Jessica and daughter Cassidy, a patient in our NICU.

Jessica and daughter Cassidy, a patient in our NICU.

I was around 32 weeks pregnant with my daughter Cassidy. Despite a bumpy start, I had experienced a normal pregnancy. Then, in the middle of July, I started to feel unwell, but couldn’t put my finger on why.

After dropping my son Aidan off at soccer camp practice, I returned home to rest – but, my plans were altered when I got on the Interstate and had a visual disturbance. I turned off the road at the next exit and immediately went to my OB/GYN’s office in St. Albans, where I was told that I needed to have a 24-hour stay at Northwestern Medical Center. I had preeclampsia, a dangerous rise in blood pressure.

I was put on medication to prevent me from having a seizure and told that I would be sent to UVM Medical Center for further evaluation. I was informed that I would be required to be on bed rest. In 24 hours, I went from “I wonder if something is wrong” to “you need to be transferred to a bigger hospital and placed on bed rest.”

Bed rest was not in my plan. I had a home, a full-time job, as well as a 13-year-old and 8-year-old for whom to care. I arrived at the UVM Medical Center, and it was just in time: My symptoms continued to worsen, and quickly. At 2 a.m., I was told that it was no longer safe for me or my baby to proceed without intervention. The medical staff told me I was going to have to have this baby. I could hardly believe it. While I was overjoyed at the thought of seeing my daughter, I was petrified.

They did an ultrasound to see how big Cassidy was and administered a steroid shot to promote her lung development. The doctor and some nurses from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) came in and talked to us right away. They explained that my baby may or may not cry, that I may or may not get to see her when she was born and that they might have to immediately bring her to the NICU. They answered every question I had and left me with some information on premature babies. I felt much better about things when they left.

After a tough induction, Cassidy was born at 2:14 a.m. at 3 lbs, 11 oz, and 17 inches long. She let out a hearty cry, and I was allowed to hold her before she was brought to the NICU. Because of the seizure medicine I was taking, I had to remain in bed for a full 24 hours after giving birth. I was deeply saddened about not seeing my baby, but the NICU nurses gave me frequent updates on Cassidy, answered my many questions, and even took a picture of her that I could keep with me at my bedside.

Once the 24 hours was up, I took a shower and headed to the NICU to see Cassidy. Even at 3 a.m. the NICU nurses greeted me, showed me how to properly scrub in, and escorted me into the NICU. It was initially very overwhelming-so many monitors, lights, beeps, and alarms and then I saw Cassidy. She had a CPAP machine on her face, a heart rate monitor, a blood pressure monitor, an oxygen saturation monitor and a slew of other wires attached, too. She had only a diaper on and looked much smaller to me than when I’d held her, swaddled, at birth. In my heart, I wanted to touch her, but something inside of me froze. I was petrified. She was so small. The nurses sat me down in the chair and said that they would help me hold Cassidy. Part of me cringed inside.

They got us both situated and it was the best feeling! Over the next few days, the NICU staff continued to involve me in Cassidy’s everyday care. They knew that I was apprehensive about hurting her or messing something up, but they encouraged and helped me every day until I was confident enough to care for Cassidy all on my own. They helped me through breastfeeding challenges, helped me get a room at the Ronald McDonald House in those first important days, helped me to get a breast pump, helped me with gas cards through the Children’s Miracle Network, offered me books and literature about preemies to read, got me CPR-certified, helped me with car seat challenges, and offered the support that I needed on the hard days when my emotional wellbeing wavered.

The NICU team gave Cassidy excellent and attentive care and, though I wasn’t their patient, they gave the same to me. I will be forever grateful to the NICU staff for all they did for Cassidy and me. Members of our community should be comforted and proud to have such an amazing team here at the UVM Medical Center.

Jessica Hall is an executive assistant at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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