Red Deer County, Alberta
It has been one year since my son’s birth and I can’t help but think back on all the events that have happened in the last year. I made a choice to become a mom even though I was single; after going through two in vitro fertilization cycles, I was overjoyed to find out I was pregnant. I was looking forward to everything: all the nausea, wearing maternity clothes, baby bump pictures and all the ups and downs that a pregnancy brings. At 18 weeks I found out the gender but pretended I didn’t know because I wanted it to be a surprise for everyone. I was so excited that I booked a doula and I booked a baby bump photographer. On November 15, at 22 weeks pregnant, I went to the Red Deer Regional Hospital because something didn’t feel right. I was having what I thought was fluid loss. The doctor did a check-up and told me that I was three centimeters dilated. In a state of shock and not entirely sure what that meant for this pregnancy, I was offered several options. For me, there was no option but to try to save my baby so I chose to have an emergency cervical stitch. However four hours later when I went into surgery I woke up to the news that they couldn’t put the stitch in after all because I was fully dilated. The news was heartbreaking and I was in such a daze that I didn’t understand or believe it when the doctor told me that I would likely lose the baby. Again, I was presented with several options and I chose to go on strict bed rest and try to maintain the pregnancy. By this time it seemed silly to hold back on the gender when my baby boy was fighting for his life. I was told that if he was born any time prior to 24 weeks gestation they would not resuscitate, which meant two weeks in the Red Deer Hospital before they would even think about transferring me to Calgary or Edmonton where the NICU’s are equipped to provide medical attention to a baby born so early.
After five days in the Red Deer hospital, I was told that the Foothills Hospital in Calgary agreed to take me one week earlier at 23 weeks gestation. I was elated, although I still did not want my baby to be born any time soon. At 22 weeks and six days, I was transferred via ambulance to the Foothills Hospital where they too were incredulous that I hadn’t given birth yet given the fact I was fully dilated. Another big worry during this time was infection but thankfully it didn’t happen however 19 days after entering the hospital my amniotic fluid had diminished to the point where August had to be born because his lungs were no longer developing.
On December 4, 2013 at 6:28 p.m. at 24 weeks 5 days gestation, with a full neonatal team standing by, August Christian was born weighing 855 grams (1 lb. 14 oz) and 13 inches long. I didn’t get to hold him and I didn’t even get to look at him for more than a few seconds because the neonatal team needed to take him and start life saving measures. As I lay there I could hear them reporting back that his oxygenation was very good and his heartbeat was very strong. I was overjoyed to hear this but also terrified. He was put on a ventilator right away to help him breath and then whisked away to the NICU for further medical care. By the time I was able to see him later that evening he had tubes and wires coming out everywhere. August’s birth weight dropped to 815 grams (1 lb. 12 oz) the day after he was born and in the days that followed, August required additional blood because his red blood cells were not carrying enough oxygen. Three days would go by before I was able to hold him for the first time and even though it was only an hour, that hour was a turning point for me. As you can imagine, August’s birth was not a happy moment; it wasn’t filled with joy and wonder – it was terrifying and heartbreaking and sad. But the minute I had my baby in my arms I again felt in my heart what I had felt during those 19 days lying in the hospital bed, that he would be okay. I somehow knew he would be fine and my outlook changed from worry and fear to hope and love and positivity. My boy was being as strong as he could for me so I had to do the same for him. We became a great team!
While I was in the hospital, I was put on the waiting list for Ronald McDonald House Southern Alberta in the hopes that a room would become available when I needed. The day I was discharged, I checked-in to the House. I was surprised at how big the Calgary House was and I was in awe of how homey it seemed despite its size. I was given a tour and was so impressed at the amenities it had and I could remember thinking how lucky I was to be able to stay there because I knew how many families were in need. I moved in and was immediately overwhelmed by the generosity of donors because there was a bag of goodies on the door knob filled with toiletries which were much needed and items for August such as toys, baby clothes and soothers. This made me cry and it also gave me hope! It helped me look to the future, to a time when August would fit into those clothes and play with those toys. I knew we were in for a long haul as I was told that most premature babies don’t go home until right around their due date so to be able to think about the future was a gift.
August’s biggest issue in the first few weeks was that he would quit breathing and wouldn’t start up again. Three days after he was born he was taken off the ventilator and put on continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) but three days after that he quit breathing and had to be revived and re-ventilated. The doctors took him off the ventilator again after several days but as with happens with a lot of preemies he got “tired” and quit breathing again. He was ventilated for the third time and left on the ventilator for a full week before they took him off and put him back on CPAP. This time he was good to go. As they say, third time’s a charm!
