Saturday, March 30, 2013
“Either I’m pregnant or my period is coming early.” Read the text I sent to my mother and boyfriend during my great grandmother’s repast. I had been overly emotion since her death one week prior and couldn’t even sit through the funeral. After eating, Tyrone, my cousin Lisa, and I made a trip to Target where I looked at different pregnancy test. “Really Cheylah?” Lisa questioned because I already had a 14 month old baby boy at home. “Really” I respond as I continue searching until I find a double pack First Response Pregnancy Kit. “I’ll take it tomorrow”. Tomorrow happened to be Father’s Day, June 17, 2012. I woke up and grabbed the test. The two pack came with a digital and a regular test. Tyrone said, “Take the digital” I thought to myself “Why? It’s going to be negative”. I grabbed the regular test and peed in a cup, dipped, wiped, looked. Positive. “Oh my God!” I ran into the room and grabbed the digital and ran back to the bathroom to dip it. I came back into the room pacing back in forth. “What’s wrong? Cheylah, what’s wrong?” Tyrone kept asking over and over as I watched the hour glass dance on the small window. Finally the word “Yes” popped up. I tossed the test to Tyrone, “Happy Father’s Day Daddy!” This was the start of a wild ride.

I made my first appointment as soon as I could. They did the normal blood and urine and showed I was pregnant but the ultrasound showed nothing. “Maybe the baby is ectopic? Maybe you are having a miscarriage. You have to come back in 48 hours to do betas and a repeat ultrasound” said the nurses and doctors. I came every two days for weeks. Only answer I got to give me hope was that my uterus was thickening which happens with pregnancy. Finally in early July I saw the little piece of rice! Finally my baby decided to show itself. I was so happy and scared at the same time. I was working in pharmacy, going to school, and taking care of my oldest Trenton at the time. I was terrified of having two children under two years old but oh so happy my baby growing inside of me was ok. A couple of weeks later I noticed bleeding. I tried not to worry because I bled in my previous pregnancy and knew it could be normal. I started to worry when the blood got bright red and heavier. I feared I’d lost the baby. I went to the midwives office and found out I had a sub chronic hematoma.  I was told it could subside on it’s on or I would lose my baby. “Sometimes things like this happen Ms. Branch. Sometimes babies go away and come back to you when the time is right.” I can’t even count the number of times I heard that line from one of the midwives. I heard it so much I wanted to throat punch her. From then on, I was told to only come in if I soaked a pad within an hour. Bleeding would be my new norm.

All was going as well as could be until one night a work. I felt a gush and thought “Ew, maybe too much discharge.” I went to the bathroom only to see blood everywhere. I came out and told my manager I had to go to the emergency room NOW. I left work in a panic. I lost the baby. I know it, it’s too much blood. I sobbed as I took the bus ride to the hospital as I called my mother and boyfriend to tell them the news. My mother tried to keep me calm and my boyfriend said he was on his way. Once in the ER I waited and waited. I wasn’t seen for 3 hours. I’m miscarrying and they won’t see me. This isn’t right. Once in the back a number of familiar tests were done; blood work, ultrasounds, urine test. Everything came back normal. Baby bean was fine. The rest of the hematoma had finally emptied. I was so relived! Now I can have a regular pregnancy! I thought.

I was having lots of nausea this time around, sensitivity to sex, anything you can think of. I was sure this baby was a girl. I went for my anatomy scan in September. Tyrone was running late. We were both convinced this baby was a girl. We went on with the anatomy scan without him. “So, you have a boy at home?” asked the ultrasound tech. “Yep, Trenton” “So you want a little girl?” “I’d like one but I will be grateful for whatever God blesses me with” As I watch my baby spread its legs I see a penis, another boy! “Well Ms. Branch, you’re having another boy!” “I see!” I decided to name him Cameron Jacob, CJ for short. Everything looked fine during the ultrasound. We confirmed I had an anterior placenta, which is why I barely felt him move. We found out he was breeched as well. I was due to come back for a follow-up October 30 to get better images of his heart and to see if he flipped head down. I was ecstatic! When I went back to school and work I had plenty of sonograms to show off. I was starting to feel him more as I would sit in class. Things were going great. One week I got so upset (school related) I started getting bad contractions. I was only 22 weeks. I called the midwife line and they told me to calm down and drink water. I noticed I had started to bleed again too. I was told to come in. One of the midwives checked me and said I had a friable cervix. Drink plenty of fluid and rest when I can. The week of my follow-up ultrasound came up but Hurricane Sandy had been in the area. The ultrasound center called to cancel my appointment. I was so sad. “Mom, I really needed this appointment. Something doesn’t feel right” “Cheylah, call them to see when you can come in”

