We're sharing Allison's story of giving birth to her son, Akin, at 24 weeks.
When I found out I was pregnant with my 3rd baby, it was 2 months before my 36th birthday. When I went to my initial doctor’s appointment they kept throwing out the phrase geriatric pregnancy! I was like, hold up, I’m barely 36 ya’ll! My other 2 pregnancies were healthy, natural, and without incident. I am a regular exerciser so of course this is what i did throughout the pregnancy. I had just had my 24th week of pregnancy (we had had a gender reveal party a week previous and found out we were having a 3rd boy). It was a Friday night and I was watching a movie with my boys when I felt a little gush. I thought that was weird and thought it must be some discharge. A few minutes later I felt another bigger gush and decided I better go check it out in the bathroom. That’s where I discovered I was really bleeding and it was coming down my leg. Trembling I called the midwives and left a message to call me back. I then called a nurse friend who was also pregnant with her 5th baby about the same gestation as me. She said to definitely call the doctors and this bleeding didn’t seem normal and to call her if I needed help. My husband wasn’t home from work yet. The midwife called me back to tell me to go to the hospital ASAP.
My nurse friend took me to the hospital to get it checked out! The ultrasound discovered a placenta abruption in 1 or 2 locations, no answers to why this has happened. In my mind I was wondering if it was because I was geriatric, I asked the nurses and they assured me that it was necessarily that. “These things can just happen,” they replied. They occur more commonly when there is trauma to the stomach during pregnancy or substance abuse during pregnancy. None of those things were my why. They admitted me to see if the bleeding might slow down or stop over night but also cautioned me that we may have to plan for early delivery, so they shaved my hooha and gave me a steroid shot just in case. They monitored the baby all night and his heartbeat was strong. I remember praying for Jesus to take the wheel on this one. Thy will be done. My bleeding didn’t slow down at all and the next morning and the doctor took everything into consideration and made the call that the baby needed to be born today because if we wait any longer, with the considerable amount of bleeding, the baby’s life and my life could very well be in danger. He wanted to stay ahead of any life threatening emergency situations. I could actually see him think and weigh all the options, as he seemed to make the decision while he was in the room with me. As he left after giving me this news, the nurse assured me that this doctor was so experienced and they referred to him as God around the hospital because he always seemed to make the best calls! Doctors and nurses came in to tell me about the risks of birthing a 24 weeker as well as risks of bleeding so much. They were even prepared to give me a blood transfusion as I was losing quite a bit. It never came to that, but later, blood transfusions became a regular for the first few weeks of my baby’s life.
They wheeled me into the cold and sterile C-section room where they gave me an epidural and my husband was by my side holding my hand. I was scared. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I started crying as I completely lost all feeling in the lower part of my body because of the epidural. I had never had one...and I hated it. I tell people later that that seemed to be the worst part of the whole thing. While they were cutting me open I could feel the kneading movement of the procedure and it was the worst knowing that that movement was cutting me open and ripping out my tiny, half-cooked baby...that’s what it felt like. My husband peeked around the curtain and saw the whole thing...he seems to be a little traumatized by it to this day.
Finally, after a few minutes that felt like hours and seconds at the same time, I hear a strong little cry! A wonderful sign with these tiny little micro-preemies! I asked later how they know if the baby is viable and the answer was if they cry and have movement. They will obviously try on all the babies but they say the age of viability is 23 weeks gestation. It’s rare to have surviving babies born before that. My little guy made the cut!
When they placed him on the table in a hospital grade clear plastic bag for warmth and applying an oxygen mask, my husband put his finger out towards his tiny “big man” hands and little guy wrapped and unwrapped his hand around his finger!!! I was able to see him just for the smallest moment, the reddest and tiniest baby body that I had ever seen, before they whisked him away to the NICU, for an undisclosed amount of time! His life had just begun at 1.7 lbs and 12 ½ in. long, and my life forever changed.
