To Remember

Family in NICU

Read through the early books of the Bible and take note of every time God commands Israel to remember what he has done for it: he even goes so far as to establish holidays, laws, and physical markers to help His people remember what the Lord has done and how he provided for and protected his nation.

We, too, ought to remember and share what the Lord has done for us.

The purpose of this post is not so much to tell a narrative of how my son, Theodore, came into this world. Rather, it is to provide a list for me to remember – and for my readers to also remember – what the Lord has done for my family in the most difficult week of my life.

When I was 31 weeks and 2 days pregnant with our son, the first gift we received in this unexpected scenario was the gift of information: while undergoing a level two ultrasound for a kidney issue we had found with our unborn baby, we happen to discover that the baby was not growing well. He was measuring about three weeks behind where he should have been, and his estimated size was in the 5th percentile. We were diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction and I officially had a high-risk pregnancy. We found out about his diagnosis purely by God’s grace – we were not looking for it, and I do not believe we would have found it until he was  born or until there was an emergency had we not gone in for that ultrasound that day.

[Intrauterine growth restriction (“IUGR”, for short) is a very rare (about 3% of all pregnancies) and potentially very dangerous condition in which an unborn baby is not attaining its growth potential for some unknown reason. It is found when a baby is measuring less than 10th percentile for its gestational age. There are literally hundreds of possible causes, but a common cause is an issue with the placenta and how it is providing nutrients to the baby.]

With our gift of information, we also received the gift of preparedness – not that we could anticipate exactly what would happen, but we were given the gift of being told to expect the unexpected. For example, when we received the diagnosis, I asked the doctor if they were just being overly cautious, or if I needed to get the nursery ready early. She told me to get the nursery ready early; which was excellent advice because I literally finished it the day before going to the hospital. It was extremely stressful not knowing if, at any one of my twice weekly appointments, I would be sent to the hospital to deliver my baby immediately, but it did help me get ready for the day when I got sent to the hospital 24 hours before we expected, and when I did not have a chance to go back to the office to wrap anything up, but went straight to the hospital from the courthouse instead.

Similarly, although I doubt there is any such thing as a “normal” birth, Theodore’s unusual delivery was covered by the gift of safety. Induction was painful, labor was long and exhausting, the monitors were itchy and tight, and the c-section recovery was deliriously difficult. But those 22 hours from when the induction was started Monday night, to when we met our son safely Tuesday evening were filled with an incredible medical team who did everything they could to keep he and I from harm. When we started labor, the nurses and doctors asked us if had a birth plan. I told them all that my birth plan was to get my baby here safely, and to keep me safe as well. Maybe they wanted more direction than that, but it was how I had always imagined I would handle labor, and particularly after being branded with a “high-risk”label. We prayed our doctors would know what to do, and that we could trust them every step of the way. When we were told the baby would not handle labor going on much longer, and that he could face serious danger if I didn’t have a c-section, we knew we were in the best hands and that God would keep us safe. And that is exactly what he did.

When I learned that our baby would come early and be small, I was afraid at how he would look. I was afraid he would be so small and scrawny that I would not find him beautiful or lovable, and that I would be scared to touch or hold him. When he was born, at only 4 pounds, 10 ounces, I was given the gift of love. Although I look back now and see how thin and small he was, at the time I felt no fear, and instead was filled with love for what I saw as the most beautiful boy in the world. Holding him was not frightening (although difficult) – but lovely and warm. I loved him from the moment I saw him, and was shocked at how beautiful he was.

Upon his birth, we learned that Theodore was given the surprising gift of “the good IUGR.” At all our growth scans since being diagnosed, we were told he had symmetrical IUGR – that is, his head, torso, arms, and femurs were all measuring at roughly the same percentile. There are two kinds of IUGR: asymmetrical and symmetrical, each with their own typical causes. With symmetrical, it is more likely there is a chromosomal abnormality or infection; asymmetrical means it is more likely a placenta issue, and the fetus kicks into “survival mode”, and concentrates development and nutrients to the brain because that is most essential. Before he was born, although I knew it was unlikely, I feared that he would have a long-term disability from whatever was causing his growth restriction. I even feared we would lose him to a trisomy abnormality. I prayed he would not have any such complication. The doctors were prepared to test him for several viruses when he was born to try to determine what caused his growth restriction, but when they measured him they found he has asymmetrical IUGR instead! Although his length was only 15th percentile, and weight was only 3rd percentile, his head was measuring at 45th percentile, which means while his body was small, God had protected his brain and had developed it well. It also meant they did not even have to test for the viruses because they new it was probably a placenta issue.

During our week in the hospital, we were given the unexpected gift of togetherness. Even though Theodore had to stay in the special care nursery and could not stay in our room with us, I prayed to God before he was born that we would not have to leave him in the hospital while we were sent home. I could not stand the thought of being even a 15 minute drive from my son – I needed to be with him as much as I could and prayed that God would give us that mercy. Sure enough, to our surprise, the hospital let us stay as boarders in a room just next to the nursery after I was discharged. We got to stay there as long as Theodore was a patient, at no cost to us. We were given a place that we could sleep, and shower, and a mini fridge to keep our food. And we were given the opportunity to go and see our son for every feeding, and to give him my milk for every meal. I was most thankful that I did not have to go home to an empty bassinet.

Since coming home with our 4 pound, 6 ounce warrior, Theo has been given the gift of growth. We have prayed and prayed that he would grow and thrive outside the womb, where the environment meant to protect him and help him develop instead progressively failed him. In his first week home, he grew to an astonishing 5 pounds, 3 ounces. One more week home – where we challenged him further by transitioning him from bottle-feeding to nursing – and he grew another 11 ounces. At one day past his due date, he was nearly 6 pounds. The doctor was practically speechless, and what was going to be a stressful schedule of weekly weigh-ins and adjustments as we watched for every ounce of gain instantly turned into, “Forget all of that – just come for his regular appointments! He is thriving.”

As Theodore grows and Massimo and I tell him over and over the story of the miracle of his birth and homecoming, I want him to know that none of it would have been possible without our gracious community. From my and my husband’s bosses, who, as small business owners did not have to even give us time off to welcome our child, but instead gave us both paid time off to care for each other and focus on our family; to the best nurses in the world, who loved and cared for our baby tirelessly while we could not be with him, but also never let him forget who his parents were, and supported us like their own family by making two clueless, sleepless first-time parents feel like every decision they made was the perfect choice; to our friends from near and far, especially the other compassionate NICU moms and those from our churches and town, who answered our questions, prayed for us, cheered us on, provided meals and funds to fill our bellies so we could focus on filling Theo’s; to our parents and siblings, who cleaned and stocked our home, brought us food, washed our laundry, clothed and diapered our little man, and wrapped our family with loving, joyful arms.

I do not want to leave the impression that these weeks have been full of nothing but sunshine and roses – other details of becoming parents include plenty of tears, desperate prayers, and throwing our arms up in confusion and frustration. But what could have torn us apart, what could have broken us and beaten us down to have to be built back up has instead brought us one of the richest times in our marriage. I look back on what we have already been through, and I can’t believe what we have had to plow up to sow new seeds. Delirious, the one thing I know is that must have worked extremely hard – though often unconsciously so – because we three are stronger than ever, and overflowing with gratitude as we remember how God made us this way.

-D. E. Barbi Bee

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