Staying at Ronald McDonald House Southern Alberta during this time was more than a blessing for many reasons. Being single, I was going through this ordeal without a partner so having people around that could empathize was very comforting. Each night when I would go back to the House for supper we would talk about what roller coaster we were riding that day such as when August developed retinopathy of prematurity and the milestones like him gaining weight and joining the “1 Kilo Club” on Christmas eve. We compared notes on how many bradycardias and apneas our babies had. We gave each other strength and encouragement that they would get past it. Being at the House, sharing our stories and supporting each other created such a bond that we will be lifelong friends. That encouragement gave me a lot of hope and the willpower to stay strong to help my sweet August fight for his life. I know I wouldn’t have benefitted in that way if I was staying at a hotel. Because I was in the hospital for 19 days before August was born and he was in the Foothills NICU for an additional two months, I couldn’t work, which caused a financial strain. Being able to stay at Ronald McDonald House lifted most of that burden because I didn’t have a big hotel bill to contend with. Not only that, but every night when I got back to the House for supper, there was a hot meal waiting that had been cooked by volunteer groups. I can’t even begin to explain how amazing it was to not have to worry about buying groceries and cooking after a long day at the hospital. I honestly don’t think I would have eaten most nights. Having a child in the hospital instead of at home during the Christmas holidays was very difficult but having a family come into the House and cook Christmas dinner and spend their Christmas day with us was awe inspiring and overwhelming. I cannot begin to express how happy and appreciative I was to have gifts under the tree for my brave little man and then to find presents for myself and my visiting mother as well was amazing! All of this made my stay truly memorable and heartwarming experience in the face of such anxiety. The staff and the volunteers at Ronald McDonald House are what truly make it a wonderful place to come back to after a long day at the hospital. They are always happy to see you and have a big hug and a smile for you. They go out of their way to ease your mind and make you feel at home. What impressed me the most was the many different ways that individual people, families and companies donated their time and resources to the House. So many little things throughout my two month stay added up to so much gratefulness.
After a month and a half at the House, August was steadily gaining weight and by mid-January, he was 3 lbs. 3 oz. His breathing issues were under control and on February 10, we were transferred to Red Deer Regional Hospital NICU, as he wasn’t critical anymore and they would be able to take over his care. One of the first things I noticed in our little cubicle in the NICU was a sign saying the amenities at Ronald McDonald House Central Alberta were available for day-use for families with a child in the NICU. Again, Ronald McDonald House is making a difference for families of sick children and I thought that was so cool! Being home was a novelty to me so I spent most of my time at the hospital and at home. After two weeks at the Red Deer NICU, one month shy of his due date, I was able to take August home. I couldn’t have been happier!
I spent the first few days in a state of shock at all that had happened and disbelief that he was actually home and I had him all to myself. He had been home for two weeks and things were going really well; we were getting to know each other and getting into a nice routine when disaster struck the day after his baby shower. He had been sleeping on me in the “Kangaroo Care” position and I went to put him in his bassinette and noticed he wasn’t breathing. His chest was not rising and falling and when I moved his arms they just flopped. My experience in the NICU told me that it might be an apnea and I tried not to panic. I tried several things to wake him up but nothing worked. I called 911, who directed me to start CPR and rescue breathing. It wasn’t until paramedics arrived and suctioned out his airway that he started breathing again. We ended up back in the hospital for five days to monitor him. I took August home for the second time with some reflux medication in hand and five days after getting him home he quit breathing again. I immediately started mouth to mouth and chest compressions and called 911. The paramedics had a tougher time getting him back but they managed while we were on our way to the hospital. His doctor determined that he must still have apnea of prematurity and August was taken off reflux meds and put back on caffeine, a drug given to preemies to stimulate their brain stem which in turn stimulates breathing. After several more days of observation we went home… on his due date! Again third time’s the charm!
During the second and third stays at the Red Deer hospital I was sleeping in August’s room with him in order to provide his care as he was only there for observation and my peace of mind. Even though I didn’t need a place to stay at this point, I utilized the Red Deer Ronald McDonald House for lunch and supper on occasion, and to get a break from the hospital. It was within walking distance to the hospital and a very nice place to go have a break. The staff and volunteers were very friendly and welcoming and made me feel right at home.
Fast forward to a year later, and as you can see August is thriving. He is a very happy, healthy and BIG boy! He’s over 20 lbs. now and not only sits up on his own, but rolls all over the floor. I think he will skip crawling and go straight to walking. He loves food, bath time and he loves it when I sing to him. My wish for the new year is that August continues to grow and doesn’t have any long term repercussions from being born so early. If you’re reading this letter and are thinking about making a donation to a charity, please consider Ronald McDonald House Charities Southern & Central Alberta; they were truly my home away from home. Your donation would go a long way to helping people like me have some peace of mind when they’re in such a stressful situation, not just by easing the financial burden but also easing the emotional stress.