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Our miracle baby... A story of having a premature baby.
Joseph Nicholas, born 2 lbs., 13 oz.
Our Personal Story
A few weeks ago my phone rang and it was my publisher telling me that my book was going live. I knew that I wanted this to happen, I expected this to happen, I needed this day to come, but like so many things in life, we are not prepared for what we know is coming. This brings me to think about the birth of my son.
Five years ago, my son was born too soon. Nothing can prepare a mother for hearing that your baby is going to arrive 10 ½ weeks early. Being six months pregnant, I, like many other women beginning their third trimester, think to themselves , “Oh, how I wish this baby would be born already”, which we don’t really mean!!!
It was my 37th birthday, my husband had brought home dinner and cake. And as we finished dinner, I continued to have contractions, which I had been having on and off for several weeks. Actually, more on than off, but as a first time mom, I didn’t know how serious these were.
I was off my feet and had just started taking medication for preterm contractions, so I figured the medication, will take some time to kick in. Later that evening, my husband asked me, “How many times are you having these contractions”? I replied about every 30 minutes or so, but again, not ever being pregnant before, I didn’t want to be a “baby” about it, so I just tried not to move too much. By 4am in the morning, the pain was pretty severe and we called the doctor, who told me to go to the hospital. We figured, they will check me out, give me something to take the edge off and we’ll be back in bed in a few hours. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Only minutes after arriving in maternity, I was being monitored and a nurse came in and said, “you are fully dilated and this baby is going to be born today.” My first thought was “no way”, “impossible”, “this is my birthday”, “my baby is supposed to have an April birthday”. Then I got it!!! And I felt like my heart was going to stop, I couldn’t breath, I think I was in total shock!
I looked over at my husband, who looked shocked and scared, but only for one second!!! Then, he calmly, confidently looked into my eyes, took my hand and told me that I would be fine! At that moment, I believed him with all of my heart! Of course, looking back now, what was he going to say?
Only a few moments later, the room was filled with nurses, preparing the room for the birth of my son. Even now, these moments seem surreal to me. Almost like they didn’t happen. But, I know they did. And, actually, it was not until this very moment that I remembered this happening. Not long after, maybe a few more minutes had passed, everything stopped. Nurses left. And, one nurse returned and told us that the doctor was on her way, I was going to be moved to another room and they were going to administer two medications, which would buy us 12 hours.
One drug was surfactant, which is used to facilitate the lung development of unborn babies. The second drug was magnesium sulfate, which would slow down or totally stop the contractions.
I didn’t feel any effects of the surfactant, however, the magnesium was a whole other story. As the day went on, my mouth was so dry, but all I was allowed was ice chips and sips of water. The magnesium slows you down. In fact from about 6 am till 6 pm that evening, I was in and out of a very calm sleep. As I think back, this was probably the last time I slept so well. My husband never left my side and my rosary never left my hand. There was something very comforting about holding my grandmother’s rosary in my hand. This is a rosary, which was my great grandmothers, given to my mom-mom and then given to me.
Allow me to divert from my story for a moment to tell you that this rosary is all-powerful… at least to me it is! My mom-mom, who was the most catholic woman I ever knew, believed with her whole heart that if you said the rosary or even held the rosary, the blessed mother would be by your side and protect you always! As a child, and even as a young adult, I always laughed at this thought. That’s just something a catholic mom-mom would say to her granddaughter. But, holding that rosary in my hand gave me an amazing amount of comfort. A peace that is unexplainable!
As the day went on, things were happening all around me, but I was unaware of anything except that every time I opened my eyes, my husband was there by my side assuring me that everything was fine. During that same day, my husband’s boss, who owns his own plane arranged to have my mother and father flown from Philadelphia to Greenville to be with us. Of course, all I really remember is waking up and seeing their faces. The kindness of so many was overwhelming. I know that many people came by the hospital just to reassure us that we were not alone.
Before I knew it, it was 6pm. Showtime! My doctor came in and said that it was time to deliver my son. There is nothing that could have prepared me for the overwhelming fear I had for my baby. I had never experienced anything like this before or since. My unborn son was only expected to be about 2 pounds. My teeth were chattering and my body was shaking uncontrollably.
I remember my parents kissing my forehead and telling me how much they loved me. I could see in their eyes how afraid they were for my baby and I. I cry now as I think of the feelings that my parents must have experienced. Any parent knows that feeling helpless when it comes to your child is like your heart being ripped out. My husband stood by my side as nurses prepared the room for the birth of our son.
