“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” James 1:17-18
I struggle with deciding what to write in these posts. I constantly have thoughts going through my head when I am in the middle of something, and then I get distracted or focused on something else. Also, being a perfectionist, especially when it comes to writing, I get consumed with the worries of how to communicate EXACTLY what I want to say, without hurting anyone or opening up the possibility of someone mistaking my words. It’s a difficult order. I also do this with my feelings. I worry about how others will perceive me or my intentions, or that they will decide that they just don’t want anything to do with me if I share how I truly feel. So, I stay quiet, bottling up my emotions, in hopes that they will eventually go away or I will be able to forget they exist. Sometimes, they do go away or I forget, but I have learned that my pain and shame are not the only things I leave behind on the doorstep of my heart. . .I also leave a piece of my authentic self and my ability to have meaningful relationships.
A week before Thanksgiving, Sam and I flew home to Illinois. It was a great trip, and something my heart desperately needed. While there, I spent every moment with family–aunts, uncle, cousins, siblings, a niece, and Mom and Dad. I was able to introduce Sam to the Phillips side of his family, and I was also able to meet one of my nieces for the first time, as well. I actually stayed with my cousin, Angie, and her family, while there. Growing up, Angie and I were very close in age, so we would play together a lot during family gatherings at Grandma’s house. During college, our relationship went from that of cousins to very close friends. I don’t know if it’s because we share a blood connection, but we are very similar in our personalities, and so we understand each other extremely well. I also know that she loves me no matter what, and I offer her the same sentiment. She is one of the very few people in this world that I have no problem being vulnerable with. . .I know she will care for my heart like she cares for her own. We communicate via text on a pretty regular basis, but being there in person with her, enjoying her presence and being able to interact with her on a different level was so refreshing. We talked about all sorts of things, but mainly about our kids. I realized that in telling her about all that I experienced when pregnant with Sam, and then his premature birth and NICU stay, that I had been neglecting to properly deal with all the pain, fear, and shame I have regarding those situations. Since he came home, I have been distracted from it all by caring for him and just being a mommy. However, the instant I would start to recall some of those memories, I would suddenly feel a burning sensation in my chest, and my eyes would well up with tears. The harder I tried to prevent my emotions from showing, the more they came–through tears, sniffles, and even sobs.
So, I’m writing this post to share my story of bringing my son Samuel into this world. Adam and I are pretty private people, so we kept positive when communicating to our close family and friends about what we were going through, but when it was just the two of us, we were very, very broken. I am so thankful, though, that this story does have a happy ending, because we were able to bring our son home from the hospital–healthy, and needing no other medical intervention. I cannot forget that many families experiencing the same things we did are not that lucky.
Adam and I had been married for eight years when I found out I was expecting. We waited so long to have a baby because our life was so full of transitions and uncertainty–jobs, moving, etc.–that we didn’t feel it would be fair to a child to experience the stress and strain of that life. However, when we moved to Nevada, we made the decision to make it work, no matter what. Adam’s job offered us the stability we needed to make that a reality, and I was able to step back from work in order to focus on taking better care of myself. It seemed like perfect timing.
From the very beginning, I had a relatively easy and typical pregnancy. I was extremely fatigued in the first trimester, felt a little more energy in the second, and moved into my third without ever having any morning sickness. I felt very lucky, since one of my sisters had terrible sickness during her pregnancy. My blood pressure was always normal, but I was concerned about the likelihood of developing gestational diabetes, due to my weight and my family history. I failed the one hour test at 24 weeks, and then failed the three hour test at 28 weeks. I was pretty upset at that point, because I felt that I had not done my job to protect my baby from harm. However, I knew that with just a few changes, I could still prevent the baby growing inside of me from having any issues due to my diagnosis. So, I made an appointment to see a nutritionist at the High Risk Pregnancy Center to learn about what those changes would be.
