Monday, October 25, 2010

Hi diddly dee, a preemie's life for me

It's amazing how my thoughts can be completely consumed by my son in one form or another. Everything seems to relate to him somehow. How can a tiny 1lb 11oz being capture my heart so completely?

Observations of preemiehood

1. The NICU is a very intimidating place, but we've learned that as long as the nurses are calm, we can be calm. All the staff at UVA has been wonderful, patient, kind, and exceptional at their job and care for Judah.
2. It is surprisingly rare to exclusively breastfeed/pump for a preemie. It is also rare for both mother and father to be actively involved and engaged with our child in the NICU. Those are both heart-breaking thoughts.
3. 'Mommy brain' is already taking over. I have so much difficulty remembering words, losing my train of thought, forgetting things, or just doing ridiculous things like putting cereal in the freezer or toothpaste on my hairbrush.
4. The smallest victories must be celebrated. Gaining an ounce is a huge step. Making it a whole day without changes to the respirator are quite the milestone.
5. The smallest things make my heart melt: Opening his eyes, flexing his fingers and toes, little squeaks and gurgles. furrowing of the brow. Oh my son, how those little things keep me smiling!
6. Most everything is out of my control... and it sucks. I can not control my child's development or progress, my schedule is based around hospital visits, overnight stays at Ronald McDonald, and playing catch-up when home.
7. I find it very difficult to accept help. I hate feeling like a charity case. I am full of pride. I am resentful and resistant. I've always been self-sufficient. I've always been the one to help others. God is using this time to strip me of everything that makes me rely on myself and forces me to rely on Him.
8. Having a child makes my love for my husband grow... having a child in the NICU has strengthened our marriage, and my faith in God.
9. My husband, having very little experience with children, has a love for our son that can not be matched. It is precious and invaluable and continues to surprise me. To hear him hum hymns and worship songs quietly to our sleeping son, to see him praying over our little one. To see the wonderment and compassion in my husband's eyes. To see his face light up each time we visit the NICU. To see his contentment as our firstborn son lies sleeping peacefully on my husband's chest. To hear him say "my son", with pride and joy.
10. Our child has captured the hearts of hundreds--maybe thousands-- of people. This is one thing that has surprised me most. Perfect strangers are moved by his story, his very life. Churches and people I have never visited or met pray for him daily. We've received spontaneous gifts of charity and generosity simply at the mention or hearsay of our tiny son. I've been humbled by the overwhelming support of friends, families, and people across the US and World... and it is beautiful to see the body of Christ moving the way God intended it to.
11. Prayer works.
12. As emotional as this season is from time to time, I have never doubted God's plan and purpose for my son's life, and the perfect timing of his arrival.
13. Judah's nurses have commented on:
  • His cuteness
  • How well-mannered he is
  • How priviledged we are to be his parents
  • How well he is doing and meeting expectations for his age and size
  • How everyone in the NICU loves Judah
  • That he's a fighter
I'd have to agree with all of that! :)

14. I could stare at him ALL DAY (and I do at every chance I get).
15. Newborn babies look ginormous!
16. I feel priviledged to see his development outside of the womb, unlike most parents. He is fearfully and wonderfully made, perfect in every way!
17. I'm in disbelief at the justification for abortion-especially late-term abortions... I've always been against it... but after seeing my son, born at 25 weeks, and knowing abortions can be performed on babies his size, angers me and breaks my heart.
18. There's a lot of things that just don't matter very much anymore, in comparison to my being a mother and wife.
19. Holding my son is addicting, calming, exhilerating, and the most peaceful feeling in the world.
20. I wasn't sure I'd say this... but I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat. And yes, I'd love to have more children--even at risk of having to go through all the sickness, ER visits, bedrest, drama, and NICU.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Road to Judah Emmaus: Our birth story

October 8th, 2010 was surrounded with a flurry of miracles, blessings, joys, fear, and loss. Not only did we gain a son unexpectedly early, but we've also had several friends and family celebrating new babies and new pregnancies as well as experienced injuries, and even loss of loved ones-- all in one day.

This is our story of how our son, Judah Emmaus Tack, came to be a part of our family yesterday:

On the morning of Friday, October 8, 2010, at 8:15am Jonathan and I headed to Shenandoah Women's Health Care for our scheduled weekly appointment with a midwife. It was my 4th week on bedrest, but I had been holding stable at 1cm and about 80% effaced every appointment before so we had no concerns going in. I was 25 1/2 weeks along in my pregnancy. The only difference I had taken note of was Thursday evening and Friday morning I had slightly more vaginal discharge than usual.

