Why I Run: Finding strength from my son’s NICU journey

today, we ran 3 stroller miles to celebrate 3 years. happy third birthday, little man!

this little guy is the reason i run. sure, i run for both of my kids, to show them that their mama can be strong, happy, and healthy. but when the miles get tough, i think of this perfect little boy, and the not-so-perfect way he came into the world.

as i type this, i’m reflecting back on one of the happiest, yet scariest, days of my life. three years ago today, i went into premature labor without any warning. i had the perfect pregnancy, until my body decided it was time to have my baby - seven weeks early at 33 weeks gestation. my son arrived less than six hours after my water broke (spontaneously, while at work, i might add!). my labor progressed so incredibly fast. so fast that i had to have crash c-section (an emergent c-section performed under general anesthesia). it was absolutely the scariest moment of my life. my tiny baby wasn’t supposed to be here for seven more weeks. what happened? why? can we stop it? no stopping it now. he wanted out. he was footling breech so a natural delivery wasn’t an option…but boy did he try! he was halfway out when the nurses had to push him back up (talk about an unimaginable pain – even more painful than the natural vbac i had with my daughter two years later). the nurses put a mask on me and injected something into my iv. and that’s the last thing i remember.

when i woke, i was in recovery surrounded by my mom and husband. the first thing i asked was “is he okay?” thankfully, our baby boy was fine. apart from only being 33 weeks gestation, he was a perfectly healthy boy. 5.5 pounds, 19 inches. big, especially for a preemie. his lungs were working perfectly (which is a big concern for babies this little). no respiratory issues, but he was still whisked away to the nicu. all i wanted to do was see him, hold him, touch him – heck, i really wanted to name him! we hadn’t gotten that far, since we thought we had seven weeks left.

i wouldn’t see him for another 12 hours. although my c-section went well, without complications, i was so weak and in so much pain that i wasn’t ready to make the trip to the nicu (since my c-section was so emergent, i didn’t have the typical ‘spinal block’ epidural which creates a numbness that eases those first few hours of recovery…or so i was told). i remember getting a few hours of sleep, in between nurse visits and pumping. the next morning, my husband wheeled me into the nicu. still completely delirious, i had no clue what to expect. we scrubbed in and my husband wheeled me over to my son’s isolette (closed incubator). and then…i finally saw my boy! my tiny, beautiful baby boy was fast asleep, sucking on a pacifier. tubes covered his bright pink, wrinkly skin. his legs, ribs, forehead and ankles were bruised. monitors chirped as i took in my surroundings. there he was – my perfect carson. my husband and i named him that very moment, at his bedside.

carson was in the nicu for 21 days. this 3-week period was the most difficult time in my life. in addition to recovering physically from my c-section, i was also emotionally recovering, as i navigated postpartum depression and ptsd. i didn’t have a baby shower. his room wasn’t done. all of the things i thought we’d finish those last two months before his arrival went by the wayside. the trauma of celebrating my first mother’s day – without my baby at home – was also unimaginably painful.

during those 21 days, i spent every possible moment with carson in the nicu, but it was very challenging to bond with him under these circumstances. the nicu is anything but private. it feels much like a fishbowl. nurses, doctors, other parents, visitors – it’s a constant rotating door of people. we were fortunate enough to be in a world-class nicu, with some of the best care in the world. but each day felt like an eternity. as you observe the joy and celebration of other babies going home, the question lingers heavily in your mind. when can we take him home? other questions: how much did he eat today? can you take out his feeding tube? does he need yet another round of light therapy for his jaundice? does the geneticist really think he has a chromosomal issue? did he really almost break his foot during delivery when he was pushed back up? how much pt will he need? did he have another bradycardic episode or did his monitor malfunction? this first-time mama was certainly overwhelmed. and terrified.

yet with each passing day, carson grew stronger. he was eating more, his doctors, physical therapists, and occupational therapists were happy with his progress, and every test performed came back normal. normal! by day 21, we received the green light to bring him home! today, on his third birthday, i look at my son with such amazement. he is perfect in every way. cognitively, emotionally and physically, he’s experienced no delays in his development. by the grace of god, we have a healthy three year old! i am forever grateful for the support we received from family, friends, plus the doctors, nurses and hospital staff. and i’m grateful to my little man for showing me that life doesn’t always go to plan…and that we can overcome anything with a little hard work, love, and faith.

when i feel like quitting during my running/training, i remember those days in the nicu. i see our tiny baby, his wrinkly body covered in monitors, wires and tubes, with the sounds of heart rate and o2 monitors beeping in the background. and then, i think about how far he’s come…and how far we all can come, too. i’m such a proud mama, today and every day. happy 3rd birthday, carson! mommy loves you!

resources for mamas

nicu terms: https://www.sparrow.org/nicuterms