(Originally published to Sam’s Caring Bridge site on 5.15.18)
To read all previous entries from Sam’s NICU journey, visit his Caring Bridge site: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/samueldwenger
Samuel James was born on May 7th at…
Wait, let me back up…
On Tuesday May 1st, having just returned from our “babymoon” in Nashville, Jim and I went to my 28 week OB checkup. At that appointment I received a RH antibody shot for having a negative blood type – a big ugly needle that the nurse stuck in my backside at the top of my hip. While I was there, my urine test revealed high levels of protein – one of the indicators of preeclampsia. My doctor said she wasn’t worried just yet, as I had not exhibited any other symptoms (headaches, high blood pressure, extreme swelling, etc.). She drew blood labs (which were also normal) and sent me home with an at-home urine test to recheck the protein levels which I would get the results for in a couple of days.
By Wednesday my hip had begun to ache from the RH shot I received, and it worsened over the next few days. That Thursday evening my mom and grandma came to town for the weekend. We planned to finish setting up the nursery and doing a few other home projects that I wanted to finish before baby arrived. We got up early Friday morning, but my mom said she had not slept all night – she had been seeing a doctor for an ulcer and thought it was getting worse. Grandma and I let her rest while we got started on a few things. Meanwhile, my hip was hurting so bad that getting around the house was painful. Late that afternoon, mom’s stomach pain had gotten worse, to the point that she couldn’t really talk to us or move around. I called a close friend who is a family practitioner and she affirmed what I was already thinking – take mom the the ER. I was already familiar with where the ER was – just the other end of the same building as my OB. We checked her in and saw a doctor fairly quickly, who told us what we had not wanted to hear: emergency gallbladder removal. They took her by ambulance and admitted her to Grandview Hospital. I let my dad and sister know what was going on and they got in the car to come to Ohio. My mom’s ambulance (you’ll have to ask her about the “Russian” ambulance driver) left the ER at 8:30 and by 10pm she was in surgery. All went well and my dad and sister arrived late that night while my mom was recovering. By the time I got home that night around 2am, my hip hurt so bad I could hardly walk.
On Saturday, Mom was discharged and came home to our house. She would not be able to drive for a couple of days, so she planned to stay into the following week. My dad, sister and grandma helped out with some of the projects we hadn’t accomplished the day before, and then they went home that evening after dinner. I called my doctor friend to let her know how my mom was recovering and she also encouraged me to just take it easy on my hip for a few days. Mom and I relaxed all day Sunday and Monday morning, but by Monday afternoon I was still having trouble walking due to the pain in my hip. I called my doctor’s office just to find out if my reaction was normal. While talking to the nurse about it, she saw that my at-home urine test results had come back and that they were abnormal – meaning my protein levels were too high. She went over preeclampsia symptoms with me again, none of which I had, and asked me if I had a way to check my blood pressure at home. I didn’t but told her I’d go buy a BP monitor. She told me to call them back if it was higher than 150/100. I placed an online pickup order at Target for a a BP monitor, along with some ginger ale I had been craving, and asked Jim to pick it up on his way home from work. When he got home we ate dinner and I took my BP – it was 180-something/116. We were convinced that the BP monitor was not accurate, so Mom and Jim both checked theirs – they were both normal. I called the on-call doctor from my OB’s office who said I should go ahead and go to Southview Labor & Delivery and just get checked out. She would later tell me that after that phone call she got dressed and headed there herself, knowing that my condition was serious.
Jim and I left immediately for Southview, I was already in tears. I had been crying earlier that afternoon when my hip was hurting, with just a gut feeling that something wasn’t right, and this seemed to be affirming my fears. Jim drove (not the speed limit) me to the hospital and got me checked in around 8pm. Within a few moments a nurse was checking my blood pressure every few minutes – it continued to be elevated and got as high as 230/120. Doctors and nurses became more concerned and gave me medication to stabilize my BP, and Magnesium Sulfate to prevent me from having a seizure. Through what seemed like chaos, I was crying and holding Jim’s hand, not even realizing how life threatening my condition was. A doctor came in and explained that if my BP did not come down they would need to deliver via c-section and that the baby was viable at 29 weeks. I told Jim that I was afraid and that “he’s too little” to be born. Very suddenly, my BP dropped, which unfortunately sent the baby into distress. My OB arrived and quickly told me that in order to save us both, I would need to deliver. I cried and kept repeating to Jim, “he’s too little, he’s too little.” I also told Jim to find a way to get my Mom here, so he called our neighbor who would end up driving her down to Southview, along with a few friends who began praying for us.
The only things I really remember about being prepped for the c-section are that there were a lot of doctors and nurses monitoring me, and that they took Jim to get scrubbed so he could be with me during. While he was away from me, my nurse Cindy lovingly held her arms around me and tried to comfort me as they gave me the epidural for surgery. Soon I was numb and Jim was sitting with me and I could feel them starting the c-section. I was still crying and still worried that he was just too little to be born.