The appointment was scheduled for early afternoon on March 27th. I was 29 weeks pregnant. Adam, who accompanied me for every other doctor visit, was having a really busy day at work, so I told him not to worry about making it to this visit, since it was just a nutritional consultation. I arrived at the center feeling completely normal for being 29 weeks pregnant, and after waiting a few minutes in the lobby, went back to have my vitals checked. This is when everything changed. The nurse hooked me up to a blood pressure machine, and it read 180/110. WHAT?! I told her to take it again, because that couldn’t be accurate. . .I felt fine. Again–180/110. And again, I didn’t trust the reading, because I had had no issues with blood pressure my entire pregnancy, had no symptoms of any problems, and I had never met anyone at this doctor’s office. I asked for my blood pressure to be taken manually, because that’s how it is always done at my OBGYN’s office, and I trusted them. Before that could be done, my urine was tested for protein, and I was sent to a private room for further evaluation and questioning. The nutritionist (who was also a nurse) seemed to find it hard to believe that I had no swelling, headaches, etc., all things that allude to preeclampsia. She told me that I was likely going to the hospital that day to have my baby. Obviously, I didn’t like the information she was telling me, and I felt like she could have been a little more sympathetic to the shock and fear I was going through just 10 minutes after arriving for my nutritional consultation. I felt so afraid, so alone. I gathered myself enough to contact Adam to tell him what was going on and to come as quickly as he could. They went ahead and did my nutritional consultation, but the entire time all I could think about was if my baby would be ok. During the session, the nurse told me that they did find protein in my urine, which was a hallmark sign of preeclampsia. The doctor that was at the clinic that day ordered an emergency ultrasound to be done, to determine the size of the baby and his presumed health, in order to communicate to the neonatologist (NICU doctor) at the hospital. The ultrasound looked good, and they estimated that he weighed 3 pounds, 4 ounces. The doctor prepared us for the likelihood of delivery that day, but also assured us that our baby boy looked healthy and had a very high chance for survival. I then went on the fetal heart rate monitor until we got the OK to head over to the hospital.
Adam and I drove to the hospital, not sure of what we were about to go through. They were waiting for me when I arrived at about 5 pm, and I filled out some paperwork and then proceeded to my room in Labor and Delivery. The nurses began the process of hooking me up to an IV, checking my blood pressure, which had climbed to 190/110, and administering meds to try to get that number down. I also began regular blood draws and a gamut of other tests to gauge my health and the health of the baby. The neonatologist met with us to discuss what issues and difficulties we could expect for our son, if he was to be born at 29 weeks. The information we received was worst case scenario, but thankfully, the neonatologist was kind and had over 30 years of experience. We felt like we were in good hands. He also provided us with a bit of humor, which was welcomed in the midst of all our fears. By 10 pm that night, my blood pressure had stabilized at about 150/90, so I was allowed to eat a small sandwich and try to rest. I was moved to a room in the antepartum wing of the hospital. I would soon find out that this would be my home until I delivered my baby. . .which could be hours, days, or weeks.
The goal was to stay pregnant as long as possible, without harming my baby. My daily routine comprised of taking meds, blood pressure checks every 2 hours, blood draws, doctor visits, fetal heart rate monitoring for 2 hours/day, and total bed rest. Adam stayed with me for the first few days, but after discussing the likelihood of an extended stay, we knew that he would have to go back to work and try to regain some normalcy while we walked this road. This also meant that he would stay the night at home, since the hospital only offered a fold out chair as a spare bed–he needed to be able to get proper sleep, and I accepted that. However, I was desperately lonely when he was gone, and I was also convinced that I could control my blood pressure by laying a certain way, not moving for 20 minutes prior to the next check, and breathing deeply while my arm was being crushed by the monitor’s sleeve. For the first three days of my stay, I believed that it was my responsibility to keep my blood pressure low and to protect my baby. In reality, I was actually perpetuating a constant state of anxiety and fear, which only did harm. If I was awake, I was crying My nurses were obviously very concerned for me, but they did what they could to make me comfortable. Based on the doctor’s recommendation, we limited visitors and maintained communication with only our closest family and a couple of friends. My heart was broken as I watched my husband struggling with the fear of not just losing his unborn child, but also his wife. I felt as though I was also letting him down because all of this was my fault. I felt that if something were to happen to our baby, I would never be able to forgive myself.
During that first weekend at the hospital, I had the desire to pray, but had no idea what to say. I felt so lost and helpless, and all I really wanted to do was cry. However, what continued to come to my mind was The Lord’s Prayer. “Our father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” I memorized these words back when I was a kid in Sunday School, and I started using them regularly in my prayer life a couple of years ago. So, it only made sense to me that I should just repeat those words whenever I felt fear, shame, or heart ache. I truly believe that God did a transforming work in me through those words. I began to accept the reality that there was absolutely nothing I could do to help my situation, and there was nothing I was doing to make it worse, either. Regardless of the medicines I was taking or the amount of rest I was getting, the placenta–my baby’s lifeline connecting his body to mine–was shutting down. I realized that my desire for control was stealing my peace, which is what I needed in order to endure whatever was to come.