I’d been feeling CJ kicking really low since the day I had contractions. I thought it was all in my mind. I finally called and the receptionist told me if I could get there within the hour I could be seen. I told her I could do her one better and be there in 15 minutes. I live a 10 minute walk away from the hospital. I left the house in pajamas and walked thinking of all the things that could happen. I never imagine what WOULD happen.  I went into my appointment so optimistic. So excited to see my baby boy again. The ultrasound tech began the ultrasound. Quiet. She’d asked me if I had experienced any cramping or contractions I told her very few but I drank water and they stopped. “I need to switch to vaginal, the baby’s foot is blocking the view of your cervix”. Okay. “Doctor you need to come to room 3!” “What’s happening? What’s wrong with my baby?” I questioned. “You have to wait for the doctor.” The doctor came in and looked herself. “Ms. Branch I need to speak with you in my office, your cervix is shortening.” They both finish up and leave. Leave me there with my thoughts. What’s wrong? What does this mean? Is CJ going to be ok? Will I have to go on bed rest? My thoughts are interrupted by the tech telling me the doctor was ready for me. Everything after this happened so fast.

The doctor told me in so many words that in some images my cervix was 0.8cm. In other images after that it had disappeared. Also, baby still had not flipped and his cord was under him. I needed to go upstairs to labor and delivery. I was going to be having my baby that night and he will most likely not survive. I was only 23 weeks along. I sobbed. God please don’t. I need him to survive. I need him to be ok. I called my mother and told her I was going to labor and delivery and what had been said to me. She said a prayer. I called my boyfriend and he said he was on the way. Once in labor and delivery an IV was started (after 5 attempts) and several nurses, midwives, doctors, and neonatologist were in and out of my room. Since CJ was still breeched I was forced to make a decision. They wanted to know how I would want to deliver. If I delivered vaginally his head would get stuck, causing brain damage and death. If I had a cesarean I would hinder all future pregnancies because I would need a traditional cut. He could also still die and I would have had the surgery for “nothing”. Tyrone and I just looked at each other. He cried and told me to just have him vaginally. We would hold him until we felt ready to give him up. He said he didn’t want his son to suffer and didn’t want me to either. A neonatologist, Dr. Cherian, came in and told me if the baby came now, at 23 weeks, he most likely wouldn’t survive. If he did he would be blind, deaf, or mentally retarded. I had the choice of letting him come, going on bed rest in the hospital, or aborting him. After lots of tears and speaking to lots of people, a neonatologist by the name of Dr. Kierbak ultimately helped me to make the decision to go on hospital bed rest. He gave me hope that it was a little but good enough chance he could survive. I wanted to take the chance and do whatever I needed to in order to give him a good chance of life. I just had one request: If anytime he didn’t thrive let me know. I wanted to let him go. I didn’t want him to have a life of suffering for my selfishness.

Once I was stable and I decided to have a cesarean, I was moved over to the antepartum unit. My new “studio apartment” (as I liked to call it) was cool. I was on bed rest with bathroom privileges. I sent my boyfriend home to retrieve some items for me especially my laptop. I continued to let people know what was happening. I let my baby birth board’s group from my oldest son know what was happening and the prayer chain started. Once I had my laptop those ladies helped my sanity. I had twice a week BPPs to monitor the baby and make sure my fluid was good. During the 24th week we noticed my bag of water was starting to bulge. We were officially on baby watch. If I felt my water break I was to call my nurse to have a fist inserted to prevent cord prolapse until we were in the OR. Regardless of what happened it was determined I would have an emergency c-section and would be put under. On November 11, the nurse came in to do CJ’s nightly monitoring. The nurse who always found him wasn’t on that night. (She always said he was the size of a 28 weeker and would ask if I was sure of my dates. Always said he would be 2 lbs. The little stinker would always give nurses trouble but not her). While on the monitor I felt contractions. The nurse would come in and tell me I’d have to stay on longer than the 15 minutes because he moved and I was contracting. Finally, a doctor came in and did a pelvic exam. She saw my water bulging with his foot on top of it. “Take her to labor and delivery.”

