I am not even sure where to start. This time of year I always find myself to be especially emotional. With March for Babies upon us, and Christopher's birthday right before, my emotions are always heightened, because it is a time when I reflect on what sometimes seems like it was so long ago, and other times feels like just yesterday. I think this year I am even more emotional because all of the sudden, my baby isn't a baby any more - he is almost 5!
When my husband and I got married we decided that we would like to have a family right away. We decided that 3 children would be perfect for us. We didn't know that as a young married couple, you can't always decide for yourself. For about 4 years we struggled with infertility. Once we found the right treatment for that, we struggled with recurrent miscarriage. By the time I was pregnant with Christopher, I was downright scared. I had 4 other pregnancies that didn't last past 12 weeks. I was hopeful during those first 12 weeks with Christopher, but it was hard.
At 20 or so weeks, when I had a text book perfect ultrasound, my husband and I finally relaxed. We even went out and bought our first baby outfit. We couldn't be happier. About 2 weeks later, our lives changed. I woke up and my water had broken. I wasn't even 23 week pregnant yet. So much of what happened then is still a blur. After checking into the hospital, having an ultrasound and fluid check and being hooked up to IV antibiotics, I was told that my membranes ruptured and that I would probably go into labor that night. I didn't. I was lucky. The next day I had another fluid check and there was no change. We were hoping for the best but expecting the worst. I believe it was that day when I met Dr. Axelrod. She explained everything to us - about the NICU, about the statistics, about what would happen if our baby was born that day or later on. We also had a decision to make. It was so early, and there was a good chance that if born that day, or in the few days following, he wouldn't fare well. We had to decide to either induce labor and let nature take it's course, or take our chances and see what happens. While my husband and I did discuss it, we decided that the word chance was a big one, and we didn't want to live with "what if". We wanted to give our family a chance. It was the best choice for us!
By some miracle I didn't go into labor that night, or the next 11! I was lucky enough to make it to the point where I could receive steroids and I went into labor at 24 weeks 2 days. Christopher was born on 4/3/04 at 7:22 pm. I thought I heard what sounded like a cats meow when he was taken from me via c-section. He was in the OR with me for what seemed like seconds before being rushed off to the NICU. I do remember the nurse pausing for a second so I could see him, and to ask what his name was. That single thing meant so much to me. I didn't know what would happen to my baby, but I did know that he had a name, and that the NICU would know him as Christopher and not just another patient.
While in recovery, Dr. Vera brought me in a picture of Christopher. It was a very nice gesture and I slept that night with the picture on my pillow that night. I still couldn't help feeling empty, because this wasn't how I imagined bringing a baby into the world.
I saw Christopher the next day. I saw shocked at how small he was. Once he lost his fluid weight, he was 1 pound 5 ounces and not quite 12 inches long. He was covered in tubes and wires. What little skin I could see was paper thin and bruised. (He was bruised because of there not being any fluid during those last weeks of my pregnancy). His eyes were still fused shut and his face was covered with a mask to protect his eyes.
Those first five days were tough. I remember being overwhelmed about everything that was happening in the NICU. One thing I can say now is it really was quite an education. The doctors and nurses were absolutely wonderful though. They had to explain things over and over to me, and never once made me feel badly about not understanding. I went home when Christopher was 5 days old. That day was horrible. I envied the moms I had to walk past, with their new babies bundled up ready to go home. I will admit, I was jealous. I was also worried that I would never get to bring my baby home. When Christopher was 6 days old, I called the NICU late at night, as I did every night before that and every night after that, to check on Christopher. Instead of a nurse coming on the phone to tell me he was ok, Dr. Vera came onto the phone to tell me he wasn't doing well. He recommended that we come. I have the feeling he didn't think he would make it through the night. That was the first time I saw Christopher turn blue. It is a site I wish no parent had to see. Christopher did survive that night, and the next day, he opened his eyes for the first time. He had the biggest, most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.
Christopher had many complications in the NICU, including apnea, anemia that he needed seven blood transfusions for, a couple of rounds of antibiotics, feeding difficulty, and ROP, which did self correct. We were lucky. Considering Christopher was born as early as he was, he could have had a much more difficult NICU course.
After 102 days in the NICU, Christopher finally came home from the NICU. I was thrilled, but it was scary too. I had gotten used to seeing the doctors and nurses, and everyone else every day, and now I was going home with my baby. Leaving the NICU, we were full of tears. We were going to miss everyone that had become part of our family over the past months. I know that they were all so incredibly happy for us though, and one doctor did say, with tears in her eyes, that no one (other than my husband and I) was happier than she was to see this day come. I am not sure that 102 days earlier, any of them expected Christopher to ever go home. He did have an apnea monitor, which he stayed on until he was 9 months old. Getting rid of that was almost as hard as leaving the NICU. You get so used to it and it is a security blanket to us parents.
Fast forward to nearly 5 years later. Christopher is happy and healthy. His favorite foods are spaghetti, shrimp, and egg rolls. He loves to ride his scooter and bike. He has friends and loves school. He can tell me just about anything about dinosaurs and gets angry when I pronounce their names wrong. He can recognize just about all of the alphabet and can write his name. He is learning to tie his shoes. He is excited about starting Kindergarten this fall - I am the one not ready.
One of our favorite things to do once Christopher was out of the NICU was going to visit from time to time. It always gave the NICU team a chance to see how far Christopher has come, and gave me the chance to thank them for all that they had done. Without the March of Dimes, and the NICU team, Christopher wouldn't be here today. Without their hard work and dedication, I might not have had a family. We have since moved out of the area, to Pittsburgh and I miss seeing everyone. I truly did leave part of my family behind. If anyone from the NICU is reading this, please pass on my thanks and Christopher's hugs! We miss you.
I attached a NICU photo and a recent one, but if anyone has the time and would like to watch the slide show I made please feel free to visit http://www.slide.com/r/wDOPonjS4j8xENsES3cggNgkmZ4elo7r?previous_view=mscd_embedded_url&view=original