Thanksgiving day, 2001, I was 23 weeks pregnant, on bed rest, and scared to death I was going to go into labor any minute. I had had a good report the day before from my Doctor who said that it would probably be alright for me to sit up awhile. I had been flat on my back for 5 weeks, with my legs up on pillows, to keep my baby from literally falling out of me. At 18 weeks I had started early labor, and was dilated far enough (2) that the placenta was actually showing through.
So, my parents took AJ and Savvy to my family Thanksgiving for the weekend and left me with my BFF Jenny to babysit. She set me up on the pull out couch and cooked her California version of Thanksgiving. I sat up long enough to eat and walked to the bathroom and back a few times. The next day was much the same, TV, a game, eating… I honestly don’t think I was more active than normal, but I will always wonder.
About 8pm on Friday night, I started feeling weird. Jenny knew I was a paranoid freak, and tried to calm me down, but I knew something was wrong. She took me to the ER down the road. Within a couple hours they had me belted up and checked out—confirming what Jenny said, I was a paranoid freak. In the meantime, my parents had made it back from my hometown and Eric had come in. I begged the on-call obstetrician to keep me overnight so my doctor could see me the next day, and she did, but my head was patted and I was given a valium. Everyone was told to leave so I could rest and calm down.
Around midnight, contractions started. The nurses came back in, the doctor was called and my very weak contractions were about 3 minutes apart. The doctor at that piece of shit hospital came to tell me there was nothing they could do, that the baby would be born and would die within a few minutes. I told her I wanted to go to Austin, and she told me I was being cruel to subject “it” to a very short life of pain—that I should let her die peacefully.
I said, “call me a fucking ambulance, I am going to Austin”. My baby girl was going to have the chance to live. They wouldn’t release me. I called my parents, Eric and Jenny—anyone to come and get me and take me to Austin, but no one answered. It was 2 am. The doctors and nurses didn’t know what to do with me; I was screaming at the top of my lungs that I was going to sue them if they didn’t get me to Austin. They finally called the ambulance.
In the ambulance, on the thirty minute drive to Austin, my contractions