I prayed so hard he would stay in and the contractions would stop. When I got over to L&D the nurse, Angela, was waiting. She was so nice! She started me on magnesium (aka devil drug) and kept me company. Once on magnesium I wasn’t allowed to get up anymore or eat. Bed rest was starting to get to me. Because it was cold and flu season I had only seen Trenton once. I didn’t have a lot of people see me but when I had company I was so grateful. I was lonely. Lonely, hungry, tired, and wanting it to be over. I felt so guilty. I wanted my baby to stay in and bake but I wanted the hell I was going through to end. On November 15th, the magnesium was turned off. I was able to eat and go to the restroom. I was so happy! Angela had come with her roommate Laura (another nurse) and planned to give me a “spa night”. All was well until I went to the bathroom and saw blood. “ANGELA!” I screamed. “Ms. Branch you may be dilating more. It’s ok” I went to the bathroom again and saw more blood, and then she called the doctor. My team came in and did an ultrasound. CJ had his foot in the birth canal.  The doctors were hoping he would retract his foot by morning but until then I was back on strict bed rest and had to start magnesium again. I cried. Angela was so sweet and kind to me. She started a new IV for me (IV phobia here) and stayed through the bolus. She told me she was going on break. I asked her if the baby came would she be there. She promised she would. I had to go to the bathroom again so the nurses covering for Angela asked did I want the pan or another cath. I chose cath. As soon as she finished inserting it I felt a gush. “I think my water broke!”  *gush and contraction*  “My water!!” The nurse checked me and there wasn’t any water. I was bleeding. She called the doctors and my team came in. I kept feeling gushes of fluid and contractions. Since CJ was so low the contractions didn’t pick up. One doctor came in and put her hand in me to keep the cord from coming. “She’s at a 10 but her water is still intact.” My midwife Ebony came in and told me it was time to go. It was 1 am on November 16th. Everything went crazy. One nurse gave me my phone to call my mom and boyfriend but no one could come. Mom had Trent and my boyfriend had no way to the hospital. I was rolled back to the OR. I kept asking for Angela and she finally appeared. I remember apologizing for messing up her lunch break. She said it was ok and she wouldn’t miss it. SO much madness was happening. Next thing I remember is being put under then being awakened but pressure on my stomach. I went to scream but couldn’t because I had a tube down my throat. I opened my eyes to look around. I didn’t see my baby. Just Angela. She told me he was ok. He cried when he came out and he was so beautiful. I fell asleep.

I was in and out of it for a while. Before I went under I asked the nurses to take pictures of him for me. So while I waited for my pain meds, I looked through the photos of my tiny little guy. I’d fall asleep, wake up to loom through pictures, fall asleep, wake up to call and text people and repeat. Cameron Jacob entered the world on November 16, 2012 at 1:27a weighing 1lb 15.5oz and 14 inches long. Around 5 am Angela took me to the NICU to see my son. He was so tiny. In his new home, the isolette. I fell asleep again.  When I woke up I called my mom and she came to the hospital. She checked on me and then went to see CJ. She said he was so little. I was in so much pain. After being on magnesium for so long I couldn’t move my left side. I wanted to get up so bad to see my baby. I finally saw him that night. He was on SiPAP. So many machines. So many alarms. It hurt to see him like that. I got my NICU orientation paperwork and went back to my room. I wanted to breastfeed so a pump was waiting for me upon my return. I started pumping. The next day I took my drop to the NICU and was told “You can’t control what happens here [NICU] but you can control the milk you give your baby”.  I made it my priority to pump!

