‘It was only a matter of time before the heartbeat stopped’: After loss at 16 weeks, mom welcomes baby who ‘kicked butt’ in the NICU

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“To all the mother’s out there who have experienced the mind numbing pain of loss and the hopelessness that comes with it, you are not alone. To the mother’s watching their little ones fight for their lives one tiny breath at a time, you are not alone. There are so many of us that have experienced these things and it pains me to know how truly common these stories are. Each one of our birth stories are unique, some easier than others, and we must look to each other for support because it is so very important.

I pray that hearing our story will not only give you hope for your future, but you will find comfort in knowing that miracles can and do happen every single day. Do not give up hope! Even in our darkest moments when it’s hard to imagine there will ever be light again, just keep going.

After experiencing a miscarriage, you are oftentimes left with more questions than answers. This was the case with our son Jackson, whom we lost at 16 weeks. Up until that day I had enjoyed a completely healthy and normal pregnancy. Jackson was our surprise baby and we found out about him two weeks after our wedding day. He was totally unexpected, but we embraced the shock and ran with it. It didn’t take long for the excitement to build as we brainstormed announcement ideas, names, nursery designs…anything ‘baby.’ One of the most exciting things for me was knowing I’d be going through my pregnancy with my little sister. My sister was due in May 2017 and I was due in June 2017. They were practically twins! It could not have been more perfect! I’d sit for hours fantasizing about what life would be like. We announced to my step kids and family on Thanksgiving and everyone was thrilled. Christmas came and we were spoiled with baby books and stuffed teddy bears. The kids were getting more and more excited every week at the thought of having a new baby brother or sister. All of this excitement soon turned to pure panic a few weeks later.

Jessica Dawkins

On the evening of January 10th, as I laid in bed, my water suddenly broke and we rushed to the nearest ER praying that I had somehow lost control of my bladder. It took hours for them to get a sonogram tech to check us but once the bleeding started, it was obvious that my water had broken. Our hope was gone. I completely fell apart and all I could do was cry. They were able to detect the baby’s heartbeat, but it was faint. Doctors told us it was only a matter of time before it stopped. My family came in completely confused as to what was happening and we had to explain that we were losing the baby. I was transported by ambulance to the main hospital for delivery.

Once I got to the main hospital, they continued to monitor baby’s heartbeat. Baby fought all through the night and into the next day. I’ll never forget the last time the sonogram tech came in to check for baby’s heartbeat. She wheeled the cart next to my bed and the room, though full of people, was dead silent. My husband held my hand as she searched. All eyes were on the sonogram screen trying to detect any sign of movement. In a last stitch effort to find something, the tech told me to hold my breath. It was then that I asked, ‘Do you see anything?’ To which she answered, ‘No, honey, I’m sorry. I’m not seeing anything.’ The emotional pain was unbearable. My husband and I collapsed and we both just held each other and cried. I had never felt so helpless and out of control in my entire life. I knew from that day forward we would never be the same.

Jessica Dawkins

I was induced that afternoon and gave birth that evening on January 11th to a beautiful baby boy. We chose to name him Jackson Ronald Dawkins after my grandpa and my father. He weighed 16 ounces and measured 16 centimeters long. Jackson was perfect. He had sweet little eye lashes, tiny finger nails and toe nails and the cutest baby lips I’d ever seen. He was bright red from the thinness of his skin, but he was beautiful. The only two things that weren’t quite formed yet were the cartilage for his ears and the tip of his precious nose. Though I didn’t know why my body had failed him, I knew in my heart that there was nothing wrong with him. Jackson fought as long as he could and we know that we will see him again one day. We use a special memorial bear we call, ‘Jackson Bear’ for family photos and birthday celebrations to keep his memory alive.

