Ten percent of all pregnancies result in premature birth. Unfortunately, four out of five women arrive at the hospital too late for treatment. The risk of death a premature baby born at 23-24 weeks is 50%. And, for those who survive, there is still a chance that the infant will have long term effects of prematurity, including brain abnormalities, chronic respiratory problems or blindness.
In 1998, with the help of Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, Maryland, I vanquished the odds when I gave birth to a baby born at 24 weeks into my pregnancy. I often wonder what the outcome would have been if the hospital staff had not been trained in advanced life support for infants. It was a tremendous comfort to know that when our baby’s birth suddenly became an emergency, high quality care was available.
As I recall, the last minutes were like a freight train of pain ripping through my body as I lay in the hospital delivery room. The neonatologist on duty had just finished preparing me for the outcome of my baby’s premature delivery. They bluntly said that she had only a 50/50 chance of survival because her lungs were not fully developed. I had experienced a previous late miscarriage, and was petrified at the grueling thought of losing another baby. I knew my husband was wondering the same things that were on my mind. Are we getting ready to plan another infant funeral? Not again! Can we emotionally handle this? What is happening!? Flashbacks of my previous miscarriage flooded my mind. I remembered going to the bathroom while waiting for a room in labor and delivery and the baby falling into the toilet. The sound of that “splash” echoed repeated torment that I could not escape. The white rose displayed outside of that room which meant the baby died, the nurse asking me did I want to hold him one more time, and then four hours later being presented with a birth and death certificate was all too much to bear! It was barely a year later and it seemed as if history was repeating itself. My husband just held me as we braced ourselves.
The doctors advised me against pain medication so that the baby would have a fighting chance. I was however, given an injection of steroids to help promote the function of her lungs. Moments later, I pushed and could hear the faint cries of my little angel. There was sigh of relief as my husband and I looked at each other and then at our daughter, whom we named Alesha Imani. The relief swiftly turned to panic as a herd of nurses and doctors rushed into the delivery room. Alesha’s cries diminished and were replaced by the doctors barking instructions, codes, numbers and medical terms as they quickly administered oxygen to my helpless infant and whisked her away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Later that day, our doctor explained that Alesha was doing well for a baby born at 24 weeks and at just 1 pound, 7 ounces. She was every bit of a miracle! The staff made sure that my husband and I understood that she would need to remain in the hospital for at least another 3 months and would have to go home on an oxygen tank and an apnea monitor.
During the ensuing, exhaustive weeks, my husband and I would make several daily trips to the hospital. There were considerable episodes where she had major setbacks and a reoccurring collapsed lung. Every time the telephone rang and the caller ID read PG Hospital, that old familiar angst in the pit of my stomach would reappear. But each time, she’d wondrously pull through. Faith, the support of family and the hospital staff got us through those rough times.
Each week seemed to be a continuous roller coaster ride of emotions that slowly came to a halt after 96 days. Although saying that I was glad the ride was over would be an understatement, I can’t forget each milestone that Alesha made along the way. It was a full month of wearing her preemie blindfold/eye patch to protect her still fused shut eyelids. At the end of the second month the breathing tubes were removed. I distinctly remember the anticipation of being able to finally hear the sound of her cry being relieved. It was as if an eight-ton orca was lifted off of my shoulders because I knew this was a major accomplishment. The next month my husband and I were finally able to hold and feed her. We practiced the kangaroo care technique of putting her tiny bare body up against my bare flesh under a blanket. This method is used to help premature babies thrive. Unless you have been through this incredible bonding experience, there is no way to truly describe the feeling. Let me just say that I was so overwhelmed one time, that after holding her for a few minutes, I had to allow my husband to be the momma kangaroo because I cried so hard I soaked the blanket with my tears. I will also never forget being able to change her match book sized Pamper for the first time. It’s just mind numbing how this tiny human could be so small and still be alive.
With the exception of a few minor scars from her life saving experiences, Alesha was allowed to come home at a whopping 4 pounds! I gingerly dressed little Alesha Imani in one of her doll sized dresses hand-made by her grandmother. Today not only has our daughter met each expected mental, physical and developmental milestone, she has surpassed them. She is an honors student, a music composer, plays four instruments, an artist, and writes books. I think our odds of 50/50 turned out to be better than 100%. This experience not only made my faith stronger but put me mentally in a place I never thought I could live before. I’m stronger for having gone through it and I approach life as if nothing is impossible.