On November 19th I was discharged. I took the long, agonizing walk to the NICU to say goodbye to my baby. It was so hard. I cried as I held him little foot. His little trouble making foot, and told him I would be there as much as possible no matter what. I kept it brief and sweet. As I walked out of the NICU, down the hall back to my room I broke down. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t believe I was leaving without him. I had tried so hard for weeks to keep him in. I failed. I wanted him home. I cried so hard my mom found me and helped me up. “He will be ok Chey.” After 76 days in the NICU, CJ was released on January 31, 2013 with just an apnea monitor. He has done so well to be born so prematurely. He is 4 months old (1 month adjusted) and came off of his apnea monitor on March 27th. I am so blessed to have my little miracle in my life.

Friday, March 8, 2013
Born at 31 weeks - now covered in kisses. 

A dress is just a dress... unless it's not. To many pregnant women maternity clothes are a burden. Something they are stuck with until they can fit back into their regular clothes. To a preemie mom they are a reminder of what she didn't have. A big belly which housed and protected a full term baby.

I was about six months pregnant when I had to buy a dress for a big work function. While shopping I found "the dress" that I had to have for my baby shower. The shower was supposed to be a surprise but there were enough hints going around that I knew it was eventually coming. When I tried on the dress I imagined myself at my shower surrounded by my friends and family with my big belly filling out the loose fitting dress. It was strange to me because I never had this feeling while I was shopping for my wedding dress. Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones but tears filled my eyes in the dressing room of that maternity store and when the manager came to see if I was alright or needed anything she laughed and said "I guess you like the dress?"

I took the dress home and hung it in the closet where it waited for the day I could wear it. I never took the tags off because I didn't want to be tempted to wear it for any other occasion. That was in May 2012... the tags are still on the dress. I unexpectedly had my son one month later.

This picture was right after I gave birth... they surprised me and allowed me to hold him for a few seconds. I was a mess because they had told me I would not be allowed to see him because he would be rushed to NICU. It was the most special surprise of my life. 

I had a relatively easy pregnancy. I didn't get sick and hadn't gained a lot of weight. My husband and I went on a "babymoon" that was planned before we got pregnant and while we were there my feet swelled but I thought it was the walking and bad food I indulged in. My blood pressure always stayed low until one night when I was reading and started to see spots. I knew immediately something was wrong. My doctors told me to go to triage immediately "just to be checked out." There they diagnosed me with severe pre-eclampsia. I was on strict hospital bed rest for what felt like weeks but was really only four days. They had me hooked up to monitors and IV's and monitored me around the clock. My baby never showed a sign of distress which was a huge relief. Everyone at the hospital told me I'd be there for a few weeks, which I later found out this was a lie to keep me calm... I guess it worked because my blood pressure returned to normal. They were able to administer the two steroid injections for my baby's lungs before telling me I was being induced. During this time I was oblivious to the fact that I was in danger. My amazing husband was my rock and worried for both of us so I could focus on keeping calm and holding out as long as I could. One conversation I clearly remember through the haze of emotions and drugs was picking baby names. We had decided on our girl's name before we were even married but we hadn't decided on a name for a son. We picked Evan which was fitting because we later found out that it meant young fighter and he was both of these things.

This is when he was one day old. I was still on bed rest so I hadn't seen him since the delivery room although our family was able to see him. 

Our son came into the world eight weeks and two days premature. Preemie moms do that if you didn't notice. We measure in days when others measure in weeks or months and measure in cc's or ounces when others measure in pounds. Evan was born in June and my shower was scheduled for two weeks later. Immediately I heard the questions. "Do we still have it?" "Would she want to go?" I pulled my mom to the side and told her that I overheard the questions and that I would need a reprieve from the weeks of NICU time I had ahead of me and it would be nice to see friends and family. I had no idea how hard that day would be from leaving my son for the day in NICU to realizing I could not wear my dress.

This is when they finally wheeled me in to see him. I was bawling and scared. I had seen pictures but I didn't know exactly what to expect when I first saw the NICU. I don't think anyone can be prepared for that moment. 

