Friday, September 21, 2012

A Preemie Story - Isabella

This is the story of Isabella, another one of Cohen's preemie friends. While they've never met in person, Isabella's mom Rachel and I have spent time emailing. Rachel has been a big support to me through this journey. Every once in awhile you find someone who just gets it, and Rachel is one of those people to me. Thanks for sharing your story! p.s. Today is Rachel's birthday!! Happy Birthday, Rachel, glad we can share Isabella's story for your special day.

The other day I watched Isabella push herself on her Strider for the first time. It seemed like she may be getting the hang of the balance bike. Despite my beaming smile, a small tear made its way out of the corner of my eye and rolled down my cheek. “Really”, I thought to myself. “Do I have to cry about everything?” Sometimes I am so thankful that I get emotional about nearly every new thing she does. It reminds me how much I appreciate her, and how incredibly lucky we have been. Things did not start out easy for us, and Isabella’s future was pretty gray, sometimes even black with fear and doubt. 

Isabella began her life with the odds stacked against her. Even her conception was a miracle in itself. Unbeknownst to me, my uterus was filled with fibroids, benign growths that really cause no harm, but can make it nearly impossible to get pregnant. The fibroids were discovered at our first appointment when they did an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy. I was assured they would not cause any problems and that everything was looking perfect for a long healthy pregnancy.

While I was incredibly nauseous the first few months, the baby and I were both doing well. Due to the fibroids, I was monitored more frequently, and at our 16 week appointment we were thrilled to find out we were having a little girl. Again, everything was looking perfect, the baby was growing well and all of our screening tests had come back fine. It wasn’t until our 20 week appointment that things took a turn for the worse. While the baby was again doing great, it was discovered that I had a shortened cervix. To be honest I had no idea what implications that would have for my pregnancy. My OB explained in detail what all this meant and then confidently told us her plan. I am so thankful for her and her frank presentation of the facts. Despite my fear, I truly felt safe in her care.

Part of her plan was to recheck things in a few days. Because the cervix can be dynamic and is always changing, maybe a recheck would show improvement. Foolishly, I went to the follow-up appointment alone. Instead of improvement, things were significantly worse. At 20w5d pregnant I had no measurable cervix, I was 1-2cm dilated and 80% effaced. Lying alone on the ultrasound table, tears sprung from my eyes and my body began to shake with a consuming fear like nothing I had felt before. Trying to wrap my head around this information was almost impossible and I immediately began bargaining with God, begging Him to let me keep this child. 

My husband arrived after a while and brought me to the hospital. I was to be wheeled out to the car, and then wheeled into the hospital – no walking. After getting settled into our room we met with the high risk OB who let me know I would be staying in the hospital for the remainder of the pregnancy. Even writing this and remembering the events of that day, it all seems so surreal. How could this be happening to me? I was healthy, I was a hiker, my body was capable of incredible things and yet I was failing at the one thing it was meant to do. I was a mess of emotions. It truly was a crazy time. Looking back I realize too how lucky I was that this was my first pregnancy, that my ignorance was truly a gift in that I had no other child to care for at home, and I had no idea what I was missing out on. Of course now, two and a half years later, I’m still grieving my “lost” pregnancy.

The 19 days I spent in the hospital were incredibly scary, but filled with laughter and hope. I was on magnesium for most of the time and the last 8 days I spent on labor and delivery because they thought I could deliver at any moment. What a place to be, wondering if we would even make it far enough along for the doctors to attempt to save Isabella’s life. I can say for certain that I would not have survived had it not been for the amazing, nearly around the clock support I received from friends and family. When I think of those days now, I realize how beautiful it was. We were surrounded by love when we needed it the most. We were so lucky.

Sadly, my willful attempts to make it to 24 weeks failed. At 23w3d I was completely dilated, there was nothing more that could be done to keep me pregnant. At 10:06pm on May 2, 2010, Isabella came into this world with a tiny “mew”. The NICU team worked at intubating her while I was getting put back together. My husband was back and forth between the two of us, but ultimately left me to follow Isabella and the team up to the NICU. Interestingly, I never doubted that she wouldn’t live long enough to make it to the NICU. It’s only now that I realize how lucky we were that she survived the birth and was able to be stabilized.

The next few days are really difficult to describe. So much pain both physically and emotionally. I was on the postpartum floor, listening to the loud healthy cries of newborns everywhere. And even worse, I was encouraged to walk as much as possible. That meant pacing the halls, limping my broken body past the newborn nursery, staring in at those babies resting peacefully and painlessly. It broke my heart into a million pieces. I would stagger past the window, tears exploding from eyes, desperate for someone to tell me it was all going to be ok. Anyone who has been on this journey knows there are no guarantees and the only mantra you can depend on is “no news is good news”.

Isabella’s 107 day NICU stay was so very uneventful in the grand scheme of things. Yes, she struggled with her blood pressure, she needed multiple blood transfusions, she was fed and not fed many times, and was tpn dependent for a while. She was on the oscillating ventilator for a little over 2 weeks, then switched to the conventional, and eventually, after several trial runs, graduated to the c-pap for good. It took her more than a month to hit the 2 pound mark. She had more x-rays than I can remember, and more heel sticks than I care to know about. She endured more pain than any child should have in a lifetime. But she survived, and we are so very grateful.

Sometimes I wonder why, or even worse, what if. That’s a very dangerous path for me to travel down. So I try to just see what is, just for this day. Today I am blessed to share my life with a beautiful, strong, stubborn little girl. I love my sweet little Bella-boo more than she’ll ever know!

{Isabella around 10 days old}

{And here's the little lady today. Isn't she cute?}

I love reading other preemie stories, and hopefully you do too. I think it's so amazing to hear the challenges these little ones have overcome. I love to hear the different perspectives and wisdom of the parents as well. If you want to share your preemie story with us, please email us at  

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