My life after loss was filled with self-blame and confusion… maybe if I didn’t eat those donuts I’d still be pregnant, I shouldn’t have started exercising, I must have over worked myself, maybe I wasn’t taking the right vitamins… the excuses kept coming. The hospital’s grieving team did an excellent job talking to me about the grieving process. It is not our fault that these things happen to us. These things happen! And let me tell you they happen all. The. Time.  After we lost Jackson, I had people from all over sharing their stories of loss and heartbreak. I had no idea it was so common. On one hand I was absolutely terrified of it happening again but on the other, I found great relief that I was not alone and that I had others surrounding me that had experienced the pain and hurt I was going through. It takes a lot of courage to reach out to someone but I’m so glad they did because it helped me grieve and inspired me to share with others what I had been through.

After we lost Jackson, we didn’t know what to do. My husband and I, though we experienced the same loss, grieved in totally different ways. My husband was much more reserved, while I found peace in talking about Jackson. It wasn’t until 5 months later when we both got the courage to try again. But even then, we had no idea what was going to happen. It didn’t take long and soon we were pregnant with our rainbow baby due in March 2018. I remember picking up the positive test and feeling pure joy. I said a prayer right then and asked God if he wanted me to have another angel baby, I was ready. I didn’t want that for us again but I knew it was out of my hands. Giving it to God was my way of dealing with whatever was to come next.

Jessica Dawkins

I was nervous carrying our second child. I took my vitamins daily, avoided exercise (except walking) and stayed away from coffee or anything that MIGHT cause early labor. In a way, I became paranoid. We weren’t 100% sure what caused my water to break with Jackson and I wasn’t taking any chances. Later, we found out that was the best thing I could’ve done. Our announcements to family and friends were accepted with excitement but in the back of everyone’s minds we were scared. We had no idea what to expect with our second pregnancy but we stayed positive and prayed for the best outcome possible. The kids and I made a paper chain with 40 links representing each week of my pregnancy. As the baby grew, we would tear off a link and watch as it got shorter and shorter. The weeks came and went and things were going great! As week 16 got closer and closer, my anxiety increased but I continued to see past it. I had a great feeling about this baby and I knew we were going to make it.

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Jessica Dawkins

At 21 weeks, my husband and I went in for our big gender reveal appointment. We were so excited to see how much baby had grown! As the sonogram tech checked out baby, my husband noticed she was focusing on one section of the screen. I was completely oblivious and kept teetering on whether or not to find out the gender. After much deliberation, we decided to find out. There was no mistaking that our baby was a BOY! As the tech finished up she had suggested doing a vaginal sonogram just to be safe and because of our previous history. I agreed without hesitation and she took a few more pictures and off we went to meet with the OBGYN. The doctor came in as his usual self and asked how we were doing, how I was feeling and I told him things were great! But as we talked I noticed he wasn’t moving towards the door but rather, he took a seat, and pulled out a sonogram picture. ‘See this here? This is your cervix — see what it’s doing here? They call that funneling.’ He told us I was going to be admitted today for surgery to sew my cervix shut. He called it a cerclage and assured me it was a very common way to keep babies from being born too early. I had to have looked like a deer in the headlights because at first I thought he was joking. I wasn’t quite understanding what was going on. He further explained that our situation was serious — a normal cervix is 4-5cm, mine was at .90cm. He said it was purely by God’s grace that we hadn’t lost our baby yet. It was at that point that I realized we may have to face another loss. The doctor was going to do all he could to save our son.

I couldn’t believe it. This was supposed to be a regular checkup. Nothing was wrong before, why are we just seeing this now?! As soon as he left, my husband wrapped his arms around me and all I could do again was cry. ‘Why does this have to happen to me? I’ve done everything right, I don’t understand!’ A nurse soon came in with a wheelchair and we were moved across the street to the main hospital to be admitted.

Once admitted, my OB decided to weigh our options and consult 2 other doctors on what we should do. It came down to two options: They could surgically perform a cerclage on my cervix and risk the needle puncturing my water and losing the baby OR we could not perform surgery, start progesterone suppositories and hope baby would stay in long enough to make it to viability (23 weeks). My husband and I were faced with a difficult decision but decided on the latter of the two options. As much as I trusted the steady hand of the surgeon, I trusted my body more. We were sent home on bedrest and a high dose of progesterone to wait.