The doctor was talking to me as she began to deliver my son. Of course, I didn’t hear a word she said and to this day, I can’t remember anything except that only a few moments passed and she stopped everything. Now, I remember like it was only moments ago the words she spoke as she stopped the delivery. She said…”something is not right, I need to consult with another doctor before we move on.” The consulting physician came in, examined me and left all within a few minutes time. The next thing I knew, my doctor was explaining to my husband and I that although I was “fully effaced”, I was not at all “dilated”!
I didn’t know whether to be relieved and thankful or angry and disappointed that this was the 2nd time I was prepped for delivery only to be told that we needed to wait. Looking back, I was definitely relieved and very thankful. In fact as I reflect back to that hour, I am not only thankful to God for giving us more time, but I am in awe of the clarity and composure my doctor had at that time. She handled the situation as if I were a loved one. To this day, I am and will always be eternally grateful that she stopped the delivery. I believe with my whole heart that she saved the life of my baby that day, and perhaps my life as well.
As you can imagine, both my husband and I were filled with anxiety and uncertainty. We were beyond exhausted and trying to grasp what just happened and what to expect in the hours and days to come.
The next morning, I woke up to my husband, who was sleeping on the most uncomfortable bed in the world. He smiled at me, asked if I was ok and at the click of 7am, nurses changed shifts and a new day began. I was told that they were going to move me to a bigger room because I needed to remain in the hospital until Joseph was born. Everyday was another day that Joseph would grow and become stronger. Everyday was a gift. I arrived in a room at St. Francis Hospital on the Eastside, which I have to say is more like a hotel room than a hospital room.
Not long after we were settled into the room, monitors and all, my parents came in and a sense of relief was shared among all of us. We were told that the goal was to make it to 32 week. 35 weeks would be ideal, but 32 weeks would be acceptable for our unborn baby to have the best chance for survival. At this point, I was at 28 weeks. I thought... no problem, we are in the safest place we could be, no distractions, no stress, and I could definitely make it to 32 weeks. I would just need a few things to keep me busy.
Before I could think about how I would pass all the hours and days ahead of me, I needed some time to regroup and relax. After all, I had plenty of time (or so I thought) for finding things to keep me busy. As I laid there thinking of the prior day, I remember thinking, …”was there something I did wrong, something I could have done different,” which would have prevented this from happening?
As they say, hindsight is 20/20!!! If there is, something I could share with other moms in my same situation, it would be this… LISTEN TO YOUR BODY, LISTEN TO YOUR HEART! IF SOMETHING DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT, ACT ON I! TELL YOUR DOCTOR!
I’m sure there are so many other pregnant women, who feel that exact same way, as I did. You don’t know if the slightest pain is important when you are pregnant for the 1st time. I didn’t want to be a baby about it and I certainly figured, just like many other women do, that many women have babies every day, and they are fine. I will be fine too! I rationalized preterm contractions as being Braxton Hicks contractions. Nothing to worry about, it was totally normal. I rationalized that the pain I was having was associated to stretching ligaments, which is totally normal. I know now that it is not normal to be in pain at 28 weeks. Pain during pregnancy is a sign that something could be wrong.
So, here I am in this beautiful hospital room, which would be my home for the next 10 weeks. I wanted to get out of bed to at least move around and go to the bathroom, but as I tried to move out of bed, I realized I could not move my legs. I remember thinking that this was definitely a problem. Besides all the other major issues we are trying to deal with, now, I have to announce to a room full of family and nurses that I can’t feel my legs. I thought to myself, “this is not happening, I just need to focus and stand up,” but I couldn’t! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I had to pee so badly, I grabbed my mom’s arm on one side and my step mom’s other arm on the other side, and they managed to drag me into the bathroom. I couldn’t stand on my own and I don’t remember how they did it, but I did get to pee!!! Thank you Jesus! Getting back to bed was even more fun, because they had to lift my legs onto the bed. Not so easy when I’m 6 months pregnant and I’m supposed to move gently so that nothing causes a contraction. You just have to laugh!
Once settled back in bed, we decided we should find out how serious this leg thing was. Clearly, this was not normal. Only a few moments passed and I was reassured, that the magnesium, was the cause of my temporary paralysis. I was assured that once I was taken off of this drug, I would have full use of my legs again. What a relief… I knew I needed my legs to push this baby out…eventually!
By now, things are settling down and everyone is relieved to know that mommy and baby are ok and we are being taken care of by the best doctors and nurses in Greenville. We begin our plan to get everyone back home to Philadelphia. After all, no baby should be here for at least 4 more weeks, probably more like 10. Everyone should go back to their homes and families and carry on business as usually. I am going to be at St Francis Hospital for the next 10 weeks, preparing for the arrival of Joseph Nicholas sometime in late march to early April. Only God knew that was far from the truth.
