Author: Esther Yu, mother of 23-weeker Oliver
Last July was when our lives changed forever. My husband Franklin and I had been married for over two years and we were excited to start our next chapter as parents when we found out we were pregnant in March 2019. Our entire family was happy for us as our baby would be the first grandchild on both sides. The first trimester of pregnancy was not easy for me as I was diagnosed with mild hyperemesis gravidarum (consistent vomit and nausea), lost 15 pounds and only had a small variety of what I was able to eat and keep down. Entering the second trimester, things seemed to improve with nausea and vomiting but it was still a challenge. Come early July we had celebrated the end of my pharmacy residency, had our baby’s gender reveal and went on our babymoon. A few days after returning home from our babymoon I experienced severe cramping but as a first time-mom-to-be, I wasn’t aware that I was contracting. The next day on July 19, 2019, would be our 21-week checkup and anatomy scan redo so rest assured I waited.
Franklin and I were excited to see our baby boy during the ultrasound scan as this was the first time since our gender reveal. Right after was my OB/GYN checkup and I still remember my OB/GYN’s facial expression as she broke the news to my husband and me that we were going to lose our baby that day. I was immediately moved by wheelchair to L&D at St. Jude Hospital. Laying in the hospital bed I continued to contract and was told my cervix was shortened, dilated, and the membrane was bulging. The thought of losing my baby boy after just finding out the gender two weeks earlier and a few hours prior to seeing his face and heartbeat, I was confused and heartbroken.
I was admitted on full bed rest in the Labor and Delivery room for the next 20 days as I continued to contract and dilate. The first two weeks we were told countless times by multiple healthcare providers to “focus on our second child” and spoke of the procedure of how they would not resuscitate but would lay him on my chest if he were to come prior to 23 weeks. Laying in the hospital bed feeling hopeless and broken on July 24th, I recorded my first video telling our baby boy “Mommy is not giving up on you we’re going to fight for you”. The following day I started vlogging our daily progress and prayer requests with our community through Instagram because each moment and each day was a milestone for our baby boy. My membrane ruptured on August 3 and as I laid in my hospital bed, I continued to fight to hold him in longer while placed on IV magnesium sulfate, epidural, and antibiotics.
Two days later, after being in and out of consciousness without eating or drinking because of the side effects of the magnesium, on August 5 my husband and I decided to name our baby boy, Oliver Elijah Yu which means “Peace, the Lord is my God” an hour prior to him being born. Although I felt broken and guilty that I could not hold Oliver in any longer and even though I was numb waist down from being on the epidural for the past two days, there was peace in the room as God gave me the strength to deliver. The medical team advised us that we may not hear any baby noise, but Oliver gave out a loud cry to the surprise of everyone in the room. The team quickly bagged (gave him oxygen) Oliver, administered the surfactant to help his lungs open up and was taken to the Level 3 NICU at St Jude. It wasn’t until a few hours later when I was rolled into the NICU to see Oliver before being transferred to the postpartum floor.
Reaching through the isolette I was able to touch his tiny hand and see his face clearly for the very first time. My heart was filled with so much sorrow and guilt seeing our baby boy laying in a box attached to multiple cords and tubes. He was so tiny, eyes sealed shut, thin with his ribcage showing. He was only 1 pound 5 ounces and his height was less than 11 inches. I felt frustrated and anguished as I had to assisted by wheelchair to see Oliver and hear other babies cry throughout the postpartum. recovery hall. After 72 hours, Oliver was “stable” to be transferred via ambulance to a level 4 NICU for more intensive care, and I went home for the first time in almost a month but without my baby.
Our NICU journey was not easy; no one’s ever is. We are still processing through the mentally, emotionally, and physically tolling NICU journey. While Oliver was in the NICU, I was in survival mode. I focused on strengthening my legs to walk without a walker, pumped, prayed, and blogged Oliver’s journey with my husband. Oliver spent the next 126 days in the NICU fighting through each obstacle. If there was a select all that apply for micropreemie cases Oliver seemed to have it all. He had grade 3 IVH
on both sides, ROP on both eyes, sepsis, chronic lung disease, multiple blood transfusions due to anemia, seizure scare, PDA, PFO, ASD, jaundice, hyperglycemia, and so on. The most terrifying day of Oliver’s life for me was day 8 of his life was when I received a phone call from his NICU telling me that he was not doing well and had a sudden bowel perforation. My heart dropped and I lost it since the night
before he was doing so well. We rushed over to give consent to the surgery, and I watched the team hover over him performing his surgery at his bedside. I was so scared that we would lose him. The best memory in the NICU was when I was able to hold Oliver for the first time, 31 days after birth due to being intubated. The feeling was priceless and pure joy, I was able to feel Oliver and he was able to feel me skin to skin. After that day we made sure to spend a minimum of an hour every single night doing kangaroo time as long as he wasn’t having a bad day.
On the day came when Oliver was discharged from his NICU to finally come home, we had the honor to remove all his cords and dress him freely! After Oliver’s graduation ceremony, good-byes to our awesome NICU team and Synagis shot, we finally rolled him out on a red wagon through the hospital doors we’ve been going through daily to see him. Bringing him home and placing him in his own crib in our home felt just right. It’s like he knew he was home as he’s continued to thrive and grow each day! The 216 days of life after the NICU has amazing but also challenging with his many appointments and therapies while always being cautious for Oliver’s health. When discharged, Oliver was required to be on oxygen for feeds, use daily bronchodilators, and had to be fed sideline. Oliver has multiple specialists to follow, his cardiologist for his atrial septal defect (ASD), PFO, pulmonologist for his chronic lung disease (CLD), an ophthalmologist for his ROP, physical, feeding, and infant specialist for weekly therapy.
Oliver is now 11 months actual and 7 months adjusted (can’t believe he’s going to be 1 next month). He does not require additional oxygen support but has daily nebulizer treatments to help his lungs. At the end of the month, he has his ophthalmology, cardiology, urology, and neurology follow up. Oliver has pending the following procedures of his ROP, ASD, and MRI. We continue to work with multiple therapists to strengthen Oliver all around. Oliver is working on his purees and has started to
crawl and stand! Overall, although the journey itself was hard, it has been deeply rewarding to see how Oliver is doing better and better. He was born in prayer and now is thriving through prayer. He is truly a living miracle in our lives!
For any NICU family, whether still in or out of the NICU, you are not alone. NICU communities are real, understanding, and a place of comfort. Find a community or a preemie parent(s) that you can confide in. As many of you may already know the NICU life isn’t a sprint but a marathon. Allow yourself to heal and reflect at your own pace. Most of all cherish, each day by taking lots of pictures, videos, and
cuddles since our preemie babies surely grow quickly before our eyes!