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At home, I did as little as I could around the house to stay off my feet. Every day we were together was a blessing and I made sure to be thankful for every second I had with my son. His little kicks were daily affirmations that he was still hanging in there. By this time, we had set a goal.  My OB said if we could get to week 23, we could receive a dose of magnesium sulfate and steroids to further develop his lungs and brain in case he came early. I wanted this so badly for baby and by God’s grace, we made it to 23 weeks and received treatment. I was sent home after treatment to continue bedrest and wait.

On December 6th, around 5:50 p.m. I started feeling some pressure or what I thought to be cramps. I called my sister and my best friend for advice on what to do. I was scared to call an ambulance in fear that if it was a false alarm, I’d be too embarrassed. It didn’t take long and the pressure became painful contractions and my dad rushed over to take me to the hospital.

By the time we got to the hospital, my contractions were 2 minutes apart and the hospital was BUSY. I was angry we had to wait and scared that I may end up delivering in the waiting area. Finally, they got me back into a room and did an exam. It didn’t take long for us to figure out — this was it. One week after our treatment, this baby was coming at 24 weeks.

We had to hurry. The medical staff rolled me into a different room and had a whole team of nurses trying to find veins, start IV’s, call NICU, start a magnesium drip and alert the anesthesiologist for an epidural in case surgery was necessary. The whole thing was a blur and I was scared.

After a failed epidural attempt and several pokes to find veins, I was finally set. Everyone was ready — the equipment was set out, the NICU bed was warm and oxygen turned on and ready to go. After another hour, my OB came in and told me it was best to break my water while baby’s head was down and to prevent infection. Though my first thought was to buy more time for baby, I knew that wasn’t an option. This was it. He was ready and so was I. After a handful of pushes, Lachlan arrived at 2:59 a.m. on December 7th. My husband cut the cord and my OB gently handed him over to the NICU staff. As NICU staff placed him on the bed to suction him out I heard the faintest little cry. My heart jumped and tears welled up in my eyes as I asked ‘Oh my gosh was that him?!’ He made it!

They bundled him up to keep him warm and handed him to me for the first time. A nurse stood next to him holding a breathing device so she could help him breath. All we could see was this tiny, pink face buried in blankets — eyes fused shut and all. I didn’t waste much time holding him because I wanted him to get the help he needed. Maybe I should’ve held him longer. What if that was my only chance to hold him again alive? What if he doesn’t make it? I thought of all of this after the fact, but my instinct was to pass him along to NICU to get him all the help he needed as quickly as possible.

T.marie Photography, Wichita Photographer

I was unable to follow Lachlan and my husband as they wheeled him down to NICU because I had been running a fever several hours before delivery. My husband returned after they got him situated to show me pictures of our sweet little boy. He was so tiny. It looked scary in the pictures but I don’t think any picture can fully prepare you to see your child in those conditions.

As I got cleaned up and moved into a different room for recovery I tried to keep a good attitude and stay hopeful. Deep down, it was hard to feel. I was so scared of going through another loss. Even after I was allowed to go see Lachlan, I didn’t. I stayed in my hospital bed. After losing Jackson and then finding out that I had a huge chance of losing Lachlan I was anything but eager. I kept my distance in fear of being hurt yet again. It finally took one persistent nurse for me to go visit him. ‘Your baby needs you, you will make him feel better, and they can sense your presence.’ These things sounded made up at the time but it’s what I needed to hear to get me out of bed and down to NICU.

T.marie Photography, Wichita Photographer

NICU was very intimidating — it was extremely sterile and they monitored every single person who went in and out. You needed a special badge to be admitted, you had to scrub in with surgical soap and disinfect your small belongings thoroughly before entering. These are all necessary but it’s a lot to take in. I finally got to see him — he was laying so peacefully with his hand on this tube coming out of his mouth. Wires, tubes, big machines, small machines — all of it surrounding this tiny baby. My first thought was that he looked great. All I had known was Baby Jackson and compared to him, he looked really good.

