Little Colton's arrival threw me for so many loops I'm still a bit of a tangled mess. I thought I would maybe be dilated to 1 at my 37-week appointment, but nope: I was dilated to 4. I thought I knew what real labor felt like and I would never go to the hospital needlessly, but nope: I did the whole false labor thing. I thought I would never consider my midwife's suggestion throughout my pregnancy of rupturing my water at 39 weeks to ensure a safe delivery in the hospital instead of a snowy roadside given my history, but nope: at 39 weeks and 1 day I was requesting it. I didn't think I would get my dream water birth experience, but yep: I did. I thought he would be 7 pounds, 8 ounces (okay, so I might have put a little too much stock in some of my vivid pregnancy dreams), but nope: he was 8 pounds, 7 ounces. I thought with all my healthy diet habits and extra vitamins I would surely have a perfectly healthy baby home within the mandatory 48 hours, but nope: his little lungs would work so hard to maintain his oxygen levels he would be in Special Care and NICU for 8 days immediately following his birth. I thought that I was in control, but nope: I was not.
At 1pm on January 30th I had my water broke. Being over 39 weeks pregnant, dilated to 6, baby at -2 station, a ridiculously fast labor history, a forecast of winter weather advisories, the midwife we loved being on call, a night of heavy labor activity and still feeling crampy, it became apparent that this was the wise thing to do.
My memory of time is a bit skewed of that day, but according to photo time stamps and a contraction app on my phone, by 5pm I was in active labor with hard contractions every 2 minutes or less. Laboring in water was indeed everything it's cracked up to be. The pain management was incredible.
My husband was my sweet anchor throughout. I squeezed the life out of his poor hands. He was so awesome--Except for the point when he asked if it was time for him to play Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire". Being mid-contraction my nurse voiced my opinion stating that if he dared she would give him a ring of fire. I tried not to laugh as I focused on breathing my way through that contraction.
My midwife couldn't have been more perfect. I so appreciated how she trusted me and my body to bring my baby into the world without telling me how to breathe, when to or not to push. She completely let me do it my way and I had the birth experience I spent my entire pregnancy fantasizing of but never imagined I would get. I will love her forever for that!
At 6:29 PM little Colton was loudly yelling his protest in my arms and I was completely enthralled with this new little person to love. I couldn't believe that I just did that. All by myself.
In the hours immediately following Colton's birth, the nurses were becoming more and more concerned with his signs of respiratory distress. What I thought were normal little newborn squeaks and grunts spelled difficulty breathing to them. They explained that he was breathing against something which was that little extra "umph" he put into each breath which was concerning. With his color being good and his oxygen levels remaining just high enough to indicate he was probably fine they decided to simply monitor him every hour. As the night wore on his respirations began to increase. You see, they expect a newborn to be at about 30-60 breaths-per-minute, but Colton was beginning to pant as high as 130 while his oxygen levels were dipping lower and lower. They ordered labs and a chest x-ray. The x-ray came back questionable so the pediatrician had him admitted to Special Care.
The pediatrician explained that it could be any number of things--Group B Strep, immature lungs, transient tachypnea (TTN--retained fetal lung fluid), pneumonia, etc. He said it would take follow-up lab work to adequately determine his condition, but in the likelihood of it being infection he wanted to get him started on antibiotics immediately. I sat shaking in my chair, the after-pains of childbirth now replaced by overwhelming shock and worry for my fragile newborn son. This wasn't supposed to be happening to him! This only happens to other peoples' children! This was not in my plans! I didn't pack for this! I watched as an oxygen dome was placed over his head and he was hooked up to monitors. I thought I would suffocate when I heard his painful cries as the IV was inserted. A dull sense of guilt set in. I thought surely this was my fault, and I second-guessed every decision and choice I had made over the last 40 weeks.
We spent the first night of his life restlessly dozing in uncomfortable recliners right next to his bed. He seemed so uncomfortable and I just wanted to hold him and somehow make him all better. I wished I could have him back in my womb where he was safe and secure and close to me. I was so grateful when the shift change brought about a perfect, knowledgeable, motherly angel of a nurse. She got him situated to be so much more comfortable and set his oxygen up with a nasal canula. She was even able to reduce his oxygen to simply room air and his numbers were staying favorable. She constantly explained exactly what they were doing, what was going on and what sort of things they wanted to see. She got me set up with a breast pump and then she offered to let me hold my baby. Oh my, how I loved her! His numbers greatly improved while I cuddled his chubby little self close to me.
Colton was incredibly responsive to his mommy and daddy's voices. It was so obvious he loved to have us near and talking to him, and he especially loved to be held. He made it so hard for me to ever leave his side or to concede to putting him back in his uncomfortable bed. I snapped this photo with my phone and in the days to come I would often look back at this photo believing that somehow someday I would have my precious, alert and content baby boy back.
Jimmy got to come and meet his little brother, but it was brief, and of course not the initial meeting everyone had anticipated throughout the entire pregnancy. Little Colton in a tangle of wires and hoses and tubes in his heated bed, and Jimmy peeking at him from the height of his daddy's arms. Poor Jimmy was so confused. His clear joy just to be with his mom and dad sent pangs to my heart. I missed him so bad and I wanted to be with him too. Watching his happy curly blond self leave with his grandma initiated my first meltdown of the whole ordeal.
