“Never underestimate the strength, stubbornness and determination of a baby born too soon.”
“Today is supposed to be Joshua’s due date. How appropriate that today is also the start of NICU Awareness Month, shares preemie mom,” Jenny McCormick
“Instead of arriving on September 1st, Joshua made his appearance on May 31st, and launched his mom & dad onto a path we had never expected and one we definitely weren’t prepared for.”
My Preemie Story:
At 6 months pregnant, I was a happy, healthy pregnant mom with my second son. At a routine check up my nurse practitioner couldn’t locate my son’s heartbeat. I was immediately placed in an ambulance and rushed to the nearest hospital where I was prepped for an emergency c-section surgery. I recall pleading with the nurse, “Please don’t take him out. It’s not time. He’s not ready.” Her response? “This is the only chance we have to save your baby.” I recall the surgery team referring to my son as, “the fetus.” I grabbed the nurse’s hand and said, “His name is Joshua. Please call him Joshua.” Then, everything went black.
I woke up in the recovery room to a nurse asking me in Spanish if I felt pain. I immediately asked, “Did my son survive? Is he alive?” She said, “the doctor will be with you soon” and walked away. I was left by myself in the recovery room for a couple of hours before the doctor came in to tell me my son was alive (for now). I was moved to a private room away from other mothers who had just delivered healthy, full-term babies. I was isolated, terrified and incredibly guilty. How did this happen? I did everything right, didn’t I? Why did my body not do it’s job? How did I fail to protect my baby? The doctor came in and took one look at me and told me he was going to give me a sleeping pill because he was worried about my health and emotional state and said I needed sleep.
At 3am, I was forcibly woken and saw a neonatologist looming over me. She said, “Mrs. McCormick, I need your permission to give your son a blood transfusion. His brain hemorrhaged and we need to administer blood now.” As I was still trying to comprehend what she was saying, my husband immediately signed the authorization. After that, Joshua was given a 15% chance of survival.
I wasn’t able to meet my son until 3 days after his birth. My body was having a terrible reaction to the pain medication and I kept passing out whenever I tried to stand up. Truthfully, part of me was glad that I had to wait while the other part of me wanted to rush to Joshua’s side. The reality was, I was scared. I was scared of what he would look like and I was scared to see him in pain and I was scared that somehow this was all my fault. I remember a good friend came to visit me. I was crying inconsolably and he said, “Jenny, in this moment your son is still alive, he is fighting and he is here. Get to him, touch him, smell him, tell him you are right there with him.” His words lit a fire under me and I immediately fought hard to be well enough to get to him.
Being wheeled into the NICU was probably the most surreal thing I’ve ever experienced. If you don’t have a medical degree, you just won’t be prepared for the NICU. Machines, alarms, tubes…so many tubes. In a private room where they kept the sickest babies, I saw a box with lights, alarms and tubes and there in the middle of the box lay my son. He should’ve been safe and warm inside of me…seeing him there, my brain couldn’t quite register it all. I immediately touched my belly and felt such intense loss. But once I looked at my little soldier, I felt such a strong desire to protect him as much as I could. If he was going to fight, then so was I. We were going to do this together and he WOULD KNOW his mama had his back. I pumped and pumped and pumped some more. I stayed with him as long as I could and then daddy would tag me out and he would stay with Joshua so someone could spend time at home with his 2-year old brother who was missing mommy and wondering why mommy was crying all the time.
After 129 days of battling a brain bleed, acidosis, PDA, ROP and many other complications, my little warrior came home. We were finally together under one roof. We were so excited.
Joshua came home with a feeding tube and what felt like a billion follow up appointments with many specialists. We were running from appointment to appointment to early intervention care to pediatrician appointments. Having a preemie home is exhausting but we understood clearly the blessing of having Joshua home…the sad reality is not all preemies make it home. We carry that knowledge even to this day.
Advice for Preemie Parents:
The best tip I received from a preemie and loss dad was, “Stay in the moment.” Try not to think too far ahead about the “what-ifs “and “maybes.” Take it one day at a time, one moment at a time, and one breath at a time. Remember that in the moment, your baby is still present. Talk to him, tell him how much he is loved, tell him to fight and that you are there every step of the way, and above all, hold onto hope. Hope gives us the courage to keep advocating for our preemies.
My second tip is to give yourself grace. Whatever feelings you have are okay. Be angry, be sad…you are entitled to grieve, hope, and feel whatever feeling hits you. Your emotional health is an important factor in traveling the NICU journey. Allow yourself to feel, regroup, walk away for a bit, and try, try again.
Today Joshua is 10-years old and thriving. He was given such a poor prognosis and we had no idea what Joshua’s future would look like. Well I’m happy to report that Joshua is a Rockstar! He is smart, kind, stubborn and artistic. Like most preemies, Joshua has residual effects from his early birth; he is on the spectrum and has ADHD. He is in special education classes and has sensory issues. The preemie journey can be lifelong but everything this kid does is such a miracle to me. When I see him laughing, enjoying life and accomplishing milestones and meeting goals with ease, my heart heals. He is my miracle and I’ve been given the gift of being able to say, “I’m Joshua’s mom.”