By the end of that day, which is only day 2, all plans were made and parents were being transported to the Spinks hanger to be flown back to PA, courtesy of Stewart Spink’s airplane. But wait! Since Phil (the pilot) is going to be in PA, my husband has this wonderful idea of having someone meet him at the plane with cheesesteaks and hoagies from Philly. Yes, it’s true… Philly does have the best cheesesteaks and hoagies in the world… So, we can’t miss this opportunity to have cheesesteaks and hoagies from Philly directly flown into Greenville just for us!!! Now that’s delivery!!! Believe me, at this moment, I couldn’t believe we were talking about cheesesteaks and hoagies when only 24 hours ago, we were talking about the life and death of our unborn baby.
Day 3 in the life of my unborn baby… I must have fallen asleep, because all I remember is waking up to the smell of South Philly. That’s right…the smell of Cheesesteaks and Hoagies. I just laughed and laughed. My husband actually arranged it perfectly and the Storti family shared the best cheesesteaks and hoagies with the nursing staff on the 3rd shift that night. The maternity ward never smelled so good… Even in the middle of the night, I had to have a bite!
As Day 4 and the following days moved on, I was limited to walking to the bathroom and back, I was not allowed to stand for more than 10-15 minutes at a time, enough to shower and brush my teeth… and then back to bed. My loving husband had arranged people to come and visit me as often as possible. He was trying to think of anything that would help me pass the hours, a DVD player, a steady stream of books, magazines, puzzles and anything else which would help pass the time. I expected to be there for the next 10 weeks.
Of course, God had other plans… only a few days later, just as I was settling in and had come to peace with the fact that I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, I started to have contractions. This was to be expected and the nurses quickly came to my side with additional medications to control the contractions. This worked for a few more days. On the evening of Wednesday, January 24th, I felt something different. I felt the pain that feels like a knife is being stabbed into your tailbone. Any mother knows what I am talking about!!! This is a pain that takes your breath away! I told my husband to call the nurse, and immediately, the nurses gave me something for the pain and called the doctor. Since it was rather late that night, the nurse told me that the doctor’s instructions were to keep me comfortable, give me something to help me sleep and she would be in to see me the following day! I did sleep very well that night, and that would be the last time I would have the opportunity to sleep like a baby!
On Thursday, January 25th, 2007 about 2pm in the afternoon, my doctor came into my room to examine me. Immediately, she looked at me and told me that she could see the baby’s head. He had dark hair just like mine. She calmly told me that she was going to confer with the advanced maternal obstetrician. This is just a fancy name for an obstetrician who specializes in births to women of my age.
Only a few moments passed when I was told that I should call my husband because Joseph would be born today, most likely in the next few hours. She said this so calmly, as if I should let him know that he should probably wrap things up at the office and head over to the hospital. For some reason, I didn’t feel any urgency, but she overheard my conversation with my husband and told me that he needed to come immediately. I remember laughing because we had been at this same place a couple of times before, so I didn’t know if she was really serious. The drugs I was given surely had an impact on my sense of urgency. Now I know, she was VERY serious.
Before I knew it, Stan was by my side. Hearing the urgency in her voice in the background, he got the message to move quickly.
Within an hour or so, the room was being prepared for the birth of Joseph. I had Stan by my side and my rosary was in my hand. I was ready. Epidural time… I had no intention of going the natural way. Actually, nothing up until now had felt natural, so why start now.
Once the epidural was done, everything was ready and it was time to push. As I began to push, nothing happened. I could not feel the urge to push. I was given medication to help me relax and stop the contractions. I kept hearing the words…”Push, push, push” and I felt like I was pushing with all my might, but nothing was happening. A couple of moments passed (feeling like hours to me) and still nothing. The monitor for my baby’s heartbeat indicated that his heart rate was dropping. I could not focus on pushing as I was so focused on the dropping heart rate number. About 10 seconds passed, when my doctor informed me that we were going to need to do an emergency C-section, immediately because the baby’s heart beat was dropping. Within seconds, the nurses had my bed out the door, running down the hallway to the operating room. My dear friend, Jolene, who has been like a second mom to me since I moved to Greenville, was in the hallway waiting. I can only imagine the horror she felt as she saw what was happening. No words, no explanation. She saw the nurses, doctor, my husband and me on my bed speeding past her outside the room to the operating room. She had no idea what was going on. To this day, I can only imagine the thoughts running through her head. Although she is not my biological mom, she was a mom to me in every way that counts for the previous two years. To any parent, you can only imagine how she must have felt.
