Part 2 of Jill’s journey. After over 10 years of infertility, Jill is blessed by the miracle of her premature daughter Lilly. Stay tuned next week for Part 3 of her story. Thank you Jill for sharing so much of yourself with us.
GUEST POST By: Jill Ackfield
The room was packed.
At least 5 doctors (including a neonatologist), 6 nurses, Joe and my sister (the photographer). My doctor finished “suiting up” and told me it was time to push. The neonatologist picked up the phone on the wall and called a “CAT call” (a hospital wide page for the resuscitation team). My and Joe’s hearts stopped in total fear and panic that Lilly’s would do the same.
Joe looked at me as if to say, “No matter what happens, baby, I’m here for you.” His bravado didn’t fool me. I knew he was petrified. “OK Jill, push,” Dr. U said very calmly. I got ready to give it my all, and before they even got to “5” (of the count to 10) there she was……and she was screaming!
Joe and I instantly started crying. She was screaming which meant she was BREATHING! It was a whirlwind after that. The neonatologist picked up the wall phone again and cancelled the CAT call. They whisked her over to the warming bed to start offering her oxygen and within a few minutes decided we could hold her for a few seconds before taking her to the NICU. Literally, a few seconds. And it was a few seconds of pure bliss.
When I saw that first positive pregnancy test, I still couldn’t wrap my head around actually being pregnant. When you spend 10+ years looking at negative tests, a positive is pretty hard to believe. It wasn’t as though I was “refusing” to believe it or even that I wasn’t instantly bonded with and in love with that tiny little being in my belly. It’s very hard to put into words. I could not convince myself that after 10+ years of no baby…..that now, all of a sudden, I was going to be having the live, healthy, perfect baby of my dreams.
I was extremely fortunate to have a doctor who understood the emotional battle I was going through. He indulged me when I wanted a blood test that very first day….and then several more in the following days. He indulged me with weekly ultrasounds, and then sent me for a special high level ultrasound at 6 weeks when we couldn’t detect the heartbeat on his machine.
He continued to indulge me throughout my entire pregnancy by telling me ANY time I “needed” to see the baby I could come by the office for an impromptu u/s. (His nurse even told me I could call her on her cell at 2 AM and she would meet me at the office!) And my husband indulged me by buying me a Doppler for at home so that I could hear her heartbeat ANY time I “needed” to.
And, just like the battle in my brain forewarned….the complications started almost immediately.
I started cramping in the very early weeks. My doctor had kept me on the Prometrium as “added insurance,” which he said would keep me from losing the baby for the first 12 weeks. At 13 weeks he switched me to progesterone injections. Progesterone in oil injected intramuscularly (in my bum) weekly. YEOWCH!!
At around 22 weeks Dr. N called me with bad news….my Triple Screen came back positive for Down’s…..a 1 in 70 chance. He scheduled me to see the perinatologist for a high level u/s the next week.
I’m not a crier….AT ALL…..but this had me collapsed in Joe’s arms bawling. I had been working in the field of developmental disabilities for 3 years prior, and I couldn’t stop thinking that this was God’s way of preparing me for my child.
During this ultrasound we discovered the baby had a two vessel cord which could lead to possible intrauterine growth restriction, as well as other complications like cleft lip. Afterward, the perinatologist told us the results were “inconclusive” and that I needed to have an amniocentesis THAT DAY. We told her we wanted to think about it. It was a big decision. And she said no, we had to do it immediately or we would “run out of time to terminate.”
Our heads were spinning. Terminate?!?!? Are you kidding?!?!? We weren’t terminating this pregnancy if the baby was green with purple polka dots, and had 8 extra arms! This was our baby….our child….our miracle and we would shower it with love and affection and all the care it ever needed for as long as it needed NO MATTER WHAT. And still….she insisted….so we agreed.
She told us to prepare to have the baby in the next 2 weeks, at what would be 25 weeks gestation. The baby had a good chance of living but it would be an uphill battle. I was to immediately begin STRICT bed rest….bathroom privileges ONLY. Total shock and devastation.
10 AGONIZING days later the amnio results were back. Negative for Downs Syndrome. And she was most definitely a girl!
The bed rest was nothing short of torture for this pretty active momma. During this time Joe worked 12 hour nights at a hospital an hour away from home. He was gone from 5 PM until 8AM five nights a week and slept from 8:30 AM until 4 PM each day. I saw him for 1.5 hours on work days. I was stuck at home all day alone. Luckily, I had my 13 year old son for company after school.
I was coming to terms with the fact that I would deliver at a different hospital than planned with strange doctors I had never met. The hospital where I delivered my son did not have a NICU. I was going to be delivering a very sick baby…if I delivered a live baby. I was spiraling into a pretty deep, dark depression.
My wonderful husband did anything and everything he could to try and keep my spirits up. He decorated a beautiful, perfect nursery all by himself. He colored funny pictures on my growing belly (A Womb with a View). He created special movie nights with all of my favorite snacks. He was truly my saving grace.
In mid-December, I had made it to 28 weeks. We had one of our weekly appointments with the peri. We discovered that not only was I dilated 5-6 cm and 80-85 percent effaced, but I also had developed gestational diabetes.
She decided to admit me to the hospital to “try” something. There was an IV medication that had in the past shown success with “closing” the cervix. So, for a week I laid in a labor and delivery bed receiving this IV medication and prayed it would do the trick. At the end of the week–at 29 weeks gestation–another ultrasound showed the medication had done nothing.
At this point she said she could not justify to the insurance company keeping me in the hospital any longer. But with the drastically low temperatures and snow, it was dangerous for us to continue to be an hour drive from the hospital. So, she discharged us to the Ronald McDonald House across the street.
I was devastated! It was almost Christmas and I wanted to be home with our son. I WANTED TO GO HOME! By 5 PM, I had convinced Joe to take me home. I know this seems totally selfish and reckless but my state of mind was not good. To explain our decision to go home would extend this already very long blog post into something more along the lines of a mini-novel. Please just trust that we did weigh all of the pros and cons, and made the best decision we could make in the interest of our ENTIRE family, including our unborn baby daughter.
I continued my strict bed rest. Christmas and New Year’s passed without incident. I had my next peri appointment on January 4th. Needless to say she was not impressed that we went against her orders. But once we explained our reasoning, she did understand the choice we had made. However, that did not keep her from re-admitting me to the hospital until delivery. No going home. No packing a bag. No saying goodbye to our son…a wheelchair straight from the exam room to my new “home” on the postpartum floor.
Luckily, Joe worked at this hospital, so he just “lived” and worked a few floors apart during this time. My mom came to stay with our son for the long haul. Her amazing employers gave her special permission to telecommute for the duration.
Just 4 short days after admission I was awoken in the night with my water breaking at 32 weeks. They rushed me to L&D but….no contractions! So after monitoring me for a day, they decided to move me to the Perinatal Intensive Care Unit. I spent the next 11 days hooked up to IV antibiotics, receiving steroid injections, and having daily blood draws to watch for any signs of infection. At 34 weeks my team of doctors decided the risks of keeping her in were outweighing the benefits.
Bringing home a preemie that spent the first several days of their life in a NICU is a special kind of challenge. Lilly came home on an apnea monitor, and with caffeine to give her every morning. She was “trained” to sleep to lights and monitor beeps and to eat every 3 hours. But I can honestly say that no challenge on this journey, from our infertility to pregnancy to our NICU experience with our preemie baby, could take away one iota of the total elation and overwhelming love I still feel to this day every time I hold my miracle baby girl in my arms.
If you’re interested in seeing more, Jill’s husband Joe created this video dairy of their experience in the hospital: Lilly’s Story