with a pulmonary surfactant, a drug delivered to the lungs to help the air sacs more easily inflate and deflate until her body could make its own.

The NICU was an otherworldly place with its dim lighting mimicking the dark environment of the womb filled with machines, contraptions, wires and most of all things that beep. Alarms constantly going on and off – for the 12 or so tiny souls at various stages of development. Parents were allowed to visit nearly any time of the day or night except at shift change – and once entered, you began at the large sink where you scrubbed the skin off your hands with strong medicinal-smelling soap.

Ella was hooked up to numerous monitors on a cozy pad carefully wrapped with a fleece blanket so it was soft despite the monitors, wires, and tubes. She slept most of the time – but peeked out at us at times. Nurses encouraged us to customize her area, so we brought a little, stuffed kitty to be her protector and posted pictures to show her how much we loved her. As she got stronger and needed less and less supplemental oxygen, we got to interact with her more—giving her a bath and a teeny bottle. We even had “kangeroo” time where mother and daddy could hold baby skin to skin. We let her hold our pinkie and spoke and sang to her, trying to be careful not to overstimulate her, so eager we were with our wanting to care for her ourselves and calm her little cries, twists and contortions. As she was hooked to monitors and tubes, I was tied to a regular schedule of pumping breast milk for her so she would get well more quickly.

One of the strangest parts of the whole experience was reactions from people around us who wanted to know why she was born early. We do not know why Ella decided to come early – if it was her idea or my body’s idea. Who can know? My husband and I shed precious tears wishing that there was something we could have done to have prevented a stay in the NICU. We would have gladly endured it in her place had that been possible.

After we took Ella home, she began to grow and thrive. Though tiny, she began to fill out and look more like a roly-poly baby as time went on. People to whom we showed those early pictures humored our NICU pictures. It frankly never occurred to us that they might be frightening to other people. She was our daughter and she was perfect. Ella was blessed with few complications, though she was very susceptible to respiratory illnesses and ear infections as an infant and toddler. We spent quite a lot of time with the pediatrician and at home during those first years.

EllaAll in all, I’m not sure there is anything that could have prepared us for the unexpected journey we took with a baby born early – though we wonder now if the journey would have been easier if Hand to Hold was available then. We were blessed to have friends and family who helped us through that dark time. And my husband and I found a renewed strength together doing what we could to help our little miracle, Ella, get better and making a home for her, yet those delicate places inside our hearts took some time to heal. Now, four years later, you would never know Ella began her life in the NICU. She is a healthy and happy preschooler who enjoys creating artwork for the refrigerator, petting her kitty and twirling her tutu in anticipation of her first dance recital.

Amy Carr About Amy Carr

Amy Carr (TX) is a parent of a late-term preemie, Ella, born at 35 weeks. After an uneventful pregnancy, Ella's early birth and the complications that followed were a shock. Now in elementary school, her daughter is doing well and Amy enjoys using her writing, marketing and communications acumen on behalf of nonprofits and charitable causes. Formerly a founding staff member at Hand to Hold, you can reach Amy via email.

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