On the day of the shower we went to see our son and I kissed him and held him and cried. It broke my heart that I had to leave him for the shower but I couldn't back out. On the way to the shower we pulled over in a residential area so that I could pump. It felt so unnatural pumping before my baby shower... I was supposed to still be pregnant. I also made my husband take me shopping on the way to the shower to buy another outfit. I hated every outfit I had and there was good reason. I had been dreaming of that day in the dress I picked months before. Nothing felt right.

The shower was beautiful. I laughed and cried and thanked everyone for their love and support and warned them of the battles ahead. Sanitizing for months. Locking down over the winter. Not meeting Evan until he was a few months older than they expected. As beautiful as the shower was I could not wait to leave and hold my son again. That night I saw the dress peaking out from the back of my closet. I closed the closet door and tried to forget about the dress.

This is our first family picture. It was taken when Evan was four days old and Tim was doing Kangaroo care with him.
A few months later I decided it was time to pack away my maternity clothes. I remember packing them up wondering if I'd ever wear them again and thinking that I should still be in them. Most of the clothes meant nothing to me. A pair of jeans that I wore once or twice, a dress that never fit quite right, or a skirt that was too short anyway. But then I got to the dress. It was as beautiful as I remembered and still had those damn tags hanging on it. I sat on the floor crying. By this time my son was home with us and my husband came upstairs thinking something had happened to him. I felt stupid telling him that I was crying over a dress but he didn't say anything and just hugged me. There were many of those moments in the months after Evan was born. Times I would cry over seemingly nothing or sob uncontrollably over good things. It broke my heart that the dress never got its day to shine. I had let down my son and I let down that dress... or at least that is how it felt to me at the time.

Shortly after that night I went to a baby shower for a friend. This was a big step for me and was harder than I ever let on. I walked into the shower and the sister of the mother of honor was also pregnant ... wearing MY dress. No it wasn't really my dress but it was the same one. Worn by someone else... at another shower. I wanted to run out of the doors and cry and go home but I stayed strong and tried not to look at the dress the entire time. I felt rude but if she had any idea what was going on in my head she would have understood.

Finally, a picture taken to celebrate being nine months old.  I cannot believe how big he is getting and when I look back at pictures of where we started it's hard to believe he's the same tiny little boy in those pictures! 

Recently my husband and I discussed having another child... eventually. After Evan was born my husband said no more kids. After seeing me and his child both at risk he couldn't handle it. But after a few months with our son we knew we had to go through the rollercoaster again. Of course the thought of it all is scary. Will the baby be early? Will the baby be healthy? Will I be safe and healthy? Will I finally get my big belly? We cannot answer these questions. But there is one question I know the answer to. Will the tags finally be torn off that dress? YES!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013
First time meeting Oliver.

My first two trimesters of pregnancy were pretty normal with all the average pains and discomforts. I started getting pretty bad swelling in the middle of my second trimester. Around week 24 I even had to get an ultrasound on my left leg because they were concerned I had a blood clot. It was around that time they started drilling the symptoms of pre-e into my head, telling me to call immediately if I started to experience them. My swelling improved a little with pressure stockings and I continued on in my pregnancy. Around week 28 I was diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes and was warned that this also increased my risk for pre-e. But it wasn't until around week 30 that I went in for a normal check-up and my blood pressure was very high. I was sent straight to the hospital to get a Non-stress test in labor and delivery. It was scary but after laying down for about an hour my blood pressure went down to a safe place. I was sent home and the next day I did my first 24-hour collection test. I ended up in labor and delivery the next day with really high blood pressure again. This time my NST took about 6 hours while they tried different things to get the readings they wanted from my son. Eventually they gave me IV fluids (it took them 4 tries to get the IV placed!) and was released again afterwards. From there on out I was on bed rest. I had no idea what to do with myself, I went from working over 40 hours a week managing a salon which I walked to and from every day, to not even being able to walk down to my mailbox. 

