Yeah Yeah Yeah, I know you are thinking that anybody that has a baby will have their life changed. When I had my first child Michelle in 1985 my life did change, so why not have another one – right? Maybe I’d have a boy. Well I thought; why not? What’s one more kid? So I got pregnant and began anxiously awaiting the birth of my second child.
I had a fairly uneventful pregnancy (besides the awful morning sickness) but after that was over I really enjoyed being pregnant. It was going along swimmingly, just like the first one.
When I was about 6 months along, my husband and I took our daughter to Showbiz Pizza (now Chuck E. Cheese) for her favorite food. It was Saturday and it was a madhouse. Tons of families and kids running around. The noise was deafening. As I stood up to get a salad, well, my water broke – yep – my water broke. I was looking at my 2 ½ year old daughter, when I felt warm water running down my leg. She happened to glance up at me, and asked; “Mommy?” in her sweet little voice. My expression must have been something else for my daughter to notice something was wrong with me. I could not believe it, this couldn’t be happening as I quickly calculated how many weeks along I was – just going into my 28th week – not good, not good. We left immediately. I was not in contractions and other than my water breaking I was feeling perfectly fine.
I was still in disbelief. There was no way this could be! When I had Michelle I had absolutely no problems. What was going on? I went to the emergency room, but was sent back home to rest because I didn’t have a fever and the baby was still fine. So the ER doc said I was to go to my OBGYN on Monday. By the time I got home I had lost even more water and my stomach was smaller than it had been 2 hours earlier. I gathered that it must be normal, considering what had happened! So Monday I went to see my wonderful OBGYN, Dr. Kuhlman, who said the same as the ER doctor…the baby, was fine and I was fine, and as long as I didn’t have a fever I could stay at home with total bed rest until the baby came. WHAAT? Total bed rest? I had a 2 ½ year old at home for goodness sake!
Hah – me – complete bed rest at home – no way. “Put me in the hospital” I told him. So by Monday, that was where I found myself, looking at 12 more weeks there if I was going to make it to term. I’d be able to read a lot of books I guess. I had the luxury of being able to watch anything I wanted to on TV because I was in a private room. It was really pretty nice. So, on Wednesday night, two days after I had been in the hospital I decided to watch the movie Empire of the Sun (I’ll never forget that movie) about 9pm, nothing else to do, right? Wrong. 1 hour into the movie I started going into labor. I pressed the nurses call button to tell them I was in labor and believe it or not I had to convince the nurse I was in labor. It was crazy. I also had to convince her to call my husband (no cell phones back in 1988).
To back track one day, I had found out that I was going to have my child by C-section because the babies butt was sitting right on my pelvic bone so there was no way I could have a normal birth. To give the Dr. props though, he did say it could have been delivered normally if it weren’t for that. As the nurses were wheeling me into the delivery room I remember them saying “Where is Dr. Hyde?” I was thinking my Dr. was already there so who was this Dr. Hyde? Dr. Hyde ended up being a very important person – the neonatologist! They had a hard time finding him on a Wednesday night, what’s the deal with that? I remember my Dr. telling me we’d be able to take the baby out “When Dr. Hyde gets here” so just “Hang in there Caroline!” HANG IN THERE! What do you mean “HANG IN THERE?!” I’m having a baby for god’s sake! I was in hard labor by then. The next thing I know I’m waking up. I had my son, John Ryan, on an early Thursday morning in mid October 1988. I had gone into hard labor, late Wednesday night and had him within 3 hours by C-section. I was still in disbelief, that I was going through this. I had a premature child, something you read about but never believe will happen to you, but it had and I had to begin dealing with it.
When I first saw my son I couldn’t believe how tiny he was; he was three months early and only weighed 2 lbs 8 oz. at birth. He had lost an ounce ½ by the time I saw him about 8 or 9 hours later. He looked like a frog – he really did. But frogs don’t have blond hair – and he had beautiful blond hair. He was on a respirator for only 48 hours and had no need of oxygen soon after birth.
I became a walking encyclopedia of medical facts and terms relating to premature babies. I wanted to know everything I could about preemies so I could do the best I could for my son. One of the most interesting facts I learned was that premature white males have less a chance of making it than anybody. I remember several days after John Ryan was born and he was doing so well for just being less than a week old…one of his nurses was talking to another nurse in the neo-natal ICU and said “John Powers is doing so well for being a white male!” What the heck did she mean by that? Well I found out that females are genetically more likely to make it if they are born really early like John was and white males have less of a chance surviving than premature females (of any race). Genetically, males are weaker than females, and almost 2/3rds of premature births are males.
Amazingly my sons lungs were fully developed even though he was born 12 weeks premature. This alone was a miracle and I was told as much by the Dr’s and nurses. One nurse said, “The fact you kept John in for five days after the initial break of your water, probably saved his life.” Apparently my body and the baby knew something was not right about this situation, so the baby, while it was still inside, began swallowing amniotic fluid to begin maturing the lungs. This is not a normal aspect of pregnancy, lungs usually mature within the last 6 weeks of a normal pregnancy.
My husband and I saw other parents who lost their children during the months John Ryan was in the hospital. Several were single parent mothers, several of them children themselves. While others came and went, whether they went home or whether the passed away, my child still was in the hospital. I do remember one young mother who was 14 years old and she had had twins a week before John Ryan had been born. Twin girls that were born at about 27 weeks early and I remember the young 14 year-old girl would often visit her girls with her mother, as she herself didn’t know how to drive yet. I remember that these twins were supposed to have been born on the same day as John Ryan – January 10th. I’ll never forget that. My experience in the neo-natal unit was a very sobering one.
One month after John Ryan was born, he developed pneumonia. After a week and a half of being under oxygen (which was required because his body was not assimilating room oxygen as it should), the doctors realized he needed a blood transfusion. My husband and I felt guilty that we could not give him blood because my blood type didn’t match his universal donor type blood and my husband’s was incompatible for preemies. A “Mothers” blood bank was used – blood given by Mothers solely for the use for babies in need. I was assured by the nurses that the blood premature babies receive, is tested more than any other types of blood.
Thanksgiving Day was grim that year, as it ended up being the day my son received the transfusion. I was there watching the whole thing and as the transfusion was taking place, John Ryan was making a change before my eyes. He didn’t seem as lethargic and began moving around more. It was an amazing transformation. He was turning pink! A beautiful color compared to the dusky grey he had been for the past few days. And within 5 days John came out of the oxygen and was making it on his own.
Over the weeks that my son was in the hospital, my closeness to him became indescribable. I went to the hospital every day to sit with him and monitor his progress. There were times I felt John Ryan would never leave the hospital. My emptiness was overwhelming and I could only imagine how my son felt. I knew he had feelings even though he was just a baby. I often wondered if he really knew who I was. My lifeline to my son became the nurses and doctors who took care of him and monitored his progress daily. These were the people I will never forget…Kathy his daytime nurse, his doctor, Dr. Baum. They truly were my lifeline to him as they were the people who kept him alive during this very critical time of his life.
John Ryan had been taking breast milk since he was born, but only through a tube that had to be stuck down into his tummy every 3 hours. On December 15th John Ryan started breast-feeding. This was a great and very important step in his sweet young life. He was strong enough to feed himself and this built up his strength. He started gaining weight every day. Every ounce, every gram was critical. Consistent weight gain was a wonderful sign. I remember each day I went to the hospital I always looked at the weight chart as I was walking into the preemie unit, to see how many grams he had gained.
On December 22nd Dr. Baum came up to me and said “Well Caroline, Do you want to take John Ryan home for Christmas? We don’t want him to go because we love him to, but you get first dibs!” I was ecstatic. I also remember that Dr. Baum had told me that the twin girls were ready to go home but their mother wasn’t ready for them so they would be in the hospital a bit longer. That was bittersweet as I remember becoming a bit attached to them, too, during that time.
On December 25th, Mike, my daughte Michelle and I trekked to the hospital for one last time to bring John Ryan home. He was 5 lbs 2 oz. and ready and raring to go. My son unknowingly made me mature more as an individual and made me draw strength from areas I never knew I had. The strength John Ryan used to stay alive for those first two months…will always be with him…and with me. Oh and guess what… John Ryan wears maroon today and he weighs just a bit more than he did when he was born – 138 lbs!