May 31st, 2019 was one of the scariest days of my life. It was also one of the best, because it was the day Andi was born. It was a day that started out completely normal, but the next 71 days would be anything but.
This is Andi’s birth story.
It was a Friday morning, and I got up like normal to head to work at 3am. I was exactly 28 weeks pregnant, so I was noticeably pregnant but far from full-term. My feet and face were swollen and getting dressed, putting on makeup and shoes to be on TV was especially difficult and uncomfortable. Even though I was miserable, I was thankful for each day that I got to stay pregnant. Little did I know, that would be the last day Andi was in my belly.
Eight weeks prior to this day, we were told something just wasn’t right. Our little girl was just not growing, and she was in the 5th percentile of growth. We were sent to a specialist where they did tests and ultrasounds, which would be inconclusive and require more tests for weeks to come. It was never, ‘something might be wrong,’ it was ‘something is definitely wrong, we just don’t know what it is.’ The genetic testing came back normal, which was a relief, but still didn’t provide the answers we needed. The doctor suggested an amnio, which is risky but in our case, necessary. The first round of results came back 3 weeks later, the longest 3 weeks of our life up until this point. I hyperventilated on the phone as the specialist explained that everything was normal, happy tears streaming down my face. I thanked him and felt relief, but only for a moment. The specialist explained the next round of testing would take another 2 to 3 more weeks, and this would hopefully provide us the answers we needed. At this point, our daughter was in the 1st percentile of growth, regressing instead of progressing, without explanation. The next 2 and a half weeks would drag on, until another phone call. I was at work, and ran into the hallway to answer. Once again, crying and holding my breath until we heard the results: The scary disorders we thought were a possibility came back negative, which was a relief, but the results were still inconclusive. She was fine, but it still wasn’t clear why she wasn’t growing. Relieved, I thought, ‘well, she will just catch up then!’ Until the doctor said, ‘we may never know what is wrong, but again, something isn’t right.’ The consensus was that the issue was my placenta, our daughter just wasn’t getting what she needed from me. It’s a rare, but not super-rare condition many women have. There’s no known cause, just seemingly random.
Still, this was the result we had been praying for all along, because a crappy placenta meant that the baby was ok, just tiny. The doctors told us she will most definitely come early, and we would have to go to weekly check-ups to monitor her progress and health.
So we continued with our weekly ultrasounds, something I would become thankful for. Most expectant mothers only get one or two ultrasounds, I got to see her every week! We would watch as the ultrasound tech measured her and estimated her weight, thankful for every gram she was gaining.
On May 17th, we were at our weekly appointment when the specialist told us she was slowing down even more in growth, and we should be prepared for her to come any day. Her diastolic flow was waining, and when that dipped below to dangerous levels, we would be hospitalized. “Pray for 28 weeks,” the specialist said. I couldn’t believe that 3 months early was best case scenario for us, but we prayed for her to stay ‘cooking’ as long as possible.
Then on May 31st, I left work early to see our specialist. After the ultrasound, we waited longer than usual for the results in a tiny room. My husband looked at me and said, ‘This isn’t good.’
He was right.
Almost an hour later, two specialists joined us and told us we would need to be hospitalized, but not to worry, because we would be there for a few weeks until delivery. Oddly enough, I was thankful for the hospitalization. I wanted the constant monitoring so she could continue growing. Looking back now, it was clear this appointment was a ‘God moment’ for us. Andi’s birth was filled with those.
This appointment was initially supposed to be earlier in the week, but Justin had to go out of town unexpectedly, so we moved it to Friday. Thankfully we did, as you’ll see in the next 24 hours, timing would be everything.
The doctors told us to go home, pack a lot of clothes, get lunch and check in at the hospital. “No rush,” they said. Take your time.
We packed enough clothes for a month, spent time with the fur babies and even had chick-fil-a. Then we checked into the hospital and settled in for what we thought would be a month-long stay before baby came.
They hooked me up to a monitor to check on our daughter’s status, while we relaxed and talked about all the things we still had to finish in the nursery. (It was a lot!)
Less than 20 minutes later, our nurse, a specialist, my OBGYN and two anesthesiologists came rushing into our room. At first I thought we were just getting the lay of the land, until my OBGYN said, “it’s time.”
I remember saying, “Time for what?”
Time for my daughter to come into the world.
