“At the beginning of January, my husband and I decided it would be the perfect time to start trying for our first baby. It was the beginning of 2020. We thought to ourselves, ‘This is going to be an AMAZING year. This is the perfect time.’ The trying part came very easily and we had the positive pregnancy test in our hands the second week of February.
I had a few days of excitement before I started to have extremely bad anxiety something was going to go wrong. I carefully monitored every change my body went through and ended up in the emergency room six weeks pregnant with a threatened miscarriage. I had blood in my urine and some concerning blood work results. But my baby held on and we made it through the first trimester. I thought the second trimester would be smooth sailing when the threat of COVID-19 became a huge concern. I shut down my small business and went into isolation for a while at my family’s ranch in Montana, to keep us safe while there was so much unknown on the effect it had on pregnant women. After a few months, I felt comfortable going back to work and felt amazing with a healthy pregnancy. I was working out, eating healthy, and just thriving while growing a new life inside of me.
I had an appointment with my OB at the end of June at 23 weeks pregnant. My blood pressure had been consistently high with each appointment, but it was shrugged off as having ‘white coat syndrome’ ( hypertension in which people exhibit a blood pressure level above the normal range), or it was possibly the salty pizza I had the previous night causing it to be high. No one ever took it seriously, and being my first pregnancy, I didn’t realize how deadly of a situation it is when a pregnant woman’s blood control isn’t stable.
They did blood work and my results were sent to my phone. At 28 years old and never having a single health issue, I gave them a glance expecting to see everything come out as normal and stable. But after some research and a lot of confusion, I started realizing from my numbers my kidney function was very low and something wasn’t right. I called my doctor to get some answers on what was happening. I wanted to talk to her personally about it, but the best I could get was a phone call from her nurse who told me to ‘drink more water.’ I tried to put my faith in my doctor that if something was seriously wrong, she’d have me come in immediately. But I still ended up ordering a blood pressure machine so I could keep track at home.
Four days later, I got my blood pressure machine in the mail to have it read 161/100. I called the OB’s office where I was told to wait an hour to see if I was just anxious. An hour later, it just kept going up so we rushed to the hospital where I was admitted into the emergency room. I lay there with no idea what was happening when my OB walked in to explain they were going to have me ride in an ambulance to a bigger city (Bismarck, ND) to be monitored by a team of high-risk OBGYNs. I was stunned and scared of how all of this was turning around so quickly.
My doctor stepped behind the curtain and said quietly to the nurse, ‘Let me know if she ends up having her baby today,’ not realizing I could hear her. Before I had time to react, I was being shoved into an ambulance, which had a dead battery, where we had to wait 15 minutes to get it started before we could get on the road.
After the longest ride of my life, we arrived to the Bismarck hospital where I had two OBGYNs and eventually a nephrologist start working on my case. It was gently explained to me my blood pressure wasn’t pregnancy-related, but my kidneys were actually failing. I was in absolutely shock. I didn’t smoke. I drank a gallon of water a day. I had an active lifestyle. I occasionally ate junk food, but for the most part, I was a very healthy person.
I was sobbing, explaining to the doctors how I had tried so hard to make healthy choices, not only for myself but also for my baby girl. In this moment of despair, they all made sure to very clearly and kindly explain to me this WAS NOT my fault. I will never forget them doing that for me, and how much relief it gave me to know this was completely out of my control. I’ll always have guilt and questions, but Dr. Grey, Dr. Tobias, and Dr. Raduku will always have a special place in my heart for everything they did for me.
During my four-day hospital stay, I had a biopsy performed on my kidneys. The results showed I had a disease called IGA Nephropathy, and I was in stage-5 kidney failure. I was absolutely terrified, but I went down every rabbit hole on the internet I could find to make sure I did everything I could to get my pregnancy to full term, before they had to induce labor. I was released from the hospital with a whole variety of medication and a diet to cut out all the sodium I possibly could. The medication made me very sick and I was puking every day while continuing to run my dog grooming business. But my blood pressure stayed low, and I got pretty confident I would carry my baby to at least 38 weeks.
