Our NICU Journey {When Our Fears Strengthened Our Faith}

What day is it? What day was she born? What time?

These were questions I asked everyone around me several times Friday, October 14 – the day I was supposed to be just 31 weeks and 2 days pregnant. It was now the day I was no longer pregnant, and my baby girl Jillian was brought into this world.

I was having a picture perfect pregnancy with little to no nausea and feeling physically great once the first trimester fatigue passed. I felt my baby kick for the first time at 15 weeks and was enjoying this special bond that only we could share. My husband and I were waiting to find out the baby’s gender at our baby shower / gender reveal party, and we couldn’t wait to find out! Then came third trimester. This was the homestretch, right?! I made it through the dreaded miscarriage-ridden first trimester and the vacation-like second trimester so I was well on my way to meeting my healthy baby in December. Then the road blocks began popping up. I failed my glucose test. How in the world could this happen? I was a very active and healthy person so I was quite upset when this occurred. I barely passed the three hour test, but at least I passed. I started altering my diet to help my body out.

29 Weeks

Then I had an ultrasound at 29 weeks because at the 20 week anatomy scan, a good image of the baby’s heart couldn’t be obtained due to position. I noticed when the tech was getting measurements that my baby was measuring 2 weeks behind. Panic starting setting in … I could see the baby’s heartbeat so obviously the baby was alive and well, right? Dr. Goss decided to send me to see a maternal fetal specialist, Dr. Robichaux, because of possible intrauterine growth restriction. Cue the Google search. Apparently, if we could make it to 37 weeks, we’d be really happy because the baby would do better growing outside of me. Wow, that was less than 2 months away.

I saw Dr. Robichaux for a high risk scan to see why my baby was so small. Hopefully this baby was just going to be a petite person because I myself am small in stature. “Fluid was found around the baby’s lungs,” said Dr. Robichaux. As I was being told this info, the blood pressure cuff was squeezing my left arm. “There are many things that could cause this to occur.” The blood pressure cuff squeezed again. “Do you normally have a higher blood pressure?” I thought maybe my pressure was up because I was nervous … something was wrong with my baby. The pressure cuff squeezed a third time. “Rachael, I need you to head to the hospital for some testing.” Anxiety struck.

Something Wasn’t Right

I knew something was probably going on with my baby, and now something was going on with me. My husband met me at the hospital. Fifty million calls came in to ask what was going on. Dr. Goss stepped in and told me after all of my tests came back that I had preeclampsia that was rapidly moving along, and our new goal was to keep me pregnant to 34 weeks. Cue the Google search again. How does a healthy person develop preeclampsia?! Why was my third trimester falling apart on me? Oh my gosh, this means I’m going to have a NICU baby. Oh. My. Gosh. I received steroid injections to help my baby’s lungs mature and injections to stop my contractions. Oh. My. Gosh. I could not believe what was going on.

Over the next eight days I was in and out of the hospital for fetal echocardiograms, an amniocentesis, high blood pressure, you name it. October 8 was the date of my baby shower/gender reveal. I was in the hospital the day before because my baby wasn’t moving. I begged to go home because the next day I finally was going to find out if I was carrying a little boy or girl. I was under strict orders to only sit, take my pressure every few hours and if I feel bad to come back to the hospital. My shower was so nice but I couldn’t experience it the way I thought it would go because my mind was racing. I was so nervous cutting that cake, but inside revealed pink cake! A baby girl! My little Jillian and I were having a rough time, but we were going to make it through this. The first thing I whispered to my husband while hugging him was that I was so relieved it was a girl because she’ll do better in the NICU. Thoughts of a preemie baby, the NICU, and our health consumed my thoughts, and I was just overwhelmed with emotion when my shower ended. I texted Dr. Goss to tell her the news, and she said she wanted to tell me so badly but didn’t want to ruin my surprise.