My next words were, “OK, so in the next week? A couple of weeks? What are we thinking? I am sure my parents can get here by then.”
My doctor said, ‘no, as in 10 minutes.’ She was confident and reassuring, in spite of our shock.
Still, I immediately burst into tears. She wasn’t ready, I kept saying, she’s too small, I was repeating. Will she be OK?
God moment #2: My parents, who live about 4 and a half hours east, both happened to be in town. It was a rare occasion that my mom and dad were both in town at the same time. They showed up at the hospital as I was being wheeled to deliver my baby.
Forty-five minutes later, my baby girl joined the world and I became a mother.
Laura Anderson Williams weighed 1.4 lbs (560 grams) and was 11.8″ long. They told us she was a ‘micro-preemie,’ which I didn’t even know was a thing. It’s a baby weighing less than 1 lb 12 oz. She was perfect. Tiny, but perfect.
(God moment #3: One of her delivery nurses was a friend from high school. A small bit of comfort having a familiar face by my side.)
It would be a full 4 hours until I would get to see her.
Then 13 days until I could hold her.
We didn’t have the moment where the doctor laid her on my chest or where Justin got to hold her and pose for a picture. There was no waiting room packed full of people with flowers and balloons. Andi was sent directly to the NICU and put in a plastic box, hooked up to a breathing machine and tubes. Justin got to go down and see her immediately, he says the doctor cautiously warned him that she was very tiny.
I waited in my hospital room recovering from a c-section, in and out of sleep, waiting for news on my baby girl. Waiting to hold her. Waiting to meet her.
The next couple of hours were a blur. Of course, part of that was thanks to the necessary pain meds, but it was also a mess of emotions. There were no big cheers or congrats, just a lot of prayers and worried people. I remember finally being wheeled down to the NICU to meet her, only being able to see her through the isololette, unable to touch her at all. There we took our first family picture. You could barely see her in that giant plastic box.
For most people, being in the hospital is miserable. They can’t wait to get discharged. I remember negotiating with my doctor and nurses, begging for extra days in the hospital. I wanted to stay there as long as possible so I could be close to Andi. Just a walk down the hallway and an elevator ride away. I was able to stay an extra 2 days, and then they made me go home. Without my daughter.
I hobbled out to the car and slowly maneuvered myself into the front seat with tears in my eyes. We live about 2 miles from the hospital, thankfully, but that car ride home was long. Walking in the door should have been a welcome home ceremony, Reggie White the pup and Louis the cat, meeting their little sister for the first time. Instead I walked into our house feeling empty, both my belly and emotionally. I left my heart at the hospital.
I felt guilty for being at home without her. I felt guilty for sleeping and resting, when I should have been with her. The next 71 days would be filled with a constant loop of emotions.
One week later was my baby shower, my wonderful friends and family thought I might want to cancel it given the circumstances, but it was a nice distraction for me. Anything to make the days go by faster, closer to her coming home. Although, we didn’t have a light at the end of the tunnel, we had faith that it would happen eventually.
I took my first maternity leave right after Andi was born. I had to physically heal, and all my free time was spent at the hospital. The first two weeks I couldn’t drive, so Justin and I would go together every morning and see her, sometimes back for lunch and then always at bedtime to read her a story. Our favorite times in the NICU were the nights, that was the weigh-in! When your baby weighs 560 grams, 20 gram gains are a big deal. I remember hitting 2 lbs, we cheered as the number popped up. (I have never done so many metric conversions in my life, so just to give you some context, a 12-ounce can of soda is about 368 grams).
You see, Andi was known as the ‘feisty one’ in the NICU. One time, it took two nurses to hold her down to change her diaper. She didn’t weigh 2 lbs at this point, so you can imagine how strong she must have been to fight those nurses!
Another nurse told us about a time she was holding Andi and another baby at the same time, the other baby was crying and Andi reached over and hit her. That’s my girl.
So back to that night we unexpectedly went for a late-night visit and Jacci was working. We found out the next day, that Jacci had noticed our little fighter was lethargic shortly after we left and she knew something wasn’t right. It was late at night, and Jacci asked for them to call the doctor because Andi’s belly was tight and she was out of it. Everyone told her to wait until the morning, but Jacci refused. God moment #4: Jacci listened to her gut.
Thank God she fought for her.
