Papel Picado

Papel Picado

Monday, November 17, 2014

''If there is a heartbeat...'': One Year Later

It was nearly one year ago that I laid in a hospital bed waiting for a doctor to perform a sonogram. After a day of unpacking and cooking, I felt what could have been my water breaking at a very early 20 weeks and 1 day. This sonogram would tell us if I was, in fact, losing amniotic fluid. I was. I was given the option to induce labor and terminate the pregnancy, however the on call doctor gave me many other options.
I don't remember the car ride home. I don't remember the exact details, but I do remember asking for my mom or mother-in-law to come stay with me. I remember crying, a lot.
I was told that I would probably go into labor within 24-48 hours, or get an infection within 72 hours. I never showed any signs of labor or infection, though. 
It was a few days later that my mother and I went in for a check-up with my doctor. The sonogram showed tiny pockets of fluid, but I could see the sadness in my doctors face. The worry and the lack of hope. My mother stayed very strong and told him we believe in miracles.
As my doctor began discussing a plan to move forward I remember these words so clear ''and if there is a heartbeat next week...'' I would hear this for four more weeks of home bed rest. Visiting my doctor as well as a Perinatologist, week by week I was told what would happen next, of course focusing on what could go wrong. Hoping for a miracle, but hanging on on those words: ''if there is a heartbeat''. Each week I would anxiously await the next appointment, waiting to hear the heart beat of this child I already loved so much.
I laid in bed, only getting up to use the restroom or bathe. I watched movies, visited with friends and tried to keep my mind off of the negative. At my checkup at 23 weeks and 6 days my doctor made the decision to admit me to the hospital for closer observation. Then it turned into everyday visits from the doctors. Everyday I would hear those words. I was monitored for an hour a day, and would hear a feisty little girl kick the monitors on my belly. I would hear that strong heartbeat. A few days they felt hear heart rate dipped too low and she was on the monitor for a bit longer. I would nap to the sound of her heartbeat. The most beautiful sound I had ever heard.
It was the night she hit 26 weeks that the placenta began to separate and die. Olive quickly went from being completely healthy, to being in serious distress in a matter of minutes. At 26 weeks and 1 day she was born. She cried when she came out and it was the best sound I had ever heard.
She was rushed up to the NICU and it was a very long 12 hours before I would see her for the first time. Many people say when they see their preemie for the first time they are sad or scared. I was completely in awe as she breathed in and out with the assistance of a ventilator.
I looked up and saw numbers on the monitor and the NICU nurse began to tell me ''this is her oxygen saturation and this is her HEART RATE''. I sat and watched it. Many times I saw the numbers drop, but the nurses always came running.
Olive was 6 days old when I was able to hold her for the first time. She had dropped below 2 lbs and fit in my shirt. It was an amazing day.
For the first 149 days of her life she was on monitors. She endured 3 surgical procedures. She came home two days shy of her 5 month birth date.
She is now 10 months old and is quite big for a former preemie. She never lets any of the limits that were put on her hold her back. She is growing and developing very well and though she's needed to be tube fed for her entire life, she is slowly starting to eat by mouth. I laugh sometimes at the thought of her once fitting in my shirt and imagine trying to squeeze all of her wonderful 19 lbs into my shirt, although she is strong enough to fight me from doing so now!
I still watch her breath in and out and I lay my ear on her chest to hear that beautiful, strong heartbeat.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Olive's Story: I Left Something Out

I want to explain first why I am writing this. I am writing this for two reasons: awareness and action. I am not writing this for sympathy, empathy or to ask for forgiveness in some way. November is Prematurity Awareness Month, and my daughter Olive's story actually begins before she was born, with my story.


 Here is my story, which begins with a story about my sister.

My sister Lisa and her husband Chase were married in September of 2008. Before taking steps to try to conceive, it was recommended Lisa be checked out by a gynecologist. It was then she received a diagnosis that changed the course of her life.
After receiving this news, she continuously told me I should see a doctor.  She would periodically ask me if I had made an appointment, to which I would always say ''I know, I know, I will do it!'' I had no plans to have children anytime soon, so I felt like I had time.
The problem is, I had signs that something was wrong, but ignored them. Nothing big, just very bad cramps, heavy periods. In 2011 the company I worked for offered a physical which included a blood draw. I received a call that everything was normal, but I had low iron levels. It was not severe, but I should see my family doctor and begin iron supplements. I had recently been on a diet in which I ate no meat and because of my lack of knowledge about nutrition at the time I assumed this was the reason. I tried eating foods with a higher iron content, and went on with my life.
I then went to a mission school in Mozambique, Africa. While I was in Mozambique I had one menstrual cycle that made me so weak I was in bed for two days with what seemed like a much worse sickness. In the back of my mind I knew it was the iron deficiency, but wasn't sure what to do about it. Upon returning to the states, I still had the symptoms, but back on my American diet, it was never that bad again.
Fast forward a year, I had gotten married and was working in a preschool. Periodically I would have pains so bad I could not walk. I had to call in a few times because of this. I thought it was possibly bad gas or constipation, but still did not get it checked.
A few months later I became pregnant. I was so overjoyed with the news, but was heartbroken at around 6 weeks when I began bleeding and was told I had what was called a fibroid tumor. The doctors believed I was miscarrying and sent me home. To my delight I found out one week and two days later that it was a misdiagnosis. The fibroid however was growing at such a rate that it had caused a subchorionic hematoma (a large pocket of blood). Every symptom I had shown was a symptom of uterine fibroid.
This fibroid was also weakening my uterus and causing me to be severely anemic. I was followed as a high risk patient. My hopes of a birthing center birth were all but gone.
Then, at twenty weeks and one day, about one week after I was cleared to do regular activity again, my water broke.
To this day they have no real clear reason my water broke. It could have been the fibroid or the hematoma.
 I found quite a few articles about anemia causing weakening of the amniotic sac.
I spent 6 weeks on bed rest and at twenty six weeks and one day Olive Elizabeth was born. Two pounds, two ounces. Fighting to breath because of the lack of lung development. She spent five months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She was on oxygen support of some sort for seven months because of her lungs. Recently a simple cough put her in the hospital for six days.
Olive at 6 days old, the first time I was allowed to hold her.

I have let go of any guilt. I don't blame myself because there is no real evidence that I could have changed anything. I just look at my beautiful, healthy daughter and feel incredibly accomplished and overwhelmed with love.

But there is always that ''what if'' in the back of my mind, though.

What if I had gone to the doctor? What if I had dealt with the anemia before becoming pregnant? What if I would have had the tumor removed before trying to conceive?

The March of Dimes recommends that women who have had difficult pregnancies or who have delivered prematurely speak with their doctors before trying to conceive again to try to lower the risk of a second premature birth.

Like my sister, I recommend any woman get checked out whether you plan to have children or not. If you are planning to have children, get yourself checked out before trying to conceive. While I realize some problems are unforeseen and some things just happen, I can tell you from experience that if you don't get checked, you will wonder.

I also would ask that those of you who know someone who is trying to conceive please encourage them to be seen. A friend, spouse, daughter, sister, cousin. It doesn't matter.For me, if one woman reads this and decides to get checked out, I will feel incredibly accomplished. Please share my story.

For those who were wondering about my sister's diagnosis and story, you can find it here: