PDA stands for Patent Ductus Arteriosus

Malena Lola continued to be stable after her recent intubation.

It had been hard seeing her go through that. I missed seeing her face free of tape and tubes, but I was past that now.

I was grateful that she was alive and breathing.

I was trying to get used to seeing her hair shaved off for IVs… I remember thinking that they should just shave it all off instead of leaving these bald patches. But I didn’t have the heart to shave it all off.

It seems funny to me now that I care about her hair at that time. But I did. There was something very special to me about her newborn hair.

I kept all the hair that was shaved off my baby girl. I still have it.

After the intubation we had to wait till the next day to hold baby girl again. In the meantime, I was encouraging her to suction by using a preemie soother and putting drops of my breastmilk on it. She loved it!

I was so happy to be able to nurture her in this way.

This was so important for baby girl because if she could suck and swallow well, maybe she would be able to take a bottle or breastfeed in the future. I wasn’t going to give up on the idea of breastfeeding yet.

I felt useful again. The anxiety was relieved. I couldn’t wait to cuddle her. I missed her tiny warmth cuddling on my chest. Patience.Tomorrow I would be able to hold her again.

Or so I thought…

The tiny preemie soother was still too big for our tiny but mighty princess. But it helped teach her how to suction.

The tiny preemie soother was still too big for our tiny but mighty princess. But it helped teach her how to suction.

The next day I woke up with the worst pink eye (conjunctivitis) I have ever had. I couldn’t even open my left eye and I could barely see from my right eye. The pain was horrible. And to make things even more “fun”, I had eczema all over my body.

I felt like I was falling apart.

I had to go to the emergency and get treated with an ointment and heavy antibiotics.

It was a nightmare. I couldn’t go see my baby girl. I had to stay away for 5 days to make sure both the eye infection and the skin irritation had cleared.

I can only describe those 5 days as the longest 5 days of my entire life. Staying away felt like torture.

I knew this wasn’t my fault but I still felt guilty not being there for my baby girl. And again I felt completely helpless. I had no control over my body, yet again.

I felt angry and powerless. There were moments where I felt I hated my body for doing all this.

I didn’t want to be sick!

Why was this happening? Why? Why? Why?

Of course at that time, I didn’t have an answer. I couldn’t find a reason. Now, in retrospect, I know that it was my body’s way expressing the pain and sadness I felt.

I cried a lots during those 5 days. It was healing in a way.

One of the worst moments was that Sunday because it was Mother’s Day.

It was so bittersweet because I was spending Mother’s Day with my mom, who was visiting still from Argentina. We hadn’t been together on a Mother’s Day in years. But I wasn’t able to spend my first Mother’s Day as a mom with my baby girl.

That broke my heart.

I was grateful that my mom was able to be there for me and help me get through those 5 horrible days away from my tiny but mighty warrior.

Looking back, I can see the lessons I’ve learned from each moment. I know it sounds very cliche, but I do believe that everything happens for a reason and to teach us something, whether we realize it or not. Or at least that is how I like to look at my life experiences. I try to find the lesson to be had.

I truly believe that those five days that I was forced to stay away from my baby girl allowed me to purge a lot of the pain I had inside. I was putting a lot of effort into keeping it together and staying positive. But there were negative emotions that I needed to acknowledge and let go off, whether I like it or not. Whether I wanted to or not.

Once again  I realized I had to allow myself to be vulnerable. I had to surrender all control and embrace the present, no matter what. Even if that present meant having bad pink eye and nasty eczema.

This would be my hardest lesson to learn.
It would take a few tries until I got it…

Finally after 5 long days, I was able to go see my baby girl.

I was beyond excited. I remember noticing she had gotten a bit bigger. She looked more beautiful than ever.

It was time for cuddles with my baby girl. It was also time to get used to kangaroo care cuddles with the tube. That would require moving in very slow motion and using lots of tape.

The nurses would place baby girl on my chest and then tape her tube below my shoulder area in the right angle. I was not to make any sudden moves as this could cause her to extubate. Meaning her tube could come out or it could pull too hard and either of those things could damage her airway. Not to mention extubation could cause her to desat – which is desaturation or low blood oxygen concentration.

I still remember that first cuddle with her being intubated.

I loved having my baby girl on my chest again. I had missed her so much. I was so grateful to hold her again. But I was also hyper aware of the tube that was coming from her tiny airway and was taped to me.

I tried to relax and concentrate on baby girl. But I never fully relaxed. I was still too scared of pulling her tube.

I didn’t want this fear to take away from my cuddles with baby girl so I tried hard to focus on her and on breathing. This helped me relax a bit more and not be so paranoid.

I realized afterwards how tense I had been when I felt how sore my neck and chest muscles were… I would get better at it as time went by.

For now all that mattered was that my baby girl was well and I was holding her.

Cuddles at last.

P1010221

My little bliss moment would last just that, a brief moment.

The doctors would approach us to discuss her PDA ligation surgery.

I had completely forgotten about that. About her open valve. About the fact that if it still hadn’t closed she would require surgery. Minor surgery, but that didn’t make it less scary.

Yet there was the hope that the PDA ligation surgery would help her lungs breathe on their own again, without having to be intubated and on  vent.

I remember the nurses telling us that having a preemie baby is a roller coaster ride, because of all the ups and downs. Funny I had always loved roller coasters. I always thought they were exciting and fun.

I didn’t like this roller coaster at all.

But once again we stayed positive and hoped the ibuprofen and caffeine treatments would work.

We hoped. We waited.

The treatments did not work. They would have to do the surgery.

On May 25 we celebrated baby girl’s first month with us. She was now 980 grams – 2.17 pounds. We felt so lucky to have her in our lives. So grateful to be her mom and dad.

On May 27 at 10 am was baby girl’s PDA ligation surgery.

I was at the NICU with baby girl very early that morning.

A few minutes before 10 am we met with the surgeon and the anesthesiologist. They explained to us step by step what would happen. They were relaxed and confident. Two lovely ladies that reassured us and gave us a feeling of trust.

We were with baby girl while they were setting up the room for surgery, right up until the very last minute when we had to leave the so that the anesthesiologist could start.

But still, the thought of my baby girl going under general anesthesia – which I learned then is actually a medically induced coma – was extremely frightening.

Her surgery lasted 20 terrifying minutes. 

But as soon as we saw the surgeon come into the waiting room with a smile we knew our baby girl was alright.

Everything had gone as planned. This roller coaster ride was over. For now.

We went see our baby girl.

She was still groggy from the anesthesia. She was a bit puffy which made her look chubbier. She had a bandage covering the incision.

There would be a scar below her left shoulder.

I put my hands in the incubator and hovered them over her. I held her hand. I wanted to make sure she felt all our love during this healing time.

I remember thinking how much she had gone through in just a month of life – extremely premature birth, intubation and now surgery.

She had already spent a month and 2 days hospitalized in the NICU.

I hadn’t gone through half as much in my entire life…

What a tiny, mighty warrior my baby girl was. I was so proud of her.

Her will to live was powerful. I though about how much she must love life.

She fought hard to be here.

She was so resilient.

She was such an inspiration.

Tiny but mighty. No doubt.

Kangaroo mama

Malena Lola was born on Monday April 25, 2011.

I was in the NICU. It was early Wednesday morning and she was stable in incubator 36 at the NICU of the Foothills Hospital.

She was still breathing on her own with the help of CPAP – continuous positive airway pressure –  to help her not yet fully developed lungs.

I still remember how her skin looked almost translucent. But the color was a very dark red and shiny from the ointment they had put on. She was kept under a special blue light to prevent jaundice.

I would joke that it looked like she had a bright sun tan from hanging out at the preemie baby beach.

Yes, I would make silly jokes. I guess it was my mind’s way of coping with it all at the time.

I was spending the morning with baby girl. I sat on a stool next to her isolette. I wasn’t able to hold her – no kangaroo mama yet.

Her amazing nurse explained to me all about the monitors recording her heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.

I remember the sounds of her monitor to this day. I would stare at the screen and look at her breathing rate. That was the one that always caught my attention the most.And her heartbeat. I would constantly listen to the sound of her heartbeat.

I would look at the monitor and look at her. Back and forth. It was hard not to get fixated on the monitor, on the beeping, on the numbers.

I tried to focus on my baby girl and forget the monitors for a moment. I sang to her. I sang her a Spanish song my mom used to sing to me I was a little girl growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

My mom lived in Argentina. She was supposed to be at baby girl’s birth in August. Instead,  she got a call from my sister telling her that I had gone into premature labor and I was about to have an emergency c-section.

My mom caught the first flight to Calgary. She would arrive the next day, on Thursday.

I couldn’t wait to see her. I couldn’t wait for her to meet Malena Lola.

In the meantime, I was so thankful to have Jacquie,  my mother in law, vising as well as her husband, papa Ron.  As always, they were an endless source of love and support.

One thing I remember noticing was how different it felt for others to see baby girl in the NICU.

Malena Lola loved holding my hand.

I noticed when my mother in law saw baby girl for the first time she was taken aback by her tiny size and by all the tubes and cables attached to her. My mom would have the same reaction once she met baby girl.