Jacci was right. Andi developed a blood infection, which was life-threatening. To this day we thank Jacci for saving her life. Another God moment.
She was on antibiotics, her lines were changed and prayers were said. I remember one of her doctors telling us about the infection, I don’t think I grasped the severity of it at first. My immediate reaction was to ask about a plan, what do we do, how do we beat it? I think they sensed we didn’t understand how bad it was. They told us to go to the chapel in the NICU and pray. That’s when I lost it. She had to be OK. We finally went home that night and I cried myself to sleep.
It would take weeks for her to beat it. Doctors would draw blood to test and see if the infection was gone, and the longer we went without a culture coming back positive, the better. There were days we thought we were in the clear, and then it came back positive. We kept praying. Doctors kept working. And about 2 weeks later, she beat it. She did it. She is such a fighter.
Everyone warned us being in the NICU was like a roller coaster. But to me a roller-coaster is fun, it’s also something you *choose* to go on. We did not choose this ride.
Despite her size and her blood infection, Andi was very lucky in her NICU journey. She was healthy, her lungs were great and she was eating well, she was just tiny. We just had to be patient, we were on Andi’s timeline.
In the meantime, we would live for little milestones. Every gram gained is something to celebrate. Taking a full bottle in less time, wearing clothes, breathing on her own, moving to a different section of the nursery, *not* throwing up her vitamins, even poopie diapers. These were all things we celebrated.
After 6 weeks I went back to work, reluctantly. I knew I needed to save my maternity leave for when she came home. This first maternity leave was a fake. It didn’t count. My daughter wasn’t with me.
Thankfully my wonderful boss allowed me to work half days. I would go in early and then leave to go straight to the NICU. That’s when we did ‘kangaroo time.’ This is when newborns and mothers bond by doing skin-to-skin contact. Andi would just lie on my chest and sleep, while I watched the monitors she was hooked up to. It wasn’t uncommon for her to stop breathing multiple times, or for her heart rate to drop. The monitor would beep and nurses would run in to check her and make sure she brought her heart rate and breathing back up.
You know how most moms cuddle with their newborn at home on the couch in a sweet little nursery? My cuddle time was in a hospital with crying babies and beeping machines. I had to drive to see her, circle a parking garage for 10 minutes to find a spot, walk past mothers about to give birth to full-term babies, and even moms and babies being discharged. But I didn’t care. I got to hold Andi for 2 hours every day. It was the best 2 hours of my day.
Eventually we got to start bottle feeding her, this was a step in the right direction. To leave the NICU, you have to meet all 3 of these requirements: Weigh at least 4 lbs, be able to take a bottle consistently and breathe on her own.
She was breathing on her own within the first 48 hours. Then she started taking bottles consistently. Not every time, because she would get worn out, but more often then not she was drinking from a bottle. The next hurdle was weight gain.
Working kept me busy, it made the days go by faster. I have never wished time away so much as when Andi was in the NICU.
On about day 56, doctors told us we could be leaving soon. The next two weeks would be the longest two weeks of our lives! It was a Thursday when she hit 4 lbs and went into an open crib. That is a HUGE deal, no more isolette, no more raising her out of a box to hold her, no barrier between her and the outside.
Then the next day on a Friday, 70 days after she was born, I got the call. My heart still leaps every time an unknown 615-phone number calls me, is it a doctor? The NICU? Is Andi OK? The doctors always start the phone call with reassuring news if everything is fine. I skip the pleasantries, “IS SHE OK?”
The nurse reassured me, then said the words we had been waiting 2 and a half months to hear: “She’s going home tomorrow.” We packed our bags, this time just for one night stay, and got ready to ‘room-in.’ When you are a NICU family, doctors want you to spend one full night in the NICU with your baby just to make sure everything goes ok and to answer any questions you have.
Side bar – Justin threw out his back shortly after that phone call and had to go to the emergency room for back spasms. Great timing, am I right? He got meds and we headed to the NICU.
Justin turned on the engine, and the song playing on the radio was the first song we danced to at our wedding. “Hey Pretty Girl,” by Kip Moore. It’s not a new song or even a really popular one. This was the last God moment from our NICU journey, at least, the ones that we knew about.
That car ride home was not slow. We weren’t crying and I didn’t have a longing to go back to the hospital. Our tears are now happy, our sleepless nights are welcome, and our lives and hearts are full. Our little miracle is home.