Ericka's Birth Story
A little girl, how awesome! However, my OB/GYN told me that the ultrasound revealed a "bright spot" in my unborn daughter's chest. She told me that it was probably just mucus but she wanted to send me for a Level II ultrasound to be sure.
A couple of weeks later, four days after Christmas in 2008, I finally decided I was ready to tell my parents. Yes, I waited six months. I was still fearful of their disappointment. However, that day would turn out to be more horrible than I could've imagine. That was also the day of my Level II ultrasound. The doctor who performed the test said that he didn't see a "bright spot" but he did see something. He directed me and my daughter's father into a little room across the hall. The plaque on the wall read "Genetic Counselor." Oh boy.
We sat at a round table in a small room full of books. It was me, my boyfriend, the doctor and the genetic counselor. The doctor told me, "Your baby has what is called congenital diaphragmatic hernia." I had never heard of this but had heard of hernias before and didn't think anything of it at first. He began to draw a diagram, showing us how there was a hole in my daughter's diaphragm—the muscle inside the body that separates the abdominal cavity from the chest cavity, and also aids in breathing. He said that through this hole, her intestines and stomach had migrated into her chest causing an underdeveloped left lung and her heart to temporarily shift to the right side. Then, he said, "There's a chance she may not survive."
I totally lost it. I didn't understand this. I mean, I got it. But why? He then went on to tell me that it occurs in 1 in every 2,500 births and there's no clear-cut reason as to why it happens. He said it may be caused by a chromosome abnormality and that this could be ruled out by an amniocentesis but that that test increased the risk of premature birth. So I declined the test. The doctor then said that about 99 percent of the time, it just happens out of the blue. (As far as doctors know.)
I was crying my eyes out. I went so long, disappointed in myself for getting pregnant at a less-than-ideal time in my life. I was finally accepting it and happy, excited about my little girl, I had a perfect name picked out and I was now being told that she might die?! Was this some sort of punishment?
The doctor left the room and left us with the counselor. She would be able to answer any questions we had and she set up an upcoming fetal MRI, fetal echo-cardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), a meeting with the pediatric surgeons who were supposed to do her surgery, and a tour of the NICU. We were told that otherwise, she looked great. She was growing at a normal rate, but if she stopped growing, there would be cause for concern. We left the office and both of us were crying as we got in our car.
That day was the day I was going to tell my parents. I had left a note for my mom the night before. I told her I had an ultrasound and I'd be around later. I had an appointment with my doctor first. She told us that she didn't know much about CDH. She had seen one other case and that baby was doing great. She then decided to transfer our care to a high-risk OB/GYN. My new doctor was right down the street from where I now had to deliver. My pregnancy was now high-risk. I had to deliver in a hospital that had a minimum of a level 3 NICU.
I also had an ultrasound every week for the rest of my pregnancy. That was the best part, I got to see her every week. The MRI and echo came back fine, which was great news! Her heart was functioning properly and we got a great prognosis.
Fast-forward again. This time, it's St. Patrick's Day, 2009. My back was killing me, my due date was approaching and I was humongous! (Carrying excess fluid didn't help!) I walked around all day with an awful pain in my back but I thought nothing of it, since I was so huge. I spent the day at my parents' house—corned beef and apple crisp. YUM! I went home that night, watched some TV with my boyfriend and was heading to bed around 10:30. My due date was five days away and I was exhausted. I got up to plug my cell phone into the charger and Wooosh! My water broke! I freaked! I ran into the bathroom and called my mom. Haha! She told me to call the hospital. I was shaking like a leaf! I called the hospital and they told me, "Well, come in and we'll check you out." Mind you, it's a 40-minute drive from my house to the hospital.
My boyfriend drove us to my parents' house and my mom drove us the rest of the way. I remember timing my contractions. By 11:15, they were five minutes apart. We got to the hospital and I checked in. My only bout of nauseousness through my entire pregnancy came at that moment. Luckily, everything stayed put. I waited to be called to go to a room and put on a monitor. The doctor came in and said, "Oh yeah, you're in labor." DUH! I could've told you that!
I spent the next nine hours in pain because of my back labor. My baby was face down, putting more pressure than normal on my lower back. The first nurse wanted me to lay down but I couldn't. I sat mostly but she wouldn't let me walk around, which would've helped immensely. I had no epidural but did receive morphine, which didn't do much but make me drowsy. Once a contraction came on, the drowsiness wore off.
Nine hours into labor and with a new nurse, I was finally told it was time to push. I did a lot of my pushing standing up because it was too painful to lay down. I squatted on the bed, I used a crossbar, and I laid on my side. Who knew it would get so awkward?!
Exactly two hours later, at 9:40 AM, my beautiful baby girl was born! Ericka Elizabeth—after my Uncle Rick who died two days after my 21st birthday in 2007, and my grandmother, whose middle name is Elizabeth, and my mom, whose first name is Lizabeth. She had a full head of dark hair and, with the 10 or so other people in the delivery room to hear, she let out the tiniest of newborn cries I have ever heard. (We were told that she most likely wouldn't cry because she would be in too much distress.) At that moment, I almost cried because I so happy to hear her. I wasn't allowed to hold her because she needed immediate medical intervention. She was hooked up to tubes and wires and taken to the NICU.
I didn't see her until later that night. When I first saw her, I couldn't help but cry. It was so painful to see her like that. Then, to look around the NICU and see other mommies holding their little preemies, feeding them, etc. She was the healthiest-looking baby, but I couldn't hold her, I could barely touch her and I couldn't talk too much. She was very sensitive to stimuli. She looked great, except for her color, but on the inside, she was very, very sick.
Fast-forward one last time. She was transferred to Mass General Hospital in Boston 11 days later. She needed the use of ECMO, which is heart-lung bypass. She spent 20 days on ECMO, which is six more than most doctors like to use it. We had a family meeting two weeks in and we were told "We're gonna give her two more weeks and that's all we have left." The best doctors in the world almost couldn't save my baby.
Finally, at six weeks and two days old, I got to hold my baby. Once she was off the life support, she made a pretty steady turnaround. She came off the ventilator, most of her medications, she was transferred back to Providence where she was born and to be a little closer to us, she came off oxygen support—which was her decision, literally, when she threw the nasal cannula on the floor and never went back on it. She had a feeding tube put in about two and a half months after birth, and FINALLY came home on June 26, 2009, three months and eight days after birth.
Today, she's a little over 2. She's smart, happy, healthy, funny and the love of my life. She brings so much joy to everybody she encounters. She truly is a miracle and I'm proud to say that I'm her mommy!
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