McKenna's Birth Story
On January 8, 1999, I found out I was pregnant after being prepped for minor surgery on my foot. I was in pre-op and the nurse came over with my chart to finish up some paperwork with me. She was flipping through the pages and stopped at one, looked at me and asked if there was any chance I could be pregnant. As it turned out, when my doctor ordered blood work he had ordered a routine pregnancy test at the same time. Needless to say, I didn’t have the surgery.
Everything seemed to be going great, until one day in April. My doctor called me and said that the results from a blood-screening test had gone haywire. The test showed high indicators of Down’s Syndrome and spina bifida. He scheduled a level II sonogram and a session with a genetic counselor. My husband and I were besides ourselves. When we arrived for the sonogram, we were told that we had to first talk to a genetic counselor. That was one of the most distressing and horrible things we had to go through. The counselor painted such a bleak picture of the chances for our child’s survival that I was devastated. We agreed to an amniocentesis as well as the sonogram, and prepared for the worst.
We found out during the sonogram that we were having a girl and that she definitely did not have spina bifida. Neither did she have any of the physical indicators of Down’s. We were so relieved! The doctor believed that my placenta was the reason for the elevated levels of hormones in my blood. The placenta was slightly enlarged and had a few “lakes” of blood. The baby was slightly small for her gestational age, but seemed perfectly normal and healthy. They wanted us to come back regularly just to be safe and to monitor the placenta.
During one of these scheduled check-ups, the doctors detected an elevation in the umbilical cord’s blood pressure. The baby’s growth was also slowing down. I was told that as of that day, I was to be placed on bed rest, and I was to come in every 3 – 4 days for monitoring.
At the beginning of June, we went in for the sonogram, and the doppler on the umbilical cord was now dangerously high. I was admitted to the hospital immediately and placed on oxygen. I couldn’t believe any of this was happening. I felt fine, a bit tired, but not unduly so. So, how could I possibly be in a hospital? Everyone kept telling me that my baby was healthy; small, but healthy. She was so active! Every time they put the fetal monitor on me, she would move around until the “noise” of her heartbeat went away. I don’t think that the nurse ever did get more than 10 minutes straight of the baby’s heartbeat – she was supposed to get readings for at least 20 minutes – byt my baby was showing her stubborn streak even then!
After a couple more sonograms, I was told that it was likely I would remain in the hospital until my daughter’s birth. They knew she was going to be premature, possibly by eight weeks in the worst case scenario, but they were going to try for 6 weeks. They gave me 2 steroid shots that were supposed to help mature her lungs and prepare her for an early arrival. As it turned out, these shots probably saved her life.
On the morning of June 17, 1999, I was scheduled for a sonogram with growth assessment. The growth assessments were done every two weeks. My husband had just left the hospital to go to work when the medical team arrived. After the assessment, the doctor told me that my baby had not shown any growth since the previous assessment. He wanted me to call my husband because we had some serious decisions to make. The choices he presented us were worse than anything we could ever have imagined. We could leave her be, and wait another two weeks to see if the next growth assessment would show improvement. That sounded OK, except that up to that point we had been secure in the knowledge that she was fine and healthy. At any time over the next two weeks, she could stop being healthy because they now believed that my placenta was shutting down completely. The second choice was to take her via emergency C-Section before the placenta shut down. This choice only gave her a 50% chance of survival. We held the life of our daughter in our hands. How could we possibly know what was best? What if we made the wrong choice? We had been told all along that her gestational age was 28 weeks, so all of our decisions were based on that age.
We opted for the emergency C-Section because, when all was said and done, she had a better chance of survival in NICU than inside of me. So, we asked the doctor, “When?”
His reply was “When did you last eat?” I had just eaten breakfast, so we were scheduled for surgery at 5 p.m. that day.
I remember just going numb, and praying like I never have before in my life, but there were a lot of things to do before the surgery. We called our families who all live out of state. My parents were 5 hours away in California and wouldn’t be there in time for the birth. Once everyone had been called and all of the arrangements were made, all we could do was sit, wait, and pray that all would be fine.
I was given an epidural and some pain medication and then wheeled into surgery at 5 p.m. My daughter was so small that they ended up doing a classical C-section, and at 5:17 p.m. McKenna was brought into this world. She weighed one pound, five ounces and measured only eleven and a half inches. I can remember the tiniest of faces being shown to me as they rushed her out to NICU. Then the anesthesiologist patted my shoulder and told me to close my eyes and sleep while they closed me up.
I woke up in recovery and the first thing I saw was my husband coming in. He was crying. I started to panic, I thought the worst. My husband saw the look on my face and immediately came over, saying that no, she was doing fine. One of the doctors working on my daughter had asked him to wipe the gunk out of her eyes and she looked up at him. He told me that it truly seemed that she was looking right at him at that moment, and then she grasped his finger and he had never felt such love. He was just coming in to tell me how beautiful our daughter was and that she was stable.
My family came in shortly after that. I remember feeling horrible, physically. I also wanted to see my precious girl, and I was terrified that I would never see her alive. They brought in a Polaroid of her and I couldn’t believe how small she was. They put her on an oscillator, which was a type of ventilator that would help her lungs become stronger. She had IV’s and was being fed through her belly button. Because of my surgery, I wasn’t going to be allowed to see her until the next morning. That night was the longest night of my life. Every two hours the nurse had to come in and change my bedding and turn me over. She always called the NICU before she came in to let me know how McKenna was doing.
The next morning, my husband came and he wheeled me down to the NICU. He told me what to expect, but no amount of talk could have prepared me for meeting my daughter for the first time. She was so tiny and frail, with all the tubes and monitors. The oscillator made her vibrate horribly. They said that she had overcome her first hurdle and made it through the night. They let me open up the incubator so that I could talk to her. She opened her eyes, and I somehow knew that this beautiful little girl was going to make it. Her doctor came to talk to us and told us that she had a long road ahead of her, with good days and bad days alternating. He also told us that after her assessment in NICU, they had determined that she wasn’t 28 weeks old; her actual gestational age was 26 weeks. If it weren’t for those shots they had given me, her lungs may not have been mature enough to survive.
It was a long haul. Three and a half months,19 blood transfusions, some internal bleeding, a staff infection, and a double hernia operation later, they released her. McKenna weighed four and a half pounds when we brought her home.
She has just turned 3 years old, and aside from being on the small side, you would never know that she’d had such a rough start in life. She is a smart, willful, and beautiful little girl. It was the stubborn streak that helped her survive – I try to remember that when she tells me “NO! I don’t want to!”
I always thought during her stay in NICU that if she did die, I would still be thankful that this tiny angel had come into my life because she changed me forever. Now as I look at her, I think how thankful I am that my angel will always be in my life.
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