Gemma

Our preemie journey started at 25 weeks pregnant when I noticed a little spotting and called the OB’s after-hours line. The doctor on-call assured me that it was probably nothing, but after a miscarriage earlier in the year, we were a little nervous and decided to play it safe and go in. To our shock (and the doctor’s), we found out that my sac was ruptured and I was 1cm dilated and 70% effaced. I was told that I would not be leaving the hospital until the baby was born, and that every day we could keep her in the womb gave her a better chance of survival.

I spent 5 days on the MOM unit at Abington Memorial Hospital where I received my second steroid injection and magnesium sulfate for the baby’s neuro-protection. Our days on the unit were punctuated by our daughter’s terrifying heart deceleration episodes. She had several each day, so significant that the nurses had us “geared-up” for the OR when her heartrate would recover at the last minute.

The fifth day on the unit was November 12th, 2014, 14 weeks before our daughter’s due date. My labor onset was fast and furious, and I was rushed for an emergency C-section. We never made it to the OR; our daughter Gemma was born in the hallway, rump first on a moving stretcher. I remember the whirl of faces and commotion as we arrived at the OR for a surgery that wasn’t to be. My baby was immediately taken to the other side of the room before I could see or touch her, and she quickly received surfactant therapy to help her lungs to inflate and breathe. Gemma was stabilized and wrapped in plastic to keep her warm. The doctor allowed me to give her a quick kiss on the head “for good luck,” and then she was whisked away to the NICU before I even had a chance to process what she looked like or what had really just transpired.

Several hours passed before Gemma was stable enough in the NICU for us to visit. The first time I saw her, the reality of her condition was shocking. At two pounds, four ounces and 13.5 inches, she looked tiny and emaciated, not round and soft as I always imagined my baby would be. She was also extremely bruised from her unorthodox delivery, and I remember one of the nurses telling me that it was some of the worst bruising she had ever seen. Gemma wore a nasal cannula to supply her with oxygen, and a central line ran into her belly to provide her with nutrition. Heart monitors and temperature wires covered her tiny, jaundiced body, and it would be many weeks before we got a good sense of what our baby really looked like.

Two days later, however, I got a most incredible, unexpected gift. I was permitted to hold my baby, skin-to-skin, for the very first time. She now weighed less than two pounds and seemed terrifyingly fragile, but holding her really made me feel like a mother for the first time.

Gemma’s 77-day NICU stay was a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs. I remember feeling scared to be falling so deeply in love with a baby that I wasn’t sure I’d be taking home. Gemma overcame the physical trauma from her birth, a PDA, a urinary tract infection, several NEC scares, frightening prolonged apnea and bradycardia episodes, and many feeding struggles on her NICU journey. When the day finally came to take her home, we were both exhilarated and absolutely terrified.

Gemma’s first year was full of many trials beyond the NICU. She had three surgeries, two relatively minor (inguinal hernia and bilateral ear tubes) and one very major (full cranial reconstruction because her skull plates fused prematurely). She was also hospitalized several times due to respiratory illnesses and a food allergy condition called FPIES. Through it all, Gemma showed the same resilience that characterized her time in the NICU.

Gemma is now a vibrant, vivacious 2.5-year-old who is meeting most if not all of her developmental milestones. She has some mild residual low tone, but she is otherwise absolutely thriving. We know just how lucky we are to have our little miracle, and we are forever grateful for the doctors and nurses at Abington Hospital (NICU), A.I. DuPont Hospital (ear tubes and hernia surgeries), and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (cranial surgery and illnesses) who took care of our fragile baby and helped us to find hope during some of the scariest moments of our lives.

Family, friends, nurses, and doctors reminded us to take the NICU journey "one day at a time". We rejoiced in the "good" days.

Martha & Paul / Wyndmoor, PA

Martha & Paul