Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Triumph over Tears: A Mother's NICU Survival Guide

I have written this post a million times in my head, but haven't found the motivation to type and publish.  Living in the hospital for 3 weeks can do that to a person, especially when hospital stay is due to having babies in the NICU. If there is one thing the past few weeks have taught me, it's that life has a funny way of changing plans and reminding us that, ultimately, we're not in charge. It's a hard lesson to learn at times. What am I saying? It's always a hard lesson to learn.

Our journey started at 5:15 am on Wednesday, July 18 2012. I woke up to a huge gush of fluid down my legs. I could tell this was different than bladder issues because there was no control! I cried out "Brandon? Brandon? Okay, don't freak out, but something's happening." We decided my water had broken, so we finished packing our go-bag and got in the car. We stopped by my parent's house and B and my dad gave me a blessing.

When we arrived at Alta View Hospital, they checked to confirm Baby A had broken his water and got me hooked up to monitors. After about 15-20 minutes, my OB came in and informed B and I that because I was 34 weeks and 2 days, I would have to deliver at a hospital with a NICU. That also meant, my OB would NOT be delivering my babies. That was discomforting, but I looked at B. He grabbed my hand and I knew we would be okay. The plan was to transfer me to IMC, but we were informed they were on divert (their NICU was full). So, they decided to take me to LDS Hospital. I was wheeled out to an ambulance and B and I headed downtown.

When I arrived, I was hooked up to more monitors and doctors came in to talk to us. They confirmed via ultrasound that baby A was presenting breech and I would be delivering Cesarean. They also discussed the strong possibility that our babies would need to spend time in the NICU, but assured us they were going to take care of our family. Fortunately, both our families were able to make it to the hospital and chat with us before we delivered. About 2 hours after we arrived at LDS Hospital, I was walking down the hall to the operating room. There were so many thoughts running through my mind, but mostly "Will my babies be okay?" I sat up on the operating table to get my spinal block and looked through the window at the 2 isolette beds prepared for my boys. I closed my eyes and prayed "Please, please take care of my babies."

At 2:15 pm, Baby A (4 lbs 5 oz) was out and 30 seconds later, Baby B (4 lbs 9 oz) joined him. The anesthesiologist (who was absolutely amazing) asked what their names were. We informed him Baby A was Liam Carl Johnson and Baby B was Finn Steven Johnson. He liked their names. Things I remember about that moment: 1) I didn't hear my babies cry, 2) A nurse ran in and asked the anesthesiologist if he could help intubate one of our babies, 3) I started to feel super nauseous and threw up. All I could focus on was the doctor's confirmation that our babies were okay and were being well taken care of. I was wheeled back in the labor and delivery room and started feeling extremely groggy from the Zofran. I don't remember a whole lot, but I do remember B showing me pictures of our babies and then I looked at his face. With tears in his eyes, he said "Megan, I love our boys so much."

After the family had left and it was just me and B, my L&D nurse told me she was going to wheel me into the NICU to see my babies before taking me to my maternity room. Both babies had C paps strapped to their faces and IV's, cords, and tubes hooked everywhere. Although a little unnerving to see, I was able to touch them for the first time. My inclination was to stroke their tiny little hands and feet, but the nurse told me stroking could be too stimulating. So, I took my finger, faintly touched their feet and told them "I love you."

The next few days were difficult. Besides recovery from major surgery, I was diagnosed with post-partum preeclampsia and put on magnesium sulfate, which made me feel like death. I had to be wheeled down to the nursery when I wanted to see my babies and could only feed them once a shift. When I was discharged on the following Monday, I was overwhelmed with feelings of discouragement and fear of the unknown. How were we going to do this? The doctors continued to tell us we should plan on their due date (August 27th) for when we could bring them home. That was still over a month away. When we left the hospital that night, I was empty handed and heartbroken.

For the next week, my anxiety would be through the roof. Yet, I continued to have this feeling "This is your 'Beautiful Heartbreak'"and the words of Elder Jeffrey R Holland would run through my mind:

When suffering, we may in fact be nearer to God than we’ve ever been in our entire lives. That knowledge can turn every such situation into a would-be temple. Regarding our earthly journey, the Lord has promised, “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (D&C 84:88). That is an everlasting declaration of God’s love and care for us, including—and perhaps especially—in times of trouble.

When you have a child or children in the NICU, you are introduced to a new world and you learn a whole new language. You pay attention to weight in grams, you count feeding amounts in mL's, you cheer and clap for poopy diapers, you learn how to read the monitors and know what temperatures in Celsius are normal. You become REALLY good at changing diapers and breastfeeding with heart leads, pulse oximeters, and IV's hanging everywhere. You are familiar with the frustration when your baby has to go back on oxygen, doesn't eat well, or looses weight. You are also familiar with the joy when your baby can move up a stage or reaches the 5 lb mark. Little steps forward are huge and setbacks are to be expected and require great amounts of patience and faith.

The special care nursery at LDS Hospital turned out to be a huge blessing. They offered us their Family Support Room, which had a bathroom, desk, and queen bed. B would spend his days working from this room on his computer and we eventually stayed day and night, so I could feed the babies as they moved up in stages. We became close with the nurses and doctors and felt like they truly loved our boys.

(Adriana was one of our favorite nurses. She is holding Liam right before he was discharged.)

Finn was discharged a week before Liam was, which complicated things a little bit. Although we LOVED having our baby with us, it was hard to try and coordinate feeding schedules, doctor appointments, etc. Finally, on Saturday, August 11 2012, the doctors gave the "okay" for Liam to be discharged. By the afternoon, we were packed up and headed home!

I look back on the past few weeks with gratitude. I am grateful for modern medicine and technology that allowed my babies to survive and thrive. I am grateful for doctors and nurses who do their job well and take care of us. I am grateful for family and friends who are so willing to serve, support, and love. I am grateful for B's job that allowed him to work from the hospital. I am grateful for B. I could NOT make it through this without him. He is the best thing that has ever happened to me. He is my everything. I am grateful for the Savior. I am grateful for the comfort of the Holy Ghost. I am grateful for a loving Heavenly Father, who knows my needs and the needs of my little family. I am grateful for my life...even when it's hard. I am grateful for my beautiful heartbreak.


  1. Megs, thanks so much for sharing your journey with us. I have to admit that I welled up a few times reading it! What a miracle and I'm so happy for your family of 4! And I love their names :)

  2. My heart was full as I read this beautiful post. Thank you for sharing. I am far away in AZ and haven't talked to you for so long, but I love you Megan! As I read, I reflected on our experience with our 1st baby, and I sympathize with what you are going through. Ours came at 36 weeks, but was only 3 lbs. 14 oz. She stayed in the hospital after I was discharged too. Her complications lasted a lot longer than your boys' will (she had a feeding tube until she was 3 1/2 and has Turner Syndrome), but she is now 5, in kindergarten, and is doing really great! All will work out well for your boys, but I think your description of a "Beautiful Heartbreak" is so very fitting. The journey is hard, but well worth it of course. My heart reaches out to you all Megan - much love to you and congratulations!!

  3. Thank you for sharing this! Your boys are beautiful!