Yet they were all really good at not showing the shock and staying strong for us. They could sense that I had adopted a positive and hopeful attitude, and we were determined to make baby girl’s environment in the NICU as loving and happy as possible.

Nowadays, when I look at the pictures of those early days in the NICU, I can let my emotions flow freely. And the 8 months baby girl was in the hospital would be the hardest and longest of my life. But at that time, it seemed as if an instinctive mechanism had kicked in that allowed me to go through each day and be there for my baby girl without breaking down.

I think most parents who have experienced the NICU with their newborn might relate to this state.

It is a state that allowed me to see beyond the cables, the IVs, the incubator, the monitors, the NICU. It is a state that helped me see beyond the statistics, beyond the risks, beyond the fear.

It helped me stay strong and connected to my baby girl’s desire to live.  It helped me stay focused on what was most important – love and hope.

Her little “ET” feet as I used to call them.

I spent most of that Wednesday at the NICU with my baby girl.

During those early days in the NICU I had to keep reminding myself that my baby girl was where she needed to be to grow bigger and stronger.

I would always tell her that the nurses were friends and that they took good care of her. I wanted her to feel safe and secure, even if I wasn’t with her every minute.

I knew in my mind that she needed to be in the NICU. I knew I had to trust the nurses and the doctors.

But at times my heart struggled with that.

Would they know if she needed something?
Would they realize if she needed to hear a loving voice?

It was hard not to want to be by her incubator every second. I would get anxious in my room thinking about her.

Those were the moments when the guilt would always creep in…

Why had I waited so long to be a mom?
Maybe if I were younger my body would have carried the pregnancy better.

Why had I work so much while I was pregnant?
I should have rested more.

And so on…

I knew that I shouldn’t think this way and all that. I knew it. But when I was alone in my room, thinking about my little angel in the NICU, fighting for her life, it was hard not to have those thoughts.

Once again, I forced myself to stay positive.

I wanted to hold her. I needed to do something to relieve the anguish.

I made a decision. I decided I would learn as much as I could about how to care for her in the NICU, so that I could do as much as possible. This would be the only way I wouldn’t go insane and feel helpless.

I spent the day with baby girl’s nurse at the NICU. I watched and learned.

I learned to change her tiny diapers. I learned to feed her through the feeding tube. And I would read to her.

I loved reading to her. It was another thing that helped me feel less anxious about not being able to hold her.

I felt that by cuddling her, by reading to her, by singing to her, I was nurturing her.

Even if all I could do was sit by her incubator, I was nurturing her.

Love and cuddles.

It was Thursday morning and my mom had finally arrived. And even though I had the most wonderful group of women around me, both family and friends, there was something truly irreplaceable about having my mom with me.

My mom is finally with me.

I remember when my mom first saw Malena Lola. I will never forget her reaction. She was in shock at how small she was. She couldn’t speak. I could tell she was holding back the tears.

My mom hugged me. I felt my eyes watering. I didn’t want to break down in front of baby girl. I struggled but I held it together. I would let myself have a good cry later, in my room, with my mom.

I was happy to have my mom there to spend time with, to talk to, to cry with. She would stay for about a month.

We sat next to baby girl’s isolette and talked about how beautiful she was. My mom said the dark hair reminded her of me when I was born.

Suddenly the nurse asked me if  I wanted to hold my baby girl. I will never forget that moment.

It literally took my breath away. It took me a few seconds to respond.

I looked at my mom. I looked at the nurse.

Of course I wanted to hold my baby girl!

I had been wanting to hold her since the moment I felt her in my belly for the first time. Since I had saw her in the first ultrasound. Since I felt her being taken out of my belly last Monday.

I would finally be able to do kangaroo care – skin to skin contact. This was so beneficial to baby, to her health, to our bond.

I remember the nurse brought a special reclining chair for me to sit in. I had to put on a gown open at the front so I could hold my baby girl skin to skin, kangaroo care style.

I sat in the chair and watched as two nurses brought baby to me. One held baby and the other held all her IVs and cables.

Then, very gently, they laid her on my chest.

The best feeling in the world – finally holding my tiny mighty girl.

I felt so much love and emotion. I started crying.

There was no holding back tears at that moment.

I will forever carry that moment in my heart. Feeling her tiny little body so close to my heart. Nothing else mattered at that moment. Life was just as it should be.

No words were said. No words were needed. I was overwhelmed by pure love and gratitude.

It was a perfect moment. Unforgettable.

Kangaroo mama with my precious tiny mighty warrior.

I remember holding her and feeling like my entire life had led me to this very instant.

I would forever be defined by that moment.

I was officially a kangaroo mama. And I loved every minute of it.