Time for Delivery

I got news the Monday after the shower that my amniocentesis came back void of any major developmental issues – thank God something was going our way! The next day I was in an ambulance to Ochsner Baptist on magnesium sulfate because my blood pressure was so high I was in danger of a seizure. This time Dr. Goss told me I wouldn’t be pregnant by the weekend. She was right. Jillian was born through a whirlwind emergency C-section October 14 at 12:40am weighing in at 2 pounds .05oz. It wasn’t the picture perfect C-section delivery I was imagining; Jillian was whisked away because she wasn’t breathing on her own at the moment. Sometime later while still on the operating table, I saw my baby for the first time in her isolette. She was so tiny in that big box, but I saw those big brown eyes lock onto mine. Then and there, I knew we needed to be ok for each other.

My baby was born early Friday morning, but I did not go see her til Saturday night … partly because I could not get up for 24 hours on magnesium sulfate. The other part because I didn’t want to face what was in the NICU. Michael kept showing her to me on the NICU webcam, but it didn’t seem real. I didn’t want to see her. The NICU was for sick babies, and there was no way my baby was in there.

My First Visit to the NICU

I finally mustered the strength and courage to make my first track to the NICU. It was at a turtle’s pace with my IV pole and all! Michael was carrying my few pumped milliliters of breastmilk as he had done numerous times before. My sister and sister-in-law were right beside me too. I had a lump in my throat the entire way. I was so scared of what I was going to see. What I did see was absolutely wonderful. My tiny baby, the baby I carried for 31 weeks and 2 days,with wires all over her, was breathing on her own! I was told how amazing this little life was doing for being so small, and the tears streamed down my face. She was mine, and she was doing so well! I was so scared to touch her because I had IVs in my hand still, and being the germaphobe I am, I knew how important it was in keeping germs away from her in this state. After bathing my hands in sanitizer, I placed my hand over her. My entire hand fit over her! This was the night I met my Jillian, and I’ll never forget it.

The following night my mother-in-law stayed with me and when we went for a visit, her umbilical line had just been removed which meant I could hold my sweet baby. The feeling that overcame me as she was placed in my nightgown to “kangaroo” was unbelievable (more tears). The thought that kept coming up was that her head is the size of a tennis ball, and I’m going to crush her. That thought remained with me everyday for weeks!! This was the night I held my Jillian for the first time and I’ll never forget it. I finally was connecting with her and the feeling was amazing.

Leaving the Hospital Without My Baby

It was strange leaving the hospital without a baby. Being able to see her anytime I wanted through the NICU webcam was such a lifesaver for my sanity. As Thad and Hollie (our primary nurses) said, she had the best baby sitters in the world, so me, as a new mom, needed to rest up and prepare for Jillian to be home. Our NICU staff was absolutely amazing. They were so informative, so understanding, so compassionate. They made the 55 day stay not seem so long. I made the drive every day from Mandeville/Raceland for 53 days with the help of my parents and awesome family the first two weeks while recovering from my section to New Orleans. There were two days I did not make it to the NICU, and the guilt set in that my Jillian wouldn’t have a visitor that day. Both days I had been up the nights before battling the most painful clogged ducts. As much as I wanted to quit pumping during those hours, I remembered that this was the one thing I could do for her while she was there, and that kept me going. It was amazing that she was getting breastmilk from day one…1 milliliter but whatever! I could still nourish her through her OG tube with pumping. I was also told it would do no good if I was getting run down, so it was ok to take a day off.

The Roller Coaster of NICU Life

During the first two weeks of NICU life, I experienced the roller coaster ride described by everyone who has been in my shoes. It was truly unbelievable the amount of my friends and colleagues who reached out to me to tell me about their preemie and NICU experience … I had no idea they had been through this! Hearing their stories of how they made it through were the most powerful and uplifting words, especially as I was getting all too familiar with terms like bradycardia (ugh, I can still hear the beeps) drops in respiration, having to tap her foot to make her breathe again, watching the monitor like a hawk to anticipate her heart rate drops, caffeine, OG tubes, oxygen, fortified breastmilk and so much more. I had no idea what my friends had been through until I, unfortunately, experienced it myself. My good friend, Katie, who also had a 31 weeker, was a source of strength and comfort for me. I reached out to her so many times, more like several times a week, and she was such a lifesaver in calming my nerves. I am so thankful she is in our lives!