The next few weeks were full of marathon napping and intense boredom and loneliness. My favorite days were the 2 days each week I would go in for NST's. They told me to have my bags packed for the hospital because any appointment may end in me being sent to deliver. They did a growth ultrasound at 34 weeks and I was told my son was already 5 lbs and would likely be around 8 or 9 if I went to 40 weeks. I was put on labetalol to try and lower my blood pressure, though it just continued to rise even as we increased my dosage. I'm really glad I was able to hold out as long as I did and that my son was already so big (from the GD I guess?). I made it to week 35 before another 24 hour collection test came back showing a high level of protein in my urine. The same day the results came back my left leg had suddenly swollen a massive amount. My OB had me go in to see her and scheduled another ultrasound for my leg. When I got to my OB's office she checked me out and tested my reflexes. My reflexes were scary jumpy, she told me she was cancelling the ultrasound on my leg and would have someone do it later on in the hospital. I was sent straight to labor and delivery to get on a magnesium drip to prevent a seizure. When we got there we had to check in, I remember the lady at the desk asked me my name and when I opened my mouth to tell her I just started crying. My husband had to check me in. 

First snuggles at 4 days old.

So we got settled into the hospital room. Again it took the nurses a few tries to place my IV. This was the beginning of becoming a human pin cushion for the next three days. Blood draws every 3 hours, and testing my blood sugar every hour until I had delivered. They started my induction around 6pm with prostaglandin gel, later on adding pitocin to my IV. My OB was on call at her other hospital so the on-call from her practice was in charge of me for most of my labor. I had never met her before but I am so grateful for her. I really didn't want my induction to end in a c-section and I really felt like she was on my team. I labored for 12 hours before my cervix did anything. She told me before she checked it that as long as it had done something she would let me keep laboring. I was only a fingertip dilated, which she said was less than a cm, but it was a change so she would let me keep going. I had another six hours to get to 3-4cm to have my waters broken or it was off to c-section land. Well about 5 hours later my water broke on it's own (my tiny victory!). This was also when labor really started to get unpleasant. There was lots of throwing up, my IV site was throbbing, the pitocin induced contractions sans the bag of waters were more painful than I could handle. The nurse let me get into a hot bath (with the IV, monitors, blood pressure cuff and all) but it did not help as much as I had hoped it would. So I finally agreed to an epidural. I had really wanted to "go natural". But really there is nothing natural about being induced, pumped full of magnesium and pitocin, and being strapped into bed with monitors around your stomach and a blood pressure cuff squeezing the life out of your arm every 10 decided the "natural" ship had sailed anyway. After the epidural I got to relax for less than an hour before the pressure on my pelvic floor was so intense I asked the nurse to check me. 10 cm and baby at station +1! They called my OB, who got someone to cover her on-call shift at the other hospital, so she could come deliver my son. She got there an hour later and we started pushing. It took awhile, and I definitely almost fainted, but finally I pushed out my 5lb 5oz little shmooshie.

I was scared, of course, when my OB told me I had to be induced. I was nervous when she explained the odds and statistics of what most babies born at 35 weeks are like. For some reason I was really optimistic, I had not really prepared myself mentally that he might not be ok.

I remember my OB placing him on my stomach with his back to me, I reached down to touch him but immediately someone from the NICU picked him up and said "I'm taking him." There was a lot of hustle and bustle around the little baby station at the other side of the room. My husband and mother watched the nurses work and I couldn't hear my baby. I was so scared, I kept asking them what was happening but no one responded to me. Finally I started hearing baby noises. At the time I thought they were good noises but later it was explained to me they were just labored grunts from my son trying to breathe. While I laid in the bed having a tear sewn up they bundled up my son, bagged him, and wheeled him out of the room. It was like I had been in a car wreck, it happened so quick and I really wasn't expecting it and then he was gone.

I got to meet my son about an hour later (I think?) down in the nicu. He was born in respiratory distress and had some fluid retention in his lungs. The first few days were scary and confusing, the cpap was a bit of a roller coaster. People kept assuring me he was fine but then alarms kept going off and they would increase his oxygen. It took a few days but he finally got over the desats. When they switched him to the high flow nasal cannula at 4 days old I finally got to hold him. His IV came out after 6 days and he spent the rest of his nicu stay learning how to eat, a few tries at the breast but mostly the bottle. He was in the nicu for a total of 13 days.

Oliver's Graduation Day, unplugged and ready to peace out!

Precious and priceless so lovable too, the world’s sweetest littlest miracle is, a baby like you.

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