Akin was in the NICU for 114 days. We named him Akin, a Yoruba name meaning “brave” and “warrior”. He was released 3 days after his actual due date! NICU parents are told from the beginning, when we eagerly ask “how long will my baby be in here”, “expect at least until the due date, but typically longer”, they say. For Akin, his due date was 3 and ½ months away! So I put my head into gear, survival mode and ready to do anything in my power to help my baby survive and thrive! I needed to be strong for Akin, the rest of my family, and myself. I knew I was a good milk producer, with my other 2 boys I was able to produce plenty for them and a lot to donate. That is what I could do, pump the needed nutrients for my boy and reserve for when it was needed! (The nurses were always pleased with my supply). The first few days he received several blood and platelet transfusions, they intubated him on the traditional jet ventilator. I was able to hold him for the first time on day 10. It was magical! A few days later they needed to change his ventilator to an oscillator vent. While he was on this ventilator I was not able to hold him because it was too risky with this particular vent. He remained on the oscillator for 24 more days and then they were able to switch him to a bipap ventilator which is way less intrusive. Throughout his NICU stay is O2 levels were always a roller coaster, up and down. This is very stressful for the doctors obviously. I honestly tried to not research a lot or compare myself with other NICU stories and just go with the flow. That was too overwhelming! He stayed in the isolette crib for over 2 months to prevent bacteria from entering and maintaining a good temperature, as he was unable to regulate his body temperature on his own. When he was able to switch to an open air crib, that was an exciting day and a monumental milestone! I was able to help him for his first real bath on day 32! It was a challenge, managing his oxygen on his face, as well as quickly getting it done so he wouldn’t get too cold. Akin was born while the flu season was in full swing, so his older brothers were not able to meet him until day 54. It was a sweet reunion! His dad didn’t feel comfortable holding him, because of his fragility, until day 44.
Mother’s Day was one of the worst days little man had. He had been getting sick, they had to do a spinal tap to determine what was wrong. It turned out he had a UTI. Then had a pseudomona infection (bacteria found in environment mostly soil and water). These are actually very common amongst NICU preemies, especially given the weakened immune system. There was one point during his stay that a Cardiologist had come over to his isolette and started talking to me about Akin needing heart surgery to close up a “large” hole in his heart. He was only about 4 weeks old, and I was aware that he had a small hole in his heart. I knew that was very typically for this little ones because they were born so early. I mentioned that he was born at 24 weeks, and he made the confused look but then continued on. The nurse that day was also a little confused, but he was the Cardiologist so… I was freaking out quite a bit because this was pretty unexpected news, when I told my husband he’s like, we need a second opinion. Later that day when I was home, I received a call from the NICU doctor apologizing because the Cardiologist had made a patient mistake. He was looking for a nearly term baby who was down the hall next to Akin’s. He had failed to double check his patient files! I was relieved but also quite unnerved! What if no one caught the error and they operated on my baby’s heart unnecessarily! The doctor and nurses apologized profusely...the Cardiologist never came back and apologized though.
I was lucky enough to live close to the hospital and was able to see him at least once a day! I took a photo everyday to document his ups and downs and incredible growth! By the time he left the hospital, he weighed 7.11 lbs and was 19in. long! He was able to drink from a bottle as well as nurse from my breasts a little bit! He took to actually taking his food by mouth like a champ! Before this time he was given his food through a tube! He did all the things! It was almost like he said, “Yo, I got this now! Can we get a move on please!” Before leaving the NICU, he had to do a carseat test, where they have to tolerate sitting in their carseat for an hour or two and their stats have to remain good! When you go in to visit your baby and you see the other babies around you with a car seat next to their crib, you know...with a little jealousy, their NICU time is coming to an end! When it was Akin’s turn, I was elated, but also so nervous! Was he ready? Was I ready? My husband had been out of town and would be out of town for a while longer. What would it look like to have him home? Would he need to remain on the oxygen cannulas even at home? Would he be disabled? Ahhh so many questions! Throughout his stay in the NICU, as I mentioned, my Faith in God and his Divine hand throughout my life really helped me through. A lot of faith and prayers to send angels to watch over my baby. During his NICU stay, an Uncle passed away, two days later one of my nephews committed suicide, and then 2 weeks later a really good friend died from a Grand mal seizure! Surely with all of this death close to me an angel can watch over and help my boy live! I felt the love and support emotionally and spiritually. I literally handed this burden to God and lived every day with the perspective that I would accept whatever God’s will was. Akin received special blessings and prayers over him the entire time. We needed all the help we could get! There is something sacred and special walking into the NICU! These nurses and doctors are something special! I believe working with these extra fragile babies requires extra guidance and Divine intervention! I felt that when I went back for a visit to the NICU a year after Akin was released! The tears just flowed with emotion and I felt the Divine flowing throughout the area!
The day Akin was to be released, I had gone through my CPR training and special instructions for Akin’s oxygen he would require for sometime at home the day before as well an overnight test (slept in a family room at the NICU with Akin in my room all night) 2 days before. I was ready!...I think! I looked at myself in the mirror with tears and stated “You got this! YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS!” I knew that was true! I had a coworker friend come with me for help and support, as my husband was out of the country. And with my baby in his carseat, oxygen tank, and tears in my eyes; we said our NICU goodbyes!