The midwife did their normal cervical check and discovered I had dilated to somewhere between 2-3cm, pelvic stage 0 (meaning baby dropped) and 100% effaced. This caused enough alarm that they decided to send me to the hospital to be checked again and confirm their suspicions that I was possibly going into pre-term labor.

We immediately drove to the local hospital (RMH) at about 9am for an unplanned visit and cloudy minds whirling around at the possibilities... but we were still calm and not expecting too much to come from it, other than possibly being monitored for a few days.
We met the midwife on call and were checked again, confirming that I was indeed at about 3cm--possibly a little more. I laid on an incline with my feet higher than my head so the pelvic stage did go back to about -3 due to gravity's help. But my progression was enough to make them concerned I was going into pre-term labor, and with a premature infant whose head was only about 5cm in circumference, it would not take much more for the baby to come out. They wanted me to immediately be taken to UVA (University of Virginia - the same hospital we went to when they first discovered my cervix had dilated to 1cm). The drive would have taken us over an hour, and they felt it was safer for me and the baby, if I did progress too rapidly, to be flown by helicopter so they can support a preemie immediately if necessary.

Before we knew it, we had Air Medics loading me onto a helicopter, waving goodbye to my (slightly-jealous and panicky) husband who had to drive instead of ride with me, as we took to the air. Baby's (and my) first helicopter ride ;)
15 minutes later, we landed in Charlottesville at UVA Medical Center and I was whisked away to the Labor and Delivery Ward where they began the poking and prodding. Monitors for fetal heartbeat as well as contractions were in place, and they did an ultrasound and another cervical exam to see where everything stood.

My favorite Doctor ever, Susan Lashley, who attended me last month at UVA as well, met me at about 1pm and discovered that I was close to 4cm and could even feel what she thought was baby feet dropping into cervix. I was also showing mild contractions on the monitor. The ultrasound confirmed that he was in a breached position and the feet were indeed dropping into the birth canal.

We were told that because the baby is so small and fragile, delivering vaginally (especially being breached) could have a lot of risks of injury to the baby. But if I progressed to even 6cm, that was wide enough and considered "fully dilated" and the baby could descend feet-first into the birth canal past the point of no return. A c-section was certainly a safer option for him than laboring naturally and risking distress, brain bleeds, injury, or getting 'stuck' in the birth canal. I, however, had not even considered a c-section before and assumed I would labor naturally... so this was a very scary for me to consider, though I knew in my heart that it was the best for our baby if it came to that. We were also told that the baby had about 60-80% survival at 25 1/2 weeks. He was measured by ultrasound to be about 1lb 2oz and 12" long.

I was monitored over the course of the next several hours to see if I kept progressing or if I leveled out somewhere around 3-4cm. But each time I was checked, things progressed and contractions were more consistent and noticeable. I was given Magnesium in hopes to calm contractions and also to protect the baby's brain. It made me incredibly nauseous, very hot, and I was so hungry and thirsty but not allowed to even have ice chips at that point.

At about 5:30pm, I was between 5-6cm and the baby's feet and butt were starting to descend into the cervical area. A decision had to be made quickly as to whether I wanted to risk vaginally delivering, or prep for a c-section. The type of c-section I would require due to being 15 weeks early, would likely have to be a vertical 'classic' incision as opposed to a normal horizontal incision. The vertical incision meant more/thicker scarring and would cause high risk of rupturing the uterus in future pregnancies if carried to full term: in other words, I would never be able to have a vaginal birth in the future. I was very disappointed at that thought, but didn't want my own selfishness of what I'd miss out on in the future to get in the way of what was best for our baby at that moment. We made the decision to proceed with the c-section, and had peace that this was the best and safest choice we could make for everyone involved.

By 6:30 they began to perform the surgery- the weirdest feeling in the world to be numb from the chest down. I knew my feet were there but couldn't feel them or even begin to try to move them. The only feelings I had were tugging that made my whole body move a little... it was the easiest cervical exam I have had all year! I couldn't believe that I didn't even KNOW a nurse was checking me until I saw her doing it.
Everything was happening so quickly I hardly had a chance to think about it, much less worry or panic over anything. I knew that we had hundreds of people across the nation praying for us and felt a great sense of peace that we made the right decision-as difficult and unprepared we were to make it.

