“I was 22 years old when I discovered I was pregnant with our honeymoon baby. Just two weeks after our wedding, I missed a period and then those two tiny, heart stopping pink lines showed up on a test I’d taken only because my husband had kept bugging me to.
The moment I saw those lines, my whole world changed. I was the girl with a five year plan. I had my life mapped out, blue printed, laminated, and set in stone. But those two lines changed everything for me. My heart swelled with a love for motherhood I’d never known before. The plans I’d had for my life and my career were so easily replaced with new desires to be a stay at home mom.
The first half of my pregnancy was as I’d always expected it to be. All day sickness, dizziness, food aversions, hot flashes, constipation, metallic mouth. You name it, I had it. But I didn’t care so long as I kept seeing my beautiful baby growing more and more with each doctors appointment.
At 16 weeks we discovered we were having a little boy. My husband and I had both wanted a boy first and were over the moon excited. Life really started to pick up from there. My husband left his job as a firefighter paramedic, we sold our first home, and we packed up everything and moved three hours back to my hometown so I could be near my family.
For the next 12 weeks my husband worked tirelessly to find a new job, we searched for a new home, and we prepared for our beautiful son to enter the world. Only then we thought we had so much time left.
I went in for my 28 week appointment to see my doctor and do some routine tests. However, this appointment felt different. My doctor kept looking at my pregnant belly with a look of concern. I was about to ask her what was on her mind when she pulled out a measuring tape and asked me to lay back. I obeyed and she measured my stomach only to look even more concerned. ‘You’re so small,’ she said. And she was right. I was tiny. But I’d always been tiny.
My doctor then opened my chart and her worried look spoke volumes. ‘How much did you weigh before this pregnancy?’ she asked.
In that moment, before I answered her, I was beginning to make some small connections in my head. I had been 115 lbs before pregnancy and was now down to 94 lbs. But weren’t pregnant women supposed to gain weight? My doctor laid a hand on my leg and said, ‘I’m sure it’s nothing. Some babies are just small. But let’s get you an ultrasound before you go home just in case.’
I went out to the waiting room and grabbed my husband to come into the ultrasound room with me. He’d looked so confused then, but I quickly filled him in and assured him that the doctor didn’t think anything of it.
Only when I saw the ultrasound tech’s face did I realize that this wasn’t just nothing. Something was wrong with my baby.
The ultrasound tech didn’t inform us of anything, but sent us back to the waiting room and said the doctor would want to speak with us again. We didn’t wait long before our doctor came back to grab us and take us to her office where she informed us that our baby boy wasn’t growing properly.
‘There is a blood flow issue between the placenta and your baby. The umbilical cord isn’t working properly.’
To be honest, I don’t remember this moment very well. I remember her talking, I remember holding my husband’s hand, I remember my husband answering questions, but other than that, I heard nothing. It was only after I’d gotten home that my husband slowly tried to explain to me what was happening with our son. I wouldn’t fully understand until days later.
The umbilical cord was giving our son nutrients, but not enough. The nutrients he was getting were going straight to his head, so his head was measuring 28 weeks, but his body was being starved and measuring barely 22 weeks. We were told that we were no longer going to be seen by my OB and we were quickly being sent to a specialist.
I tried to stay calm. I tried to tell myself this was something the doctors could fix, or maybe it was something I could fix. I would do bed rest, or take warm baths, or take some different vitamins. I’d do anything.
It was only when I called the specialist that day to make an appointment that I realized how serious our son’s situation was. I had called the specialists front desk only to be told he was booked for the next two weeks. Not knowing what else to do, I just booked the date two weeks out. An hour later my original OB called me to check in. She had called me on her personal cell phone and asked when my appointment was. When I told her it was two weeks away, she told me to stay on the line and that she was going to three way call the specialist herself. When their front desk answered, my OB introduced herself and informed them that my case couldn’t wait and that I needed to be seen the next day and not a day later.
My heart sank. Why so soon? Why was this happening? Was it because I didn’t take my prenatal vitamins regularly? Or because I hadn’t been eating enough vegetables, or exercising daily? My head was spinning and I handed the phone to my husband and told him to schedule a time because I felt like I would pass out.
Fast forward 24 hours and I was meeting our specialist. He was the kindest man and he put me at ease about our situation. After meeting with him I felt like maybe this wasn’t so bad after all, surely he could help my baby. But as our meeting together came to an end, he smiled and finished with, ‘We will try and give it two weeks and we’ll go ahead and get him out of there.’
He’d spoken that sentence so casually that I smiled, said, ‘sounds good,’ and began to gather my things. But my husband wasn’t moving. He was frozen in his seat, ‘Charlie?’ I said.
But he just stared at the doctor. ‘Two weeks? That soon?’
