Author: Allison Thiessen, mother of 23 weeker Charlotte
To begin, my name is Allison! I’m married to a lovely man named Jordan and we live in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. My husband Jordan and I were married in 2017 and were ready (sort of) to have kids! We weren’t necessarily “trying” to get pregnant, but if it happened, we would be ecstatic. Well, not long after we saw those 2 pink lines and we were exactly that, ECSTATIC! Sadly, I miscarried at 6 weeks along, not long after finding out. Shortly after our miscarriage, I was pregnant again. This time we had a lot more fear and anxiety. Our hearts wanted so badly to be happy, to celebrate, but we were afraid. What if it happened again? The first trimester felt long, a period of waiting. Regardless of our worry, my pregnancy progressed fine with no complications! We had our 12-week ultrasound, and then 20-week ultrasound both with no concerns.
The evening of December 14th, 2019 I was in some pain and discomfort. I assumed they were simply Braxton-Hicks since they came with no pattern of frequency or intensity. I went to sleep assuming all was fine, but the next morning I saw blood. Just a small amount but I called my midwife just to be sure. The contractions had lessened and only came sporadically. My midwife agreed with me and believed my cervix was simply irritated, causing my symptoms. We continued our day as planned, attending church and two separate Christmas parties, but visited the hospital for a check in the afternoon. Once again, I was told, “Your cervix is just irritated” and I was sure myself that's all it was. Later that evening, my bleeding was worse, and the contractions were quite painful. Regardless, I was still convinced I was fine. I quickly went to the washroom before bed but could feel that my cervix was open. The feeling was all too familiar thanks to my prior miscarriage. I called my midwife for the third time that day. “We haven’t had the chance to talk about preterm labor yet”, she said. “When you go to the hospital, they’re going to check you for preterm labor and if it is preterm labor, they’ll give you steroids and put you on bed rest.”
"It's simple. My baby is going to be fine. They’ll stop the labor. That’s it."
We arrived at the hospital (Victoria Hospital – London), and I was brought into triage to get an ultrasound. The young man performing the ultrasound looked straight at me and said “There’s a foot in your vagina. I’m going to go get the team.” Within seconds medical professionals rushed in, at least 6 people, surrounded me and were gearing up for surgery. “Your baby needs to come out right now,” one of them told me. My body began trembling to the point I couldn’t hold a pen or send a text. In an attempt to warm me up and slow the tremors, the anesthesiologist brought me fresh heated blankets every few minutes to cover my upper body, but it didn’t help. Jordan sat beside me through the c-section, attempting to have a conversation with me through his tears. The delivery went quickly. Charlotte Jolene was born at 23+5 weeks at 11:13pm, weighing 1 pound 5 ounces, and just 11 inches long. I didn’t hear my baby cry. I didn’t so much as peek at her before she was whisked off through a set of doors where the NICU team was waiting for her. Never in my life had I heard of a baby being born so tiny, and I was convinced she didn’t survive.
The anesthesiologist asked Jordan to follow him, and once he returned, I immediately asked him, “Is she alive?” To my complete surprise, she was.
He brought pictures of her lying in a bag to keep her warm. As soon I was wheeled to recovery, I was met by one of the head neonatologists in our hospital. I was told that Charlotte had a 40% chance of survival, and if she survived, a 25% chance of having no severe disabilities. He continued to explain how things work in the NICU and offered me pamphlets to help us understand what our next months of life may look like. 3 hours later, I was finally wheeled through the NICU on a stretcher to meet Charlotte. She was intubated and on high-frequency ventilation to support her. I felt so out of place entering the NICU, a place I never thought I would have to see the inside of. However, once the shock wore off, the NICU became my second home. Charlotte’s journey began rocky with a pneumothorax (air compressing her lung) on her left side, and then also her right, causing her to need chest tubes. After her rough first weeks of life, she had a PDA and grade 2 brain bleeds, both of which self-resolved before we left the hospital. She still sees an ophthalmologist for stage 2 ROP which didn’t require any interference from doctors and is also beginning to resolve.
On day 116 of life, we brought Charlotte home weighing 7 pounds 12 ounces and on oxygen support. We are so grateful for the amazing team that supported and advocated for both us and our daughter in the hospital. Thanks to them, Charlotte is now 6.5 months old, and a happy and healthy little girl! She loves to eat, talk and play, has just come off oxygen, and is meeting all of her developmental milestones.
To any of you mamas entering into this world of chaos, give yourself so much grace! Your world may seem so crazy right now, but care for yourself, because your health matters as much as your baby’s does! Say yes when you need the help, but also don’t be afraid to say no when you’re exhausted and need time for yourself. And lastly, ask all the questions. After googling too many terms and reading terrible outcomes, I learned that talking to the team and feeling like the annoying parent is definitely the better option!
To follow Charlotte's journey on Instagram, click here.
Be sure to leave the Thiessen family any questions or encouraging comments you may have in the comment section.