About 20 minutes into the surgery, we heard a male voice on the other side of the surgical curtian say "7:08!" and Jonathan and I both knew that was the birth announcement as they pulled him out. I told Jonathan to go and look at him, and he stepped away to see his son for the first time as they carried him over to be cleaned and examined. I heard a few tiny whimpers of a cry, which I will never forget-it was the sweetest sound in the world for a baby that tiny and fragile to have the strength in his lungs to cry, even if it was more of a whimper compared to full-term baby cries. Of course then I started to cry, and Jonathan came back to me with tears running down his face, unable to control his emotions. It was such a beautiful moment, but still scary because we knew this was the road we chose for our son and there was no turning back to what unknowns lied ahead over the course of the next few months and maybe even years.
A few minutes after he was born, I started to get really nauseous and ended up throwing up what little was in my stomach-- but I had no control or feeling in my stomach muscles so it took every ounce of strength just to get it to come up- another very strange feeling!
Just as I finished throwing up, they wheeled our son to about 8 feet away from me. I had just taken my glasses off because of being sick, so the moment was quick and blurry and all I saw was a little squishy pink face surrounded by cloth and monitors through the plastic wall of the incubator. But the moment they wheeled him by, all sickness was gone and I felt great- I was just relieved to know he was alive and well.

After they moved the baby to the NICU and they began sewing me up, one of the nurses informed me that they had, indeed, been able to do a normal c-section incision! The uterus had enlarged enough due to contractions that it thinned out and they had enough room to make a horizontal cut. I was so thankful and saw that as a little *bonus* from God on top of having our son healthy and breathing at such an early age.

I spent several hours in a post-op room recovering and I was feeling great. I had so much peace about our circumstances, and was so excited to receive ice water after a whole day of eating nothing! After finally getting a room in the "Mother and Baby" ward, I pumped milk for the first time and was able to get 1ml on the first try. These first few days and weeks every single drop of breast milk is 'liquid gold'.
At about 1am we made our way to the NICU to meet our son for the first time. We talked with the nurses and Jonathan spent time touching him gently as we both took pictures. I wanted to allow time for Jonathan to bond with him first, knowing that fathers and mothers bond differently with their children- my bonding will come along more so when I hold and feed him. It has been precious to watch the love that has grown in both of us for our child.

At about 2:00am the day he was born, we made a video announcing his arrival and the name we chose for him:

Judah Emmaus Tack
We had picked out the name a while back. We thought Judah was a very strong name, and Judah Emmaus flowed very well together. It wasn't 'til after the fact that we discovered his initials were "JET", and that seemed very appropriate since Jonathan's a pilot :)

Judah in Hebrew means, "We will confess the praises of the Lord"

Emmaus comes from Luke 24:13 right after Jesus rose from the dead, and He met two disciples on the "road to Emmaus". They discussed Jesus' death without them even recognizing Him until later. When they realized who He was after arriving in Emmaus, they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”

We spent the next three days at the hospital recovering and spending time with Judah. Each day my milk supply improved and my pain became more manageable. It still has been very emotional and draining, especially considering how unexpected all this was and how much has changed all at once. But through this we have seen an outpouring of support and prayers from literally hundreds of people including perfect strangers. Seeing the Body of Christ in action is a beautiful thing, and as much as we've been encouraged, we are seeing that Judah's story has also encouraged and inspired others. God is working through us even when we don't feel strong or think we're doing our best. His light is shining through our weaknesses, and it's been an incredibly rewarding journey even in just the few short days we've been traveling this road. There are many moments it is hard to believe that this is really our life now. Sometimes I feel as though I'm watching someone else go through this, and it is someone else's precious child... Other times I am overwhelmed with the thought that the Lord gave Judah to us and he is here- much earlier than we ever thought, but he is here and NOW we will PRAISE the LORD!

All the staff in the hospital and NICU have been so supportive, and been our advocates-wanting to help any way they can and answer all our questions. They've helped us get inexpensive housing for the next several weekends, got him approved for medicaid, given us resources and advice and answered all our hundreds of questions with grace and patience. And most importantly, they have cared for Judah as well as us with utmost skill, attention, and respect.

This is not just a birth story, this is a testimony of God's goodness and miraculous intervention on our lives. Judah's life is a living example of God's love and grace towards us and we can't help but be in awe and feel so undeserving of this precious gift He is giving us... the experience alone has given us new perspective and understanding in so many ways.

Judah's journey has just begun, and we are proud to be his parents traveling this road with him, as we learn and grow and see God work more miracles every day. We recognize that it will not always be easy, and sometimes two steps forward and one step back, but we are trusting this little guy and our faith in His hands.

Thank you for being a part of this journey with us, and for the overwhelming support and prayer you've offered- it truly has made all the difference, and God is hearing and answering our cries no matter how big or tiny those voices may be.