As scary as the NICU may be, there are SO many positives that have come from the experience. You learn to celebrate the small things! We were so excited when Jillian made it to the kilo club (2 pounds 3.3 oz!), every ounce and inch she gained, the first OT session not having a bradycardia, Father PJ coming all the way from Raceland to bless my baby, wearing clothes once her IV lines were out, moving to an open crib because she could maintain her body temperature, feeding her a bottle successfully for the first time (this was my Black Friday treat), and taking her OG tube out. These were all huge milestones we met together, and if she were a term baby, we may have taken these for granted. I learned to make our experience as positive as I could. What a blessing that I got to see my baby grow with my own eyes … how cool was this! She was also on a routine for feeding and diaper changes, meaning “Babywise” was already set in motion for us!

The Support from Family and Friends

I always knew my family and friends loved us and cared for us, but oh my gosh, it was amplified by a thousand. My parents slept in their clothes the night she was born just waiting for the call. My mom, who doesn’t drive anywhere except locally, drove to and from Mandeville to Baptist almost daily to either bring me or meet me in the NICU. Michael’s parents spent nights on uncomfortable hospital beds so I wouldn’t be alone so Michael could sleep in a good bed. My husband taught me how to put pump parts together and work the machine because everything that was taught to me in those first few days went in one ear and out the other. We are so lucky to have these awesome people in our lives. I also met a very special person who was living the same life as me at the moment. Mary’s sweet baby boy who was born 2 weeks before Jillian and due 2 weeks after was in a room not too far from Jillian, and we were sharing our milestones and hopes of going home together. It was hard enough to take care of myself and husband while making the trip every day to New Orleans, but she had two boys and a husband at home! I am happy to say Mary and I have become good friends, and we are always discussing our preemies. We actually just got together to celebrate her son’s birthday and will be creating care packages in a month to deliver to NICU moms.

I hope I never need to experience the NICU again, but if it comes to that, I hope I know how to approach it. I don’t think the road would be any easier because your child is in a fight for their little life. Not everyone walks away through those doors with their now healthy baby able to put their green foot printed leaf on the NICU wall and that is what frightens me the most. The thought of a second pregnancy scares me because of all the high risk areas I would be grouped into: 35 years old, previous severe preeclampsia, and having a baby with a heart defect (She has a bicuspid aortic valve – it’s the most common heart defect that has nothing to do with being a preemie and she’s doing awesome!). I feel like if I am meant to have another baby, I am going to leave it in God’s hands, and He will take care of us. After all, Jillian came home from the NICU on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. If He wasn’t watching over us and hearing ALL of the prayers family, friends and strangers were saying for her, then I just don’t know! What I do know is that I have a beautiful baby girl who just celebrated her first birthday, is as healthy as can be, and is a tremendous source of love and happiness in our lives!

Thank You

Thank you tremendously to Dr. Goss who answered my fifty million text message questions and knew that steroids needed to be administered ASAP for her lungs, Dr. Robichaux for recognizing the preeclampsia symptoms, Dr. Longo for the quick judgement in delivery time, all of our NICU doctors, nurses and staff. Thank you again to our family, friends and each and every one of you who helped us in our journey … Michael, Jillian and I are forever thankful!

About Rachael Marcell0

Rachael is from Mandeville and now lives down the bayou with her husband Michael, daughter Jillian, and crazy little dog-Roux. She is a dentist and practices in Houma and Mandeville. She’s also an avid LSU fan and can’t wait to take Jillian to her first game!


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