Sarah, a mother of two boys, recalls with gratitude her family’s unexpected and life-changing experience at Women & Babies Hospital while visiting Lancaster from their home in Texas.
Our family lives in Texas, but that August we were in Lancaster attending a conference. I was 24-weeks pregnant with our second child, a son. The pregnancy was progressing normally and we, along with our health care providers, had no reservations about traveling.
A Sudden Emergency
About six days into our trip, during an outing at a local restaurant, my water broke. Needless to say, we were alarmed, afraid and unprepared.
Our first stop was the emergency room at Lancaster General Hospital, where our suspicion of preterm premature rupture of membranes (pPROM) was confirmed, and we were sent by ambulance to the Women & Babies Hospital triage unit.
We were met by a doctor who gently educated us about the reality of our situation. The health and safety of our unborn baby was at risk. My husband I tried to absorb the truth of our situation: bed rest until the baby was born. Bed rest in a hospital 1,400 miles from home, family, everything we knew. Our return to Texas wouldn’t be until November? What about our precious baby?
A Reality Check
The statistics were grim. We were told to expect delivery within 48 hours to a week because that’s what happens to 90 percent of women with pPROM. Not only were we facing childbirth away from home, but also the reality of giving birth to a very tiny, premature baby.
The nurses who welcomed me to the Special Care Unit offered reassurance, encouragement and inspiration in the form of stories of strong moms and babies. The magnesium drip commenced, my hubby made up the couch bed, and we were given a fan to keep me cool as the drugs coursed through my body. We settled in for our first night at the hospital.
Family and friends surrounded us with prayer, encouragement, company and gifts to make my room feel more like home, as we settled in for the long haul, praying for a miracle—that my pregnancy would be extended as long as was safe for our baby. My husband Ricky made a sign for my door proclaiming our southern roots: “Howdy Y’all!”
We began to get to know our nurses and doctors and immediately knew we were where we were supposed to be for our little one’s birth. So many caring and competent people were caring for us.
Settling in and Salsa
Life began to take on a routine of sorts. I had daily visits from Ricky and our 2-year-old son, Eli. My nurses stopped to say hello and expressed genuine interest in my family, especially little Eli, who began giving hugs to anyone wearing scrubs.
The nutrition staff began to anticipate my breakfast order and kindly included a side of salsa for my eggs. The hospitality staff kept my room so nice and clean, even cleaning around the dozens of cars left on the floor by my little one. I took up knitting and began creating a blanket for my new baby.
Days turned into weeks marked by sonograms, outdoor wheelchair time, date night with take-out, visits from family and friends, and lots of wonderful care from the staff at Women & Babies.
Happy Birthday, Jack!
September 17, exactly five weeks after being admitted, the day arrived when our little one was meant to enter this world. Shortly after wheeling into the OR, sweet Jack Richard was born, weighing 2 pounds, 9 ounces.
Jack was lifted from my body and gave a sturdy cry—the best sound my ears had heard. As he was handed over to the NICU team, Ricky and I silently watched and waited for some kind of indication of how Jack was doing. Staff members quickly came over explaining Jack’s condition, saying he needed to be intubated before going to the NICU. Before they left the OR, Jack was brought to my bedside and I gave him the gentlest of kisses.
The First Hours
The next 24 hours were overwhelming and emotional. Our baby had arrived but was very sick and struggling to breathe. I cried, alone in my room, hooked up to an electric pump, wishing my baby was well enough to be with me. Kind nurses cared for me as I recovered. Always at the forefront of my mind was my tiny little baby resting quietly in his isolette, a short walk away in the NICU. I got stronger and eventually ditched the wheelchair as I made visits to bring breast milk to my baby.
Our transition to the NICU was nothing short of peaceful and reassuring. We settled into a routine right away. Jack’s kind nurses took my anxious hands and put me to good use, teaching me to change Jack’s tiny diapers, check his temperature, and place my hands around his tiny body, whispering reminders of our love for him. Eli was thrilled to meet tiny Jack, and a kind nurse gently placed Eli’s hand over Jack’s. What a precious memory.
A Day of Competing Emotions
The Sunday after Jack was born, I was discharged. It was a day of competing emotions. We were relieved to be together away from the hospital, but full of sadness leaving Jack. The second part of our Pennsylvania journey was beginning.
When people ask about the hardest part of our experience, I think about the days our family was separated while Jack was in the NICU. There was much uncertainty, feelings of loss, and just plain old fatigue and sadness. Thanks to the kindness of family, we moved into a rental home not far from the hospital and began a new routine of visits to the NICU.
A New Routine
A typical day included eight breast milk pumping sessions, visiting Jack from noon to 7 p.m., taking care of Eli, sharing evening meals together, updating family and friends, and a little bit of sleep.
Jack amazed us with his progress. Breathing was his biggest struggle and he spent six days on a respirator. Ricky and I held Jack for the first time six days after his birth. Nurses expertly placed sweet Jack on my chest, assuring me I was doing a great job. This new NICU mom was afraid.
After being removed from the respirator, Jack was moved to CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), and then oxygen therapy—a journey that took eight weeks. He didn’t develop any other complications. His lungs slowly developed and strengthened. We worked hard to teach him to nurse and had several great nursing sessions thanks to the amazing lactation staff.
A Community of Support
Hours turned into days and days stretched into weeks. Being NICU parents was overwhelming. We weren’t looking to make friends in our quick dashes in and out of the NICU lounge, but we did begin to notice other parents who were there longer than most. One family in particular was especially encouraging to us. We love keeping up with their baby’s progress on Facebook.
After seven long weeks, the day finally arrived to begin discussing Jack’s discharge and our journey back to Texas. Jack passed his car seat test. He was alarm-free for five days. He received his first RSV shot. Could it be possible that the staff trusted us enough to release this precious baby to us?
The Best News
The great day dawned on November 12. I called the NICU for our morning update and was given the best news—Jack was ready to go home. We couldn’t contain our excitement! The best wheelchair ride of my life was from the NICU to the front doors of Women & Babies Hospital. I was one super proud mom.
A week later we came back to say goodbye before heading home to Texas. We thanked the special ladies who worked at the front desk. How many name tags had they made for us? Countless. How many kind words and smiles did they share with Eli? Countless.
We felt so many emotions as we said goodbye to the nurses and staff in the Special Care Unit. When would we see these special people again? Saying goodbye to the NICU nurses, doctors and staff was even harder. How do you thank someone for sustaining your child’s life? For caring not just for your child, but for your entire family? These wonderful people have left life-long impressions on our family. We are forever changed because of their kindness, compassion, excellent care, and love.
We are indebted to so many people for their assistance, concern, and prayers of support. My husband’s employer gave him a leave of absence so he could stay with us throughout the entire 13 weeks in the hospital. Both of our parents spent time away from home to support and care for us. Countless friends, old and new, sent cards and gifts, came to visit, dropped off meals, made us laugh, kept us sane.
This experience has changed us. We hold onto the precious, little, everyday moments of life with new perspective and gratitude. Doctors, nurses and staff who cared for us are personal friends who will never be forgotten and will be names (and hopefully faces if we get the opportunity to visit) that will be familiar to Jack as he grows. Families facing similar situations have a new hold on our hearts and we hope to find ways to reach out and support them.
We are most grateful to God for carrying us through our Pennsylvania adventure. We trust Him with all He has given us, knowing His love is deeper and greater and stronger and wiser than anything we will ever know. We firmly believe He placed us at Women & Babies Hospital to be cared for by an amazing team.