When my husband and I decided to start a family, I knew it might not be easy. Many of the women in my family had trouble conceiving and carrying their babies to term. My husband said I was worrying too much and everything would be fine. And, amazingly, at first it was — we got pregnant quicker than I ever could have imagined, without really trying! And the first part of my pregnancy was what the other pregnant women at my workplace dreamed of. Hardly any morning sickness, no leg cramps, no weird food cravings. But I was still nervous.
I brought up my family history with my OB at a routine visit. "Don't worry," she said, "family history of premature birth is not necessarily an indicator that the same thing will happen to you." So, I relaxed… a little… thinking that if I could make it through the Fourth of July, everything would be fine.
My family was planning a trip to Boston for Independence Day. The night before we left, my husband and I were sitting at the kitchen table looking for crib linens online and eating ice cream when — POP! I stopped mid-sentence and ran to the bathroom. My husband followed me. "Are you ever again going to get control of your bladder?" he laughed.
I called through the bathroom door to my husband, who'd been knocking for a while and was sounding less amused and more nervous every moment. "Call the doctor. I think my water broke!" I was seven weeks early. I called my mother, who had gone through exactly this with my brother thirty years earlier. "Do you want me to come?" my mother asked. "Yes," I whimpered.
At the hospital, the doctors gave me a steroid shot to help mature the baby's lungs, and hooked me up to an IV of magnesium sulfate to stop me from going into labor long enough so I could get a second steroid shot in 24 hours. Just before I was scheduled to get the second shot, the contractions started. Shortly after that, I started to push. The maternity ward was so busy that night (it was a full moon) that it looked as though a nurse was going to deliver my very tiny and helpless baby! But my doctor showed up just in time.
"Am I going to get to hold my baby?" was the only thing I wanted to know. "No!" came back the chorus of doctors and nurses. "We have to take it away immediately to make sure everything is okay."
I pushed, and out baby came — crying. Which I had been told not to expect. So they let me hold her. Josephine, we named her. And cried. And then they took her away.
I slept better that night than I had in months, and the next morning, we walked down to the NICU to see her. She was so perfect — a wonderful blend of me and my husband. I was devastated that I couldn't take her home with me.
In the days after I left the hospital, I had never had such an awesome reason to get up in the morning. But once I was up, I had no idea what to do with myself. I cooked and cleaned more than I ever had in my entire life! I took long showers. I called my husband at the office about a hundred times a day. And, eventually, I went to the hospital.
No one told me how long I could visit my daughter, only that she'd be woken up every three hours to be fed and changed and have tests done. So, I'd show up, give her formula through a nasogastric tube, and have her spit it up all over me. I'd cry, change, and go to the parent's lounge to wait for another three hours. I'd talk to the nurses a bit too, trying to find answers to what went wrong. "I have this family history," I said. "Yes, that's a big factor," they responded. I was livid.
My mother noticed a poster in the family lounge advertising a support group for NICU parents hosted by The Tiny Miracles Foundation. She practically shoved me through the door. I felt a little silly; my daughter was relatively healthy compared to some of the other babies in the NICU. I felt lucky compared to the other families and was sure they wouldn't want to hear my sad story. But they did. They listened, they supported me, they gave me strength — they gave me knowledge!
"You're not breastfeeding your daughter?" they asked.
"I didn't know I could."
"You can sit with her all day, if you like. They won't kick you out."
"I didn't know that."
"She's your daughter!"
"She is… isn't she."
Our NICU stay was fairly common. Sometimes Jo stopped breathing momentarily, and she really had a hard time keeping food down. Mostly what I remember about being an NICU mom was how little I knew about what was going on around me. I felt like I was already supposed to know all about the procedures, treatments, and what to expect. I tried to just go along, but there were a lot of sudden eruptions of emotion and a few outbursts at unsuspecting nurses.
Jo was strong, and soon she came home. It was terrifyingly wonderful. She's so amazing, and she's meeting her milestones just like a full-term baby. I love being a mom. My real story starts now.
I'm still angry that the doctors didn't listen when I told them about my family history, and even angrier that there was practically nothing they could have done even if they had listened. In the United States, 12% of births are premature, but there's still so much we don't know. So now I volunteer for The Tiny Miracles Foundation as well as for the March of Dimes®, whose goals include finding out what causes preterm birth and preventing it.
My daughter has given me more that the joy of being her mother. She's given me purpose. I know now that I'm meant to help others who were just like me — and just like my mother, my aunt, and my grandmother. Jo's a Tiny Miracle!