The Sweetest Surprise :: Gabriel’s NICU Journey

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My youngest son has always been full of surprises. This isn’t shocking, considering he, himself, was the biggest surprise of my life. I was on birth control and breastfeeding but decided to take a pregnancy test just for peace of mind (all the while knowing it would be negative). I nearly keeled over when that plus sign appeared.  

Throughout my pregnancy, my then 7-year-old insisted he wanted his baby brother to be his “birthday buddy.” For 34 weeks, I assured him this wouldn’t happen, as his birthday was in August and his baby brother was not due to be born until the first week in October. 

Their birthdays are two days apart.

I had a history of pre-eclampsia with my four previous pregnancies. With all four, I was induced due to skyrocketing blood pressure between 35-38 weeks. To say that my obstetrician was cautious with my surprise “geriatric pregnancy” was an understatement. Though my blood pressure had been slowly rising throughout my pregnancy, it was still within a “safe to monitor” range when she left for a week-long vacation during my 33rd week of pregnancy.

I stepped into her colleague’s office two days later for a “quick blood pressure check,” with my then 2-year-old on my hip. A nurse took my blood pressure and looked flustered. She mumbled something about not hearing it correctly and took it again. A look of panic crossed her face and she mumbled “I have never gotten that high of a reading…” Within minutes, the high-risk obstetrician was listing options for how to get me to the hospital — and what to do with my son. Against her wishes, I was allowed to drive him home and pick up my husband, under the stipulation that if I was not back at the hospital within two hours, they would call an ambulance to meet me at my house. 

The next 24 hours were a haze of attempting to lower my blood pressure and “keep the baby cooking” for a few more days. By the second day, my arms and legs had swelled to the point where the nurses couldn’t insert an IV, and the head of anesthesiology had to be called in to insert an IV into my upper arm using ultrasound assist. Magnesium made me feel like I was dying, and though it brought my blood pressure down, the rest of the symptoms of pre-eclampsia continued to worsen. When my liver function began to waver, the head of obstetrics deemed delivery necessary.

After 28 hours of labor, I told a nurse the baby was crowning. She didn’t believe me. Thankfully, my husband did, and he went to the hallway in search of a doctor. As the doctor positioned herself at the end of my bed, the nurse told me to do a practice push. I pushed once, and the nurse said, “Oh honey, you are never going to push a baby out like that.”

With my rage-fueled second push, the doctor dropped the fabric she had been unfolding and caught my baby as he slammed into her chest. I was known as “the mom who pushed her baby out like a football” for the rest of our hospital stay. (Also, that nurse left the room and I never saw her again.)

Gabriel Fynn was born at 34.5 weeks, weighing 5 pounds, 12 ounces. He was a terrifying shade of purple. They placed him on my chest just long enough to snap a picture then whisked him from the room. He was intubated in the NICU while I was in recovery.

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Because my blood pressure was still dangerously high, I was not allowed to leave the recovery ward to be with my baby. My husband sent an endless stream of pictures of my other children and their grandparents meeting the baby, while I sat alone four floors down. A nurse came in to check on me and noticed my tears. I told her I had yet to hold my baby, and she said simply, “That is not acceptable.”

Five minutes later, curtains were whipped open, a transport team was brought in to help me into a wheelchair, and I was wheeled through the halls of the hospital with nurses holding IV bags and blood pressure monitors in their hands. I will be forever grateful to that amazing woman for giving me those precious moments.

My son’s 8th birthday party happened as I sat next to his “birthday buddy’s” incubator. We opened his presents together in the hallway outside of the NICU. As the family left to go home, my little boy leaned in close and whispered that he had slipped away from his bounce house party and hidden in the bathroom to cry because I wasn’t there. As I sat sobbing in the hospital hallway after they left, a hospital cleaning woman wrapped her arms around me and whispered over and over, “You a good mama. You a good mama.” 

I was discharged from the hospital after three days — and I had to leave my son there. Walking out the door of the hospital without my baby was the hardest thing I have ever done. My husband and I spent the next 10 days driving back and forth from our home on the South Shore to Beth Israel in Boston — 40 minutes each way. We switched off shifts, one of us staying with the baby while the other stayed with our four other children.

As I dropped my sons off to their first day of school, we all broke down crying in the school parking lot. I managed only the words, “The baby…” before a teacher I had never met scooped us into her arms and whisked us through the crowd to get us inside. By the end of the day, I had received no less than a dozen messages from various teachers, updating me on how the boys were handling the school day and offering to help in any way they could.

Each day in the NICU brought its own challenges. Gabriel was severely jaundiced and had to spend three days in an incubator under the bili lights. He had difficulty keeping his body temperature up. His oxygen level kept dipping into the 80s. Every time I was told my baby could come home, something would happen that would cause another day or two to be added to his stay. When the doctor finally cleared him to go home, I was in disbelief. I was so nervous he would change his mind at the last instant that I didn’t even accept the nurse’s offer to take our picture as we walked out the door, for fear that his discharge would be reversed in the time it took me to remove my camera from my bag. I practically ran out of the hospital.

Gabriel’s complications from prematurity did not end with our NICU stay. Once home, he experienced difficulty gaining weight due to his body being unable to absorb the fats in milk. He did not reach 10 pounds until he was 6 months old and wore newborn-sized clothing until 7 months. Our neighbor’s baby was born when Gabriel was 3 months old, and his newborn buddy outweighed him by a full pound.

We saw a specialist who wanted to admit him to the hospital on a feeding tube to force weight gain. In a last-ditch effort before allowing that to happen, we tried an “old school treatment” suggested by our pediatrician — a few drops of MCT oil before feedings. This simple measure was exactly what Gabe needed, and he began to gain weight rapidly. He finally registered at 1% on the growth chart just before his first birthday. He experienced a severe speech delay and difficulty with fine motor skills. We worked closely with Early Intervention, and he has nearly caught up to his peers.

Now, at 5 years old, Gabe is still a tiny little peanut, but he is healthy and thriving. He never (ever) stops talking. He will begin kindergarten this fall, and we are forever thankful for the care the labor and delivery and NICU teams at Beth Israel gave us.

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Deanna Greenstein
Deanna is a mom of five (yes, five) children, who lives in Brockton with her small circus of kids, her husband, their dog Penny, and a few cats. Her life is loud, energetic, mostly fun, often gross (did she mention four of those kids are boys?), and she wouldn't have it any other way. In between carting kids to school, baseball, gymnastics, guitar, dance, track and field and every other kid activity known to mankind, she works as a school bus driver for the city of Brockton, and is the Director of Religious Education at the Unity Church of North Easton, a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Deanna also holds degrees in Elementary Physical Education and Dance Education, which she plans to put back into use one day. At parties, Deanna can often be found hanging out with family pets. She follows her children around with a camera like the paparazzi, is pretty sure that 97% of her blood stream is made of coffee, and her laundry is never done. You can also find her blogging at https://eighteenmoreyearsofburpsandfarts.wordpress.com

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