As the days turned into weeks, Adam and I fell into our own routines, which made coping with our circumstances easier. I liked being able to know when to expect the next dosage of meds, the next meal, the next needle prick. Adam returned to work, which allowed him to focus on something other than hospital rooms and painful “goodnights”. We had several instances where my blood pressure would skyrocket, and we would be in a whirlwind of uncertainty and fear until it would go down again. We celebrated our ninth anniversary in the hospital. We did our best to feel normal around each other, but I think we both felt like we were walking on eggshells, not wanting to upset the other with our own fears or anxiety.
On the weekend of April 11th, I had another episode of my blood pressure reaching into the 180/110 range. Also, during one of my fetal heart rate monitoring sessions, it was discovered that the baby’s heart rate was having prolonged periods of decline, which indicated that he was under stress. The doctor ordered constant monitoring, which basically meant that I did not sleep for more than 24 hours. The nurses had a hard time finding his heartbeat in the first place, since he liked to move around. I remember several times where the nurse would ask, “Have you felt him move recently?” when she was having difficulty finding his heart beat with the monitor. Although I didn’t say it, I knew that she was asking that because of the very real possibility that my baby would not even make it to his own birth. It was a sobering and painful thought, but I did my best to put my trust in Christ, that no matter what, He would keep my baby safe.
Eventually, my blood pressure did stabilize, but I knew that we were getting closer to delivering my baby sooner than we hoped. After the initial diagnosis of preeclampsia, I was told that our goal was to get to 34 weeks. At this point, I was at 32 weeks. The high-risk pregnancy doctors I was seeing every day began to order daily ultrasounds. In the ultrasound on Monday of that week, the doctor noticed that the baby’s diastolic blood pressure (when the heart is at rest) in the umbilical cord, was nonexistent. They also said that he had intrauterine grown restriction (IUGR), which meant that he wasn’t really any bigger than when I first entered the hospital several weeks prior. They told me that if at any point that his cord blood pressure began to go in reverse, they would need to deliver, since that was a life-threatening condition. They did say, however, that it was possible for the blood pressure to remain the same for weeks, which gave me some hope that we might still be able to make it to 34 weeks.
However, during my ultrasound on Thursday, April 16th, the high-risk doctor found that, in fact, the baby’s blood flow in the cord was going in reverse. He asked me if I had eaten lunch, and then told me that it was time to deliver. He sat on my bed and called my OBGYN on his cell phone to tell her what was going on and to schedule my C-section. 9 pm. Before he left, the nurses began the initial preparations for surgery. I texted Adam. I shed some tears, and I repeated the Lord’s prayer several times, along with, “Dear God, protect my baby.”
Adam arrived at the hospital about an hour later, and we began the terrible process of waiting. It seemed like everyone in Las Vegas decided to have a baby that night, as there were women laboring in the hallways, and doctors were fighting over the operating room. My scheduled surgery time came and went, but finally, I was taken over to the OR. As they were prepping me for my spinal, my OBGYN remarked on how calm I seemed. I said something about how I’ve learned over the years to appear to be very calm on the outside, because I was a ball of nerves on the inside. Before this experience, I had never even had so much as an IV. . .now I was about to experience surgery for the first time. The anesthesiologist soon told me to arch my back, and my labor and delivery nurse told me that she was going to give me a big bear hug. I know she was doing this to help keep me still, but the feeling of being hugged so tightly, even by someone who didn’t know me and may not remember me by the next day, brought me to tears. I tried really hard to keep it in, partly because that’s my typical response, and partly because I knew a giant needle was being inserted into my spine, but tears fell anyway.
After the spinal was complete, Adam was allowed in the room, and surgery began. I kept thinking, “If he is at least 4 pounds, he will be ok.” Soon, after feeling a lot of pushing and pulling, I heard the sweetest little cry I have ever heard. Samuel Gordon Osterloo entered the world on April 16, 2015 at 11:08 pm. The team of doctors and nurses that were there just for him began their evaluations. They told me his weight–3 pounds, 5 1/2 ounces, and my heart sank. I so desperately hoped he would be at least 4 pounds. I kept saying, “He’s so little,” over and over. After a quick glance and a kiss, Sam was taken to the NICU, and my surgery was completed. I made it to my recovery room just after midnight.
