I remember when my wife’s water broke. She was 28 weeks pregnant. Kari was at work and I was on my way to work. I hadn’t made it far yet, I was at the bus stop just outside our house. Kari sent me a text message saying that something wasn’t right and I called her right back, we decided she should go immediately to the hospital. We only have one car so I would call a taxi and meet her there as soon as possible.
When I arrived at the hospital, Kari was already in an examination room and had finished up her initial examination. We learned that her water had broken but that she didn’t seem to be having any contractions at the moment. Regardless, the baby could come at any time and Kari would be staying in the hospital until he arrived.
Fifty years ago, a baby born at twenty-eight weeks gestation would have had pretty slim odds of making it. Even twenty years ago it would have been far from a sure thing. Today, the odds are much better and, assuming you have access to a good hospital and staff, there are very good odds that that same baby will live. It’s far from risk-free though, at that point in the womb the fetus is still hard at work finishing up his brain, eyes and lungs among other things.
What we wanted to do, explained one of the many friendly nurses who we would grow to rely upon, was keep the baby from being born for as long as we could in order to allow for as much development as was possible. In order to delay labor, Kari would have to stay in bed at the hospital with various machines constantly attached to her to detect the earliest signs of contractions and to monitor the vital signs of our son. This was the rare hospital stay that you wanted to last as long as possible. Ideally, we were told, Kari would be in bed for eight weeks and then they would induce labor if it hadn’t begun by that point, thirty-six weeks is generally considered full term. We were told repeatedly in our time there, that the most important goal and the one we really had to hope for was thirty weeks. At that point generally, the brain and eyes are done forming and the lungs are at a stage where they are near finished.
Kari was checked in and moved to her longer term room and what had been an exciting and terror-filled entrance into the hospital slowly turned into an intensely boring grind with occasional moments of adrenaline-spiked fear. The first few days in particular were full of moments where Nils’ heartbeat would drop to a very low rate and, when this would happen, our room would quickly fill up with nurses and the occasional doctor. There really wasn’t much they could do about it to make the heart rate go back up, sometimes they would ask Kari to roll over onto her stomach or back to her back or sit up or lay on her side but the overall feeling in the room was one of helplessness. The only reason they were there was to see if the heart rate would come back up or, if it stayed low, at some point they would pull the trigger and induce labor if it became more dangerous for Nils in the womb than out of it. I have no idea how many times this happened, a few times a day at least and I vaguely remember slowly waking up in the middle of the night a few times to see a gathering of nurses standing over my sleeping wife quietly but urgently discussing the readings on one of the several monitors next to her bed.
We made it through all of these moments however and when it wasn’t scary, our time in the hospital was hopeful. We wanted a baby after all, we hadn’t been expecting all the surrounding drama of course and we felt woefully unprepared but we knew this would all be worth it in the long-run. I spent every night in the hospital and during the day went to work most days, I also took a few days off and spent a few of those running around town buying all of the things that we had, thus far, put off purchasing.
As anyone who has spent any extended time in a hospital knows, boredom was also a major factor. Kari was constrained to her bed and so most of our time was spent watching TV, the Winter Olympics were on then and I spent more time watching them than I had ever before or ever will in the future. I don’t remember anything about it however as we were just filling the time until the next event or visitor. There’s a lot of simply filling time in the hospital.
We had many visitors as well which was truly appreciated during our stay, brothers and sisters and friends all came to spend time with us and bring us some cheer and that really helped to make the time more bearable.
After about a week into our stay, Nils’ heart rate spells had mostly stopped. We were told that the doctor had decided that it was now safe to inject Kari with a steroid that would help to speed up the development of the lungs. The steroid would take about forty-eight hours and as long as we made it through that time period, it has been shown to be very successful in helping to create healthy lungs. We had the steroid injected and, happily, made it through the two days.
We were there for another week as a matter of fact. The second week was a little less stressful than the first. Nils continued to have his spells but not nearly as often and by the end of the week Kari started having some smaller contractions relatively frequently. At first, she couldn’t feel them at all, we only knew she was having them because of the sensors hooked up to her but as the week wore on they became more pronounced.
Nils was born on March 4, 2010. The contractions started late in the evening and before long it became obvious that he would arrive that night, we were then moved to a different floor to be closer to the delivery room. From there it went very quickly, I was given some hospital scrubs to wear and when it was close to time we were moved in to the delivery room. Once there, we waited just a moment for the doctor and when he arrived it took Kari basically one big push and Nils was born.
He was still very small though, in fact he was so small that he almost literally was shot into this world. Kari probably never saw this but he came out so fast that just for a moment it looked like the doctor wasn’t ready, Nils shot right over the doctor’s waiting hands and for just a brief, horrifying moment it looked like he might fall to the floor. In retrospect, it’s a funny scene but at that moment it was anything but.
Nils weighed just a tiny bit over two pounds when he was born. We weren’t able to hold him immediately, he was put directly into an isolette with oxygen and other life support mechanisms. I was able to stay by him but Kari wasn’t even able to really get a good look at him until a little bit later. They wheeled him out of the delivery room and into his waiting Neonatal Intensive Care Unit room right away. He stayed in that room for the next few weeks.
Eventually, they moved him from the Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis to the one in St. Paul so he could be closer to our home and from there, after several more weeks, he came home.
After he was born Nils has been nothing short of amazing, despite his tiny size he thrived basically from day one. He was breathing on his own within a day and he passed nearly all of the seemingly hundreds of tests they performed on him during his stay with flying colors. He gained weight and got bigger and bigger and after we got him home he continued to thrive. The care he received in the hospital both in the womb and out and after the hospital was truly fantastic and I will never be able to express fully the depth of my appreciation for all the nurses and doctors who were constantly there with us during his stay. Even more than that though I am thankful for my wonderful wife who went through so much to bring our son into this world.
Nils is three years old today and is the most wonderful kid in the world as anyone who knows him can clearly see. Amazingly, he has not had one serious health problem as a result of his premature birth. He’s had colds and all of the normal stuff of course but it’s truly a testament to the doctors and nurses who helped him that he has only had to worry about the “normal stuff.” We have been assured that Nils will certainly need glasses at some point sooner rather than later but at his last eye appointment we were told that his eyes were actually better than at the appointment before that, so who knows? I certainly am ready to believe he is capable of anything at this point.
Happy Birthday Nils!