Upon entering the operating room, Stan was given scrubs to put over his clothes, but he never left my sight. All I could do was focus on his face. I was absolutely terrified. The only thing, which gave me any comfort, was looking into his eyes. Surely, he was as terrified as I was, but he was so reassuring and strong for me.
I remember how quickly everyone was moving. I recall the doctor wiping my stomach with something very cold and her asking me if I could feel it. I could still feel the sensation of the cold on my stomach, but I remember like it was yesterday her words to the nurse. She said, “I don’t have anymore time”. With that, I felt the knife into my belly, but I didn’t care. God has a way of taking care of everything, because I didn’t feel any pain, just the pressure from the knife. Of course, it didn’t matter if I did feel the pain. All I wanted was my son to be born. Within moments, I heard the softest, faintest little cry of my son. The nurse held him up in her hand. His body was so tiny that his whole body fit into the palm of her hand. His little arms and legs were dangling through her fingers. All I could think was how tiny he was. In total amazement, the nurse announced that he was breathing room air. What a miracle! How could this little baby be breathing on his own? It was nearly impossible. Only God could give him the strength to breath. At 4:15pm on January 25th, 2007, my little miracle baby was born. He weighed 2lbs., 13 oz.
I don’t remember much in the moments that followed. But I do remember hearing Joseph’s small cry, hearing my husband tell me how much he loved me and that Joseph was born. I began to cry and feel like I could not breath. I was shaking and coughing. The next thing I felt was a mask being placed over my nose and I fell asleep.
I woke up in my hospital room. The lights were dim and the room was quiet. I immediately began to panic because I didn’t see my baby or my husband. As I came to, Jolene was sitting beside me. She gave me a picture of Joseph. She told me that Stan was with Joseph in the NICU and he was doing fine. A sense of peace calmed me. I recall being in a lot of pain and my body feeling so cold. Jolene placed her warm, loving hands on my face. With mothering love, she held my cheeks in her hands to keep me warm and reassured me that I was fine and so was Joseph. To this day, I will cherish her for the calm, loving way she held me that evening. Stan had to be with Joseph in the NICU and all of our family was back in Philadelphia. Jolene never left my side.
Holding on to Joseph’s picture, I was in and out of sleep. Nurses came in to tell me that Joseph would have to be transferred from St. Francis Hospital to the NICU at Greenville Memorial Hospital because he would require a level one NICU. Stan would stay with Joseph the whole time, while Jolene would stay with me. I was to be transferred to Greenville Memorial Hospital as well to be with Joseph and Stan.
After a few more hours had passed, Joseph was stabilized. He would need to remain in an incubator and was ready to be transported via ambulance to Greenville Memorial. Before leaving, the transporters and nurse brought Joseph (in incubator) into my hospital room for me to see. Seeing Joseph sleeping so peacefully was almost surreal to me. God had given me this perfect little baby.
Although he was extremely tiny, he was so perfect. He was sleeping with his face looking toward me. He had the smallest little diaper I ever saw on him and it was still too big. He had a pacifier, which had been cut in half so it fit under his little nose, which he was sucking on. I felt love like never before. There are hardly words to explain the love I felt for him. It was overwhelming. I didn’t want him to leave. As happy as I was that he was born and he was healthy, I was brokenhearted that he would be taken from me so soon. I wanted to hold him, touch him, kiss him, but all I could do was look at him. I cry as I write this today, just as I cried at that very moment. Tears of joy and tears of sadness overcame me.
While I waited for the time to come for me to be transported to Greenville Hospital, I held onto Joseph’s picture. I must have looked at it a million times. It was all I had of him for the time being. Sometime close to 11pm, I was told that the ambulance had arrived and within 30 minutes or so, I would be leaving and would soon be with my husband and son.
Right on time, the transporters arrived and within a short amount of time, I arrived at Greenville Memorial. Just knowing that I was at the same hospital as Joseph gave me a sense of relief. I was brought to my hospital room at a little past midnight on January 26th. Upon settling in, the nurse asked me if I would like to see Joseph in the NICU. Overjoyed, I responded, “YES”, of course!!! The nurse put me in the wheelchair with pillows all around me and wheeled me to the NICU. I recall being in a lot of pain as I was wheeled down the hallway, until the moment I saw my baby. As soon as I saw him, my pain disappeared! Up until this moment, I felt uncertain as to whether Joseph would survive. However, the moment I saw him, I knew with certainty that he would be just fine. I can’t explain it, I just knew. I felt as if God had taken away all my anxiety, uncertainty, pain and sadness and replaced it with love and tranquility. It was a rough beginning, but a miraculous ending!