Elizabeth's Story

Posted: Dec 18, 2010

I am the parent of a very busy 20-month-old toddler. She is bright and beautiful and very funny. My big concern is keeping her busy through the day and trying to teach her the names for everything, as she is very curious.

Life was not so simple 20 months ago. Our daughter was born at 1lb. 9oz at the Ottawa General Hospital. Considered a very, very premature infant; she was born at 25 weeks gestation rather then the normal 40 weeks.

I had been working in an upscale retail store up until the moment I went into labor. Standing behind a counter for the day was part of my job as a cosmetics consultant. I did lots of running around behind the counters and some sitting; but basically I was expected to be on my feet as a demonstration of the level of service the store provided. Having never had a child before, I did not recognize labor at the onset. I started having contractions at the end of week 24 but believed them to be Braxton-Hicks. The night after the contractions started I had some watery discharge that concerned me enough to call the emergency help line given to me by my physician. I had recalled a resident in charge of my pregnancy at my doctor's office handing me a pamphlet on preterm labor, but there are so many you receive when you are pregnant that I couldn't find it in the mass of baby materials I had accumulated. The emergency help line attendant told me that as my contractions were not severe and that there was no blood; it was not an emergency situation and I should see my obstetrician in the morning. At the doctor's the next day, the contractions were uncomfortable enough that I asked to lie down. The nurse looked concerned and immediately sent me to the hospital triage at the Civic. There, the resident happened to be a friend of mine. After checking my discharge to see if it was amniotic fluid and internally looking at my cervix to see if it was dilated; she found no physical evidence that I was indeed in labor. I was hooked up to a fetal monitor and the baby was doing well; but she felt that I should have an ultrasound to check the length of my cervix. That decision saved our child's life.

The ultrasound confirmed that I had only ½ a centimeter left to my cervix, which should have been at least 5 centimeters long. And that began our frightening ordeal. I was immediately checked into the hospital with no hope of going home until the baby was born. I was given antibiotics to ward off infection, and started my first of two Celestone injections required to help strengthen the baby's immature lungs in case of a premature birth. I was just settling into the idea of a long hospital stay when, on the second night , my water broke. I was rushed to the Ottawa General hospital by ambulance. There, my husband and I received the news of what could happen to our baby born at 25 weeks gestation: deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy caused from brain bleeds, anemia, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis, heart problems, apnea. And we had to sign a form that offered us three options: do not resuscitate; use 'normal measures' to resuscitate; use 'heroic measures' to resuscitate. I was sedated and my husband and I spent a tearful night, expecting the worst.

When we awoke the next morning, I had a sense of calm. Our daughter had been continuously monitored for the last three days and she was doing fine. She was not in distress, and if she had to come out early, I believed that she would be a fighter. After three more days of labor, I gave birth.

The first 2 ½ months of our daughter's life was spent in the Ottawa General's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I went to the hospital everyday for at least 10 hours a day and my husband would come in for several hours at night. We read non-stop about premature infant complications, and it seemed that I endlessly pumped my breast milk, (she didn't breastfeed fulltime until she was 6 ½ months old). While we were there we did a lot of her care including changing her diapers, feeding her by feeding tube and keeping her clean. We eventually bathed her, took her temperature and repositioned her. Our favorite thing to do though was hold her. It is called kangaroo care, and I could sit for hours at a time with her naked body on my bare chest. It was wonderful for her and for us. She did get sepsis and BPD; both which she recovered from; and there were moments when we thought she might have pneumonia. She did have one 'spell', a moment where she did not take a breath on her own and needed to be patted as a reminder to breathe. Not enough can be said for the nurses at the NICU who cared for her and possibly saved her life time and time again with their experience, knowledge and skill. We are eternally grateful to them. When we brought her home, she was a whopping 3 ½ pounds.

We have not discovered the cause for her early arrival. It falls into the category of "preterm labor". Developmentally our daughter is on target for her real age and her size is in the 50th percentile for her 'corrected age', or the age she would have been if I delivered her at term. It is difficult to portray in writing the stress, fear, anguish and disappointment felt as a parent when your child comes into this world not as expected. We are truly blessed though, as we now have a happy, healthy, gregarious toddler who continues to amaze us at every turn.

Elizabeth's Mom

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