At first I was confused. What was he talking about? I sat back down as he and the doctor began to talk and my heart suddenly felt chained down in my chest. The doctor told us that if our son stayed in the womb too much longer that we risked the umbilical cord ceasing all blood flow, thus killing him. But if we took him out of the womb too early, we risked so many complications with immature lungs, an immature heart, and a very premature, sick baby which could also kill him.
I went home that day thinking only two thoughts on replay.
We leave him in, we risk his death.
We take him out too soon, we risk his death.
Everyday was a gamble that the umbilical cord would stop working, and yet everyday was also a blessing as it was giving our son a greater chance of survival once born.
I wasn’t sure where to go from there. I remember feeling so many emotions at once that I felt as if I didn’t feel at all for a time.
But with a lot of prayer, faith, and love from friends and family, my husband and I trusted our son’s care into the hands of God and our doctors and settled on delivering our son via C-section at 31 weeks.
We named our son, Nealon which means champion, and what a fitting name it was. With the head of a 30 weeker and the body of a 26 weeker, we were told that Nealon wouldn’t cry, but he wailed at birth. The doctors also told us Nealon would’t make it to 2 lbs, but he was born weighing 2 lbs and 5 ounces.
Our sweet child was a fighter from the start. He was rushed to the NICU, hooked to all different kinds of machines, placed on c-pap to help him breath, had a PICC line inserted into his arm that led to his heart to administer medicine, and had a feeding tube down his throat. When I first saw him 24 hours later, I was shocked that so many wires and tubes could be connected to one tiny baby. My tiny baby.
For four days I wasn’t able to hold him. But on that fifth day, my heart felt as if it would burst with joy as I held my son for the very first time. My beautiful miracle child was oh so perfect and I had never been happier to sit perfectly still, doing absolutely nothing for hours on end as I felt him breathing against my chest.
One week into our NICU stay I thought Nealon was excelling and thriving. But my mind was quickly changed that morning when his neonatologist approached our bedside and asked to speak with me. My husband had started a new job the day after Nealon’s birth, so my mom was with me this day and she and I both invited the doctor to sit with us, expecting Nealon’s normal medical updates.
Instead, his doctor sat down and took out a pen. He drew a pair of healthy lungs next to my son’s immature lungs. Then a healthy brain and my son’s brain. A healthy heart and my son’s heart. He spoke to me for thirty minutes. It was the worst half hour of my entire existence. I remember him repeating over and over how sick my son was and that I shouldn’t get any delusions that he was going to grow up and be healthy. He said that if he did leave the NICU he likely wouldn’t be ‘all there.’ He said that babies like Nealon sometimes left the NICU only to then be labeled ‘failure to thrive.’ He told me that most babies Nealon’s size got NEC, a life threatening infection in the intestines which often led to complications not, ‘compatible with life.’ He left me that day, sitting next to my son’s isolette thinking my precious baby would die in that hospital. That I would never be able to take him home. That he’d never sleep in his own crib. That we’d never hear him say, ‘I love you.’
On one hand I’m sad that my mother was present for that moment. I’m sad that she had to listen to that conversation. I’m sad that she had to watch me stumble out of the NICU into the hallway where I proceeded to weep. I’m sad that she had to watch me crumble to the floor, clutching my stomach because weeping a week after major surgery was excruciating. But on the other hand, I’m so glad she was there. I’m so glad she was there to sit and cry with me. I’m so glad she was there to help me off the floor and remind me that God is in charge, not those doctors. And I’m so glad she was there to back me up when I shared that awful encounter with my husband later that day. For a short time I felt a little crazy. I thought that surely the doctor hadn’t been that pessimistic. Surely he hadn’t been that curt, that cruel. But my mom had heard the same things I had. Unfortunately I wasn’t wrong.
But after that day, I stopped replaying that horrific conversation in my mind. I had a peace I can only attribute to God. I knew in my heart that Nealon would be fine. I felt it down to my very core.
To keep a very long story short, that same doctor unfortunately remained on our son’s case. While part of me loathed him at the time, I began to love having him come by. He’d stop by and tell me Nealon wouldn’t breastfed, only for him to latch that very evening. He stopped by once and said Nealon wouldn’t maintain his own body temperature for weeks to come and the next day Nealon was transitioned from his isolette into room air–his temp steady. Everyday it seemed the doctor would come by only for Nealon to hear his negativity and to then excel past whatever ridiculous milestone he said our son couldn’t or wouldn’t meet.
After 54 days in the NICU, our son was discharged, healthy, happy, and ‘all there.’
Fast forward 2.5 years and Nealon is the healthiest child I’ve ever encountered. He thrived and sailed past milestone after milestone. At 2.5 years old he’s only ever had a cold. He’s so intelligent, so funny, so loving. If you had sat next to the doctor that dreaded day, you would have thought Nealon’s story ended with a funeral. Looking at our toddler today, you wouldn’t know how hard he fought for his life here.
I have learned so much from my son, but the one lesson that screams out the loudest is that doctors aren’t always right. Doctor do not have the final word, God does.”
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