When we heard them say the baby was out, at 10:20pm, Jim watched as the checked him out. He was 2lbs and 10oz and 15″ long. I couldn’t see him, but Jim assured me that he was breathing and that he had a head of black hair. As they finished stitching me up, they brought him over so I could see him, holding his head next to mine. I called him by name – a name we had chosen for him weeks before – Samuel James, and then, as if to tell me, “I’m OK Mom!”, he calmly peeked one eye open. My heart overflowed with joy and broke at the same time, knowing that I would not be able to hold him for some time.
In my recovery room the doctors let me know that Sam would be taken to the NICU at Kettering Medical. They let us and my mom see and touch him before transporting him. I cannot begin to explain the pain and heartbreak I felt as they took him away. I told Jim to leave me with my Mom and stay with Sam in the NICU.
The next two days would be difficult ones – not only was I recovering from my C-section, but I was also feeling pretty awful due to the side effects from the Magnesium Sulfate. Jim sent frequent updates on Sam’s status – he continued to be stable, but each update was a reminder that I could not be with him. My dad and sister, after just having made that 7-hour round trip for my mom’s surgery, turned around and came back on Tuesday. They took turns staying with me and visiting Sam with Jim in the NICU. On Wednesday morning my Doctor said that I looked to be stable and that she would likely discharge me that evening, which she did. Though I was in a lot of pain both physically and emotionally, I left Southview around 6pm and my family took me to meet Jim at Kettering. Jim met us at the entrance and brought – no, ran – a wheelchair to retrieve me from the car. Within just a few minutes I was in Sam’s room. We both cried and watched him for a long time, marveling at our perfect and beautiful son. That evening I was able to hold Sam for the first time for almost 3 hours. The wave of love, peace and comfort that came over me while I held his tiny body to my chest was indescribable. It was exactly where I belonged. We were finally together, we were a family.
Wednesday night and Thursday were extremely difficult days for me. Although Jim had been with Sam for two days and had learned about all his monitors and procedures, I was still getting used to seeing Sam in the NICU environment and felt helpless to care for him. In addition to feeling emotionally overwhelmed, my body was swollen and aching and I was running on just few hours of sleep since Monday. By Thursday afternoon, Jim, nurses, and my family convinced me that what was best for Sam was my recovery and that I needed to go home that night to rest. Once again, it broke my heart in ways I never imagined to leave him there. My family got me in the car to go home. Dad took our dog, Beanie, and headed back to Indiana while Mom and Meredith made sure that I ate and slept that night.
After getting some sleep Thursday night, I was able to go back to Kettering on Friday. Jim had finally gotten some sleep that night, and we were both feeling more encouraged about Sam’s condition, and mine. We spent the day with him and were able to hold him again and help with his care times. By Friday evening we both agreed that although it would be difficult, we needed to go home and sleep. Saturday we returned to the hospital for most of the day. Meredith was able to visit Sam before going home to Indiana. Mom had a friend come to visit her during the day so that she could also get some much needed rest and encouragement. We slept at home again on Saturday and began to wrap our brains around a back-and-forth schedule to the NICU for the next week or two that Jim would be on leave, while I was unable to drive. On Sunday (my first Mother’s Day!), Mom visited Sam in the NICU before heading home.
Through all of those events, there are a few things that I will want to tell Sam about, years from now. First is how much I now appreciate my Mom’s love and care, and also my sister’s. Knowing now what it’s like to have an uncontrollable, unconditional love for your child, I know that what I went through must have been just as scary for her as it was for me. I can never thank her enough for how she put her own recovery (from emergency gallbladder removal!) aside to care for me. She and my sister distracted me while I was separated from Sam, handled my photography business affairs, cooked, cleaned, picked up my prescriptions, drove me to the hospital, held and consoled me through my many tears, and the list goes on. I cannot imagine having gone through that first week of Sam’s life without the two of them – God truly works all things together for our good, even if it involves gallbladder surgeries and long drives back and forth to Indiana! (Dad, if you’re reading, you are very much appreciated too for all you’ve done for us, this is just a shout out to Mom for going above and beyond!)
The second thing I want to show Sam when he’s older is the list of names of all the people who told us that they were praying for him and us – a list that a very data-oriented Jim has been keeping in a notebook that gets longer every day. From the moment that I was told I was having a c-section we knew that friends and family were lifting us up in prayer. And although we faced a lot of fears and emotions in that first week, we both felt, deep in our hearts, a sense of peace in knowing that God’s plan for our lives, and for Sam’s life, is far greater than what we can imagine. Never before have we felt the power of prayer in such a very real way.
As we begin to adjust to life with a baby in the NICU (likely until closer to his due date of 7/20), balancing caring for Sam, eating, pumping, updating family, and finding time to rest, we find comfort in knowing that God is in control and that we can cast our anxieties on Him, because He cares for us. We could not have predicted how Samuel would come into the world, nor would we have wanted to. I could not have known that I never needed to write a birth plan, or read the last third of all my pregnancy books. We couldn’t have known that my mom would need emergency gallbladder removal, but that it would ultimately allow her to be with us when Sam was born. And we could not have known how well Sam would progress – growing stronger each day – it turns out he’s not too little after all.
We continue to pray for Sam’s progress and for my blood pressure, as I am still at risk for preeclampsia, but we rejoice in the fact that we are no longer Jim & Liz, but Jim, Liz, & Sam.