T.marie Photography, Wichita Photographer

It didn’t take long for me and my family to grow attached to Lachlan. Once I found out they did cluster care every 3 hours, I would come down in the middle of the night or early in the morning just to watch them get in with him and do his care (check fluids, temp, diaper, make adjustments). Even after I was discharged from the hospital, I made it up every chance I got. Our family and friends made that possible for us. They prayed for us daily, helped with the house, the dog, meals, yard work, or even just stopping by to say hello and check in us from time to time. Without them, we would not have been able to spend the time we did with Lachlan.

T.marie Photography, Wichita Photographer

Both my husband and I wanted to learn as much as we possibly could about what they were doing to him and why. We did everything we could to help him grow and become stronger. We sang to him, read books, gave him plenty of ‘hand hugs’ and when the time came for skin to skin — we did it every chance we got.

NICU is a whole different world. New terminology, beds lined up everywhere, alarms beeping and dinging with flashing lights and numbers. It’s an adjustment. This was our ‘home’ for the next 3 months.

T.marie Photography, Wichita Photographer

They say that the first week is called the ‘honeymoon phase.’ This means that for mircopreemies, they usually do exceptionally well their first week but then grow tired and things typically start to get worse. Our first week was great, as they said it might be. One of our greatest reliefs was when the heart doctor delivered the amazing news that his heart valve was closed and he would not need surgery. This was a HUGE relief and we teared up at the sound of such news. Praise God!

We knew then, Lachlan was off to an exceptionally good start. From that point on we took things minute by minute, day by day. He fought several infections, was put on antibiotics frequently, was diagnosed with ROP (retinopathy of prematurity), had two bilateral brain bleeds and had lots of damage to his lungs. At one point, he was quarantined for a week after an influenza A scare and though he never got it, was bagged at least twice. He was on and off oscillators and ventilators for the first two months of his life, and underwent two surgeries, but through all of this, he kept fighting.

T.marie Photography, Wichita Photographer

While in NICU, I tried to keep an open mind and keep my expectations low. Things could change in an instant which made the whole experience an emotional roller coaster. It was a lot to handle and I was desperate to find someone to talk to. Our photographer put us in contact with a mom that had just recently graduated from NICU the month before we arrived. I didn’t contact her right away because I was nervous but when the doctors were talking surgery to put a CVC port in his neck and heart, I was in full panic mode. It was through this other NICU mom that I found reassurance and comfort every single time I messaged her. My days were a lot shorter and my fears were more relieved because of her. Our tragic experiences brought us together and I am forever grateful for her.

Every moment we had with him was special and we were lucky enough to experience lots of ‘firsts.’ The first time we held him, first time the kids met him, family members meeting him for the first, first time to wear clothes …you get the idea. Each time was one step closer to home.

T.marie Photography, Wichita Photographer

We were ready the day he was discharged. Lachlan came home on oxygen and an apnea monitor but we did not care. We knew we were blessed to be going home so soon. 88 days in the NICU for a 24 week baby is rarely heard of.

T.marie Photography, Wichita Photographer

We welcomed him home on March 7th and every day since he has grown bigger and stronger. I thank God daily for giving me the opportunity to be his Mom. We still have a long road ahead but we are off to an amazing start. He is our MIRACLE.”

T.marie Photography, Wichita Photographer

Welcoming Baby Lachlan–3.5 months early.

I know it's late but if you're needing a good cry, smile, or proof of miracles take a peek at sweet Lachlan's video. Not due until March he was born just before Christmas and what a *scary* day this was. At 24 weeks the unknown was beyond us and the delivery room was filled with quiet sorrow–yet clinging onto hope. He was only 1 pound 8 ounces and the length of a ruler.God has big plans for this little boy right here and he kicked butt in that NICU. Thank you to all of his doctors and nurses for taking great care of this little man and biggest thanks to God for sparing his life. This family had already walked through a loss at 16 weeks just before Lachlan, and my heart was clinging to the fact that God had big things in store.Thankful for his little life and thankful for his family's friendship and bravery in sharing his story with you all. <3

Posted by T.marie Photography, Wichita Photographer on Tuesday, May 29, 2018

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jessica Dawkins, 29, of Wichita, Kansas. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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