Becoming Mom: Big Love for a Micro-Preemie


He was 1 pound, 11 ounces – the tiniest human I had ever seen. Our micro-preemie.

His body was the size of a vending-machine soda bottle with a tennis-ball head perched on top. Matchstick fingers and toes wiggled madly.

Waiting for Contact

I saw him for roughly 30 seconds before a huge Neonatal Intensive Care Unit team whisked him away. My husband tailed them to the NICU while my own crew sewed me up vertically and horizontally from a rare “anchor” cesarean section.

Then, I waited.

I wasn’t able to see our little guy again that day because doctors had given me magnesium sulfate for late-onset preeclampsia. The anti-seizure drug made me so nauseated and loopy that I couldn’t put three words together.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

A day or two (an eternity) later, a nurse wheeled me down to see my baby.

How It All Started

We knew he would be small. At 24 weeks, a routine ultrasound showed an intrauterine growth restriction. Doctors unexpectedly placed me on immediate hospital bedrest.

Stunned by the news, my husband brought my pajamas, glasses, contact lens case and toothbrush. One by one, various doctors stopped by to fill us in on the bleak situation and to explain that our baby could arrive at any moment.

We needed to make several life-altering decisions. Pronto. We chose to continue the pregnancy and to give him significant medical support, once he arrived.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I settled into my new routine. Multiple daily visits day and night from doctors and nurses. Heart rate monitors for me. Heart rate monitors for the baby. Doppler scans. Oxygen level checks. Physical therapy to keep my mostly stationary legs from developing blood clots. Nutritionists, who placed me on a high-calorie diet.

My husband visited each day after work and sometimes slipped over first thing in the morning to join my daily ultrasound excursions.

Every day, I crossed my fingers and hoped to see positive (or even absent) blood flow through the umbilical cord. Every day for five weeks, my prayer was answered. Our child wasn’t getting much from me, but he was safer inside than out.

Then, on a random Tuesday morning, I watched the sonogram images fill the monitor. My chest tightened as I saw the typical peaks give way to valleys.

“That’s reverse flow, isn’t it?” I said. “Today is the day.”

The sonographer, who by that point had become a friend, chuckled that I had been in the hospital too long if I could read the images myself. Then, she hustled out to get the doctor.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Visiting Our Preemie

Those daily ultrasounds and other tests had given us an idea what to expect.

As I entered the NICU to visit our baby for the first time, however, I realized there was no way to truly prepare for how small he would appear in that incubator. The diaper he was wearing was littler than a Post-It note, but covered half of his body.

Love filled my soul. Tears soaked my shirt.

I surveyed the ventilator, the monitors and the IVs. I ached to hold our son, but he was staggeringly fragile. And I was weak, recovering from my own surgery and medications.

Sliding my well-scrubbed hand through a hole in the incubator, I touched him and whispered that I loved him. I told him I knew it wasn’t fair, but that he needed to fight. I promised that when he got home, he would have a wonderful life and more love than he knew what to do with.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

A day or two later, a nurse lifted him gently out of his plastic habitat and onto my bare skin. Cords and tubes encircled us, forming a self-contained universe for two.

I tucked our preemie snugly against my heart. As his scent filled my lungs, I became a mom.

Originally published on May 1, 2017.