That night I went to Colton's room to kiss him goodnight before I went to get some much-needed sleep. I found him to be struggling. They had his oxygen turned up, yet his respirations were very high while his blood oxygen level remained low. I couldn't stand to leave him like that so I asked to do kangaroo care with him. They got us both comfortably situated and observed his numbers as he snuggled up on my chest. They were impressed so they left us to doze and snuggle together for hours. It felt so good to have that closeness until even that got to be too much for him and I had to return him to his bed..
When I got up after a couple hours of sleep the following morning, I felt hopeful that I would find my baby much improved. I went straight to his bed and felt my optimism fade into heart-wrenching worry. He was not better. I tried to choke back tears as I informed my husband that Colton was in fact worse. They were changing his oxygen to CPAP--a stronger, more-pressurized form of oxygen. The nurse informed us that his CRP was higher, then the pediatrician again brushed it off as not an indication of anything (granted, he was still receiving antibiotics in the event of an infection). We were so confused.
Colton was clearly miserable. The CPAP set-up was awkward and clumsy, constantly slipping out of place and forcing his head to stay in one position. His bed was a mess of wires and hoses and everything was tangled. Simple tasks like changing his diaper required more than one pair of hands. We were scared, frustrated and worried sick. We put out a request for prayer on facebook and immediately were overwhelmed with the response. Hundreds of people were lifting our baby up in prayer, they were sharing our story and asking their churches to pray too. The support we felt was a source of strength as we walked this journey.
Our moms came and stayed with us that day and helped us sort out our thoughts and questions. It seemed to us that he would do better if he were receiving a higher level of care. We asked the pediatrician to get a second opinion on Colton's condition and treatment. She contacted Rochester's elite Mayo clinic and was assured that they were treating our baby's condition as they should be, however, should anything change for the worse they felt it would best if he were transferred there.
At 4am I was awakened by the (new on-call) pediatrician stating that Colton was worse and he felt it was time to transfer. My husband and I rushed to Colton's room to find every available nurse at his bed trying to stabilize him. He was crying and so tense. It would take 2 hours for the Rochester pediatric team to arrive and while I stood there with his little hand wrapped around my finger trying to soothe him with my voice one of the nurses (bless her!) suggested that "maybe his mom should hold him." A tall office chair was wheeled behind me while they adjusted his chords and placed him in my arms. He instantly became calmer, though he still intermittently cried and struggled hard. I knew it was very serious with the way the doctor kept coming in, soberly observing him and the monitors and asking the nurses to let him know immediately of any changes. He was concerned Colton was becoming too exhausted to breathe on his own. Everyone seemed so helpless as each countless minute dragged by.
And then Rochester arrived. Their entrance could not have been any more enhanced by trumpets sounding and white doves flying out in slow motion. They came in with such a presence that spelled nothing short of relief for us. In no time Colton was calmed, assessed, and a treatment plan for the 2-hour trip on icy roads made. They were confident, detailed and very friendly. They were very confident of a swift recovery and return to complete health. It felt like we were putting our baby in the care of the most dedicated guardian angels God ever created.
They sedated Colton and got him on a respirator. We kissed his brave, sweet and still little self goodbye and they whisked him off. Before we left to gather our things and head off to Rochester, my husband gratefully shook the pediatrician's hand and expressed our gratitude for wisely making that call for our baby.
On our way to Rochester feeling like the weight of the last several days was finally lifted, I had my final hormonal, severely sleep-deprived melt down. Andy asked if I was okay. "Yes," I sniffled, "Our baby is in an ambulance on his way to Rochester and I'm crying because I miss Jimmy!" It felt good to have tears finally unrelated to fear for my sick and helpless infant.
When we arrived to the children's hospital in Rochester, we were met by incredibly kind staff and they showed us into his tiny room. The baby lying all sprawled out on the bed was a completely different baby than the struggling one I had in my arms just hours ago. For the first time in his life he actually looked comfortable. He was off the respirator already, on a more mild form of CPAP and the numbers on the monitor so much more improved. They sat us down and the pediatrician, resident doctor, nurse practitioner, respiratory therapist and registered nurses explained to us what they thought his diagnosis was, how quickly we could expect to see even more improvement, when they might be able to introduce nursing and when he would likely be home. With his x-ray up on the screen they told us they were pretty confident it was pneumonia, especially considering his elevated CRP. They said that there's no reason they can explain why he has it, but every once in awhile this happens to perfectly healthy full term babies. Relief washed over me as I finally received closure that this was not my fault. The respiratory therapist said that the reason we already see such a dramatic improvement could be because the respirator giving him a little break helped bring his energy back. Also, when the respirator was removed Colton coughed up an incredible amount of fluid which made it easier now for him to breathe.
I may have had to brush a tear or two away when the sweetest nurse in the world put my baby in my arms and assured me I could hold him anytime I wanted to. She said he was already significantly improving just with us being there and she continued to turn his oxygen down throughout the rest of the day.
In the days that followed we were wow'd over and over again as we watched him return to complete health. The nurses loved having such a big, cuddly baby in their care (all the other babies in his nursery were preemies). They were always so careful to keep him comfortable and he was never left to cry alone. I actually felt okay to leave him at night because I knew he was going to get the tender loving care he needed! They took almost as much joy in each little improvement as we did.
It was overwhelming to see how prayer was answered. We got to come home as soon as his antibiotic treatment was complete--February 7. We are eternally grateful for Rochester's Children's Hospital and the love and care Colton received there. And I really wish there was a way I could adequately express my gratitude for every prayer offered on our behalf.
For this child we prayed and God heard our prayer and answered.