September 2020 – Preemie of the Month

Rowan Cummings
As told by: Meghan Cummings
“All I ever felt was pain, but I think I am going to remember the smiles instead.”

I am proud of my body, for it carried my baby as long as it could. As a mother, your child’s pain hurts more than your own and you will do anything to preserve their purity and innocence.

On February 1st, 2020, my water spontaneously broke three months early. I was 26 weeks pregnant with my first baby—it was an unexpected pregnancy that occurred during an extremely tough time and only complicated my already complicated life. The concept and reality of having a baby was so beyond my comprehension, let alone being launched into it 14 weeks early. I blamed myself, of course. I begged my doctor for an explanation, demanding to know if it was my fault. She paused, then shook her head, “Sometimes you can do everything right, and bad things will still happen.”

I was diagnosed with premature rupture of membranes (PROM) and was told I’d likely go into labor within 48 hours. I laid in bed heartbroken that night and made a promise to my baby that I would fight as long as I could to keep him inside. So, I ordered new maternity leggings and made plans to go to an art class at the hospital later that week. I’ve proven doctors wrong before, and I was determined to do so again.

After two days of contractions, I continued to downplay the intensity of my pain and rejected my doctor’s offer to stay after her shift ended in the event I went into labor. She took my word and went home, but as the night continued it became clear I was indeed in labor and that a baby was about to be born…clear to everyone except me.

The on-call doctor entered my room, a woman I had never met before. She emotionlessly relayed to me that I was 8cm dilated. “It’s happening now.” One of the nurses near my bedside began to pray. Without a moment to react, my hospital bed was being wheeled to an operating room and I found myself alone and surrounded by strangers in scrubs. One of them placed a plastic bag on my belly, and told me not to touch it. “That’s what your baby will be put into.” It was too late to administer an epidural, or any medication for that matter, I didn’t even have an IV. Some of the people in scrubs hastily poked me all over and blood spilled out of my arms while others coached me through each push. Turns out I can birth a human faster than an IV team can get a needle into my veins, and within 30 minutes, Rowan was born, tossed into that plastic bag and taken away from me. I felt lifeless and robbed, but I kept my promise to him. I fought until the end.

It is strange how NICU mothers are forced to abruptly stop feeling our own pain because suddenly the weight of our babies pain is so much more. Everything happened so fast in the beginning, and then it just felt slow. Rowan weighed 1 pound and 15 ounces at birth, and he could even breathe on his own initially. But then he got really sick. Rowan spent over 80 days intubated on a ventilator, including weeks and weeks—and weeks—on high frequency. So I sat there next to him, and memorized the rhythm of his body vibrating from the machines since I couldn’t hold him in my own arms. He had recurrent pneumonia and contracted just about every lung infection in the books. At one point, his lungs homed over 10 million colonies of bacteria, the hospital said they had never seen a number that high before. His breathing tube—the reason he was still alive—was also the reason he couldn’t get better.

Rowan spent 191 days total in the hospital, over six months, which is longer than he ever spent in my belly. Half of that time he was nearly completely sedated and his life was just a machine. So I moved my own life into the hospital too. I slept every single night there, trapped in a building I so desperately wanted to escape but couldn’t bear to leave. I wish I could delicately summarize everything that Rowan and I went through, but I am still understanding how to process it. Due to Covid-19, I went months without seeing my family or friends. His dad hasn’t been able to see him since March. At one point I went 7 weeks without even just stepping foot outside. Winter turned to spring and spring turned into summer. George Floyd was murdered just 10 blocks down the street from Rowan’s hospital, and the nightmare continued. I saw the city I grew up in go down in flames and then fall into ashes all through Rowan’s tiny window. Our doors and windows got boarded up, and the National Guard was deployed outside. It’s a lot to process, you see, because I didn’t just have to see my baby in pain here. I watched a pandemic unfold. Every building on our street was on fire. But the most haunting of memories are the ones I saw just outside Rowan’s door: mother’s weeping for their babies. There was heartbreak everywhere.

I was never confident in my abilities to be a mother, so I immediately invested all my energy and self into loving Rowan as much as I could during his NICU stay. Rowan’s dad couldn’t be in the hospital due to Covid, so it really was just us. Our bond was just as crucial in both of our healing as his ventilators were. Rowan finally was able to come home on August 12th, which means I finally got to go home too. He’s still on oxygen support and will be for a while. He gets his feedings through his G-Tube and my kitchen is basically a CVS pharmacy. But, we smile a lot. We are happy. So, although this is a story that’s ridden with pain, I don’t think it’s a sad one. Rowan’s story is one of hope. It’s a story about love.