The beginning of August came and I checked my blood pressure one evening, expecting my usual low number, but was shocked to see 170/98. I felt fine, so I was assuming something was wrong with my BP machine. We went to the emergency room, assuming we’d be headed back home within the hour, laughing about how dramatic I was over a faulty reading. Instead, my blood pressure kept shooting up where it was reading 201/102. I was given a heavy dose of magnesium, shoved into an ambulance, and carted off to Bismarck once again.
I was 29 weeks pregnant and was told they could be inducing within the next few days if they didn’t get my blood pressure under control. It was also explained even if they did get it stabilized, I wasn’t going to be leaving the hospital before they induced, telling me the furthest they would let me get would be 34 weeks. The baby’s heart beat stayed strong, and I held onto hope with everything as they gave me my second round of steroid shots to help her lungs.
My blood pressure was stabilized, but an ultrasound showed Lemmy wasn’t growing like she should with my kidney issues. After everything I had already been through, the moment during the ultrasound when I could tell something wasn’t right was when the technician went from happy and talkative to serious. She left the room to make a phone call to the doctor…and my heart broke. I wanted to give up. If there was a chance she wasn’t going to be okay, I didn’t want to live. She was truly the only thing that mattered.
We waited a few days to see if my blood pressure being under control would help her grow. Because miracles are real, a few days later showed a lot of improvement with blood flow and everyone was able to breathe a little better, knowing she was still growing. I made myself at home in the hospital bed with Netflix and my knitting project, happy to stay there if it meant Lemmy had a good chance at growing as much as she could before they would have to make the call to induce.
Days went by where my blood pressure would be great during the day, but then shoot up dangerously high during the night—no matter what medication combination they tried. Every day, I was warned inducing labor was getting closer. Finally, at 31 weeks and one day, it was agreed upon by the doctors they had to make the call to get my baby out safely, even if it was too soon.
I was induced in the morning, and we waited into the night before it was decided I would be going in for an emergency c-section after my baby’s heart rate started to drop. My parents watched helplessly as I was wheeled off into the operating room, and they had my husband wait to come in until they had everything prepared. I lay there drugged up, begging, ‘Please, get me my husband!’ I can’t explain the sense of peace which came over me once I felt him holding my hand.
It all seems like a dream, but eventually they had me look over the curtain to see the most beautiful and tiny girl in the doctor’s hands. I remember yelling, ‘Is she breathing?!’ before she was taken away by the NICU team. The last thing I remember hearing was, ‘Wow, she has so much HAIR!’ Lemmy was born at 2 pounds and 9 ounces.
I was sewn back up and taken to my hospital room. I screamed with pain while the nurse pushed on my uterus and lay there feeling completely empty, knowing my daughter was just on the floor above me, being poked and prodded, without me there to comfort her and tell her how loved she was.
The next day came, and I was still stuck in my hospital bed with doses of magnesium preventing me from being able to to see my daughter. My husband went up to be with her, taking pictures and videos and assuring me she was okay. He was so scared, but held it together so well to keep me calm.
Finally, that evening, I was wheeled up to see my daughter. I wish I had a beautiful story of a perfect moment. But with the medication and how much pain I was in, I don’t have a vivid memory of that moment. The first few days were a complete blur, and it took a bit for the reality of the situation to truly hit me.
I was released from the hospital three days later, and living 90 miles away, we didn’t have a set plan for how I was going to be able to stay with my daughter in the NICU. I held her tiny hand through a hole in a plastic box which was keeping her safe. I sobbed, not being able to handle the idea of not being with her every day. I stared at her covered in wires, looking so small and unlike anything I had ever seen.
I had never been in such awe or so inspired. She was so beautiful and SO strong, despite how tiny she was. Lemmy was in the NICU for almost two months. The days were long and draining, but it was always on our minds not to complain, because we were so blessed Lemmy made it into the world safe and healthy, despite being premature. We made it home, where she continues to grow and thrive. She is the happiest little girl who keeps us on our toes with her sassy personality. My kidney function is barely hanging on and I’m beginning the process of getting a transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. While I’m bummed my health took the turn it did, my baby girl saved my life, as I never would have known anything about my kidney function until it was too late if I hadn’t have gotten pregnant. Lemmy is a miracle, and I’m so thankful I get to be her mom.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mackenzie Miller of North Dakota. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more amazing stories about babies battling the NICU here:
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