Because of my issues with blood pressure, I was put on magnesium sulfate for 24 hours postpartum. During that time, I was not allowed to leave my bed. I had been told horror stories about magnesium sulfate, so I didn’t expect to enjoy the first 24 hours of being a mommy. Thankfully, it made me feel more like a zombie than anything else, and I only got sick a few times. Exactly 24 hours after starting the medicine, at around 2 am on Saturday, April 18th, Adam rolled me into the NICU to see our boy. It was such a surreal experience. There was my son–I could see that he looked like his daddy, just as I predicted–but I could not hold him. I placed my hands on his head and his bottom, and told him I loved him. We weren’t able to do much more than since he was so small and hooked up to many machines, but I was thankful. Our situation wasn’t ideal, but he was safe, and that’s all that mattered.
I was released from the hospital the following Monday, which brought along with it the feelings of both relief and dread. I was so happy to be able to sleep in my own bed, but I hated the thought of leaving Sam behind. It was such a helpless feeling. Everything in me wanted to fight and say, “I’m his mother! I know what’s best for him!” But, I knew in this situation, that wasn’t true. He needed medical help that I could not give him. Once again, I was forced to accept the fact that I was in control of nothing. . .my responsibility was to take care of myself and allow the doctors and nurses to take care of him. Some days, this was doable. Other days, this was incredibly painful and lonely. However, Adam and I learned how to cope with this new reality, and we did that by settling into yet another new routine.
I visited the NICU twice a day. My mother-in-law would take me in the morning, and then Adam and I would go together at night. Sam progressed very well, and we were incredibly grateful. He began to eat through his feeding tube–his first feeding was 4 ml’s. Basically, a little more than a drop. He was gaining weight. He was taken off of the CPAP machine, which gave him pressurized oxygen. We were able to hold him for the first time. We loved coming in to these good reports. Then, he would stop tolerating feedings. He would have a bout of apnea, which is common for preemies. His oxygen level would be low. He would be too exhausted to tolerate being held. Even though these were minor issues, considering all the possible things he could be going through, these reports were devastating. There were several nights that we left the hospital and cried together in our car. We knew that it was best for Sam to be there, but we still wanted him home so terribly. We would look at the pack-n-play we had set up in our room, just hoping for the day when we could see him sleeping peacefully in it.
Sam continued to progress, and after a week, he was moved to a different area in the NICU, which meant he needed less monitoring. After another week, he was moved to the Special Care Nursery, which was the last stop before going home. While there, he learned to drink from a bottle, he began regulating his own body temperature, and he just continued to grow. I had hoped that he would be able to come home by Mother’s Day, which was on May 10th. As we got closer to that day, I knew it wasn’t going to happen, since he was not taking full feedings from a bottle yet. So, I woke up the morning of my first Mother’s Day, without my baby. I spent the first couple of hours I was awake allowing the tears to come. I gave myself permission to feel the sadness of waking up to an empty crib on what should have been one of the happiest days of the year. I gave myself permission to feel the hurt and fear from leaving my baby in the hospital every night. . .knowing I could not be there to change his diapers or soothe his cries. I gave myself permission to feel the loneliness of being so far from my family. We went to the hospital later that morning, and I held my sweet boy, kissed his cheeks, and breathed in his scent. Again, I was reminded that acceptance brings peace.
Sam came home from the hospital six days later, on his one month birthday. He weighed right at five pounds. He was so tiny that I was scared to death to have him in the car seat. I rode home with him in the back seat, and just stared at him the entire way. We arrived at home, and quickly settled into new routines. We finally got to see him sleeping in his own bed. No more daily visits to the hospital. No more daily phone calls from the doctor.
This boy. This sweet, sweet boy. Not surprisingly, he is one of my main motivations for seeking change in my life. His birth, and the few weeks leading up to it, forever imprinted on my heart the desire to be different. There is no way to go through an experience like this and not be changed by it. I am simply making the choice to be changed for the better. In order for that to happen, I must allow myself to pick up those feelings I left behind on the doorstep of my heart, and see them as the gift they are. A gift to be valued and experienced, not forgotten or ignored. Thank you, Lord, for this truth.
The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)
Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.