April 18, 2011 was a day that changed our lives forever. Our sixth child, Veronica Katherine, was born at 1:55am and minutes later she was rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). For hours, she remained in the NICU while Andrew and I waited in the delivery room, anxiously awaiting news of how she was doing.
Six days earlier, I was admitted to the
in preterm labor. I was only 23 weeks and 5 days pregnant but my membranes had ruptured prematurely. We were told at that point if we delivered, there was only a small chance that she would survive. And if she did survive, it was likely that she would have significant developmental issues. 24 weeks gestation is generally considered the age of viability – so if the baby remained in the womb for at least another two days, the chance of survival would improve significantly. Fortunately, medication was able to stop the labor and I was given steroid shots to help mature Veronica’s lungs. So we watched, waited and prayed that she would remain inside for at least several more weeks. But Veronica had other plans. George Washington University Hospital
The birth itself was emotionally traumatic but physically, the easiest delivery I have ever had as my five prior deliveries were all via c-section. Veronica came out quickly and seemingly effortlessly. I called for the nurses at 1:41am, called Andrew at 1:42am and delivered Veronica at 1:55am.
After waiting for hours in the labor and delivery room, one of the NICU doctors came to speak with us but much of what she said is a complete blur. I was overwhelmed with all that was happening and I was still in shock about the birth. What I did know was that Veronica was alive but that she would have a long road ahead of her. She would not be able to leave the hospital for at least several months, if ever.
The first time I saw Veronica in the NICU, I wept uncontrollably. How could this have happened? What did I do wrong? There were so many emotions I wondered how I would ever have the strength to parent a micro preemie in the NICU.
Over the next hours and days, we learned of some of the significant complications for which Veronica is at risk: respiratory distress syndrome, retinopathy of prematurity, necrotizing entercolotis, intraventricular hemorrhage. We also learned that her chance of survival for day 1 was 50% but for each subsequent day, the chances increase several percentage points. We knew that everyday she was with us would be a significant one.
Over those first few days, we were told that Veronica was doing as well as she could be. Her breathing required assistance but she was only on a ventilator for one day, a very positive sign for a 24 week preemie. Her ultrasound of the brain showed no signs of hemorrhage, another very good sign. She received almost daily blood transfusions but we were assured this was not uncommon for a preemie her age. We were also warned that the first 48 – 72 hours are generally considered the honeymoon period. After that, preemies start to have setbacks and challenges. We tried to prepare ourselves for this, but nothing could have prepared me for the call that came at 12:13am, April 24.
One of the doctor’s called to inform us that it appeared that Veronica had developed an infection. Her oxygen levels had continued to decrease and the doctor noted the possibility that they would need to intubate her again and put her on the ventilator. The news certainly wasn’t the worst, but the fact that the call came in the middle of the night caused my heart to race, I was so sure they were calling to inform us that Veronica had passed on. Those few minutes were the worst of my life. I then realized that this is what our life is going to be like for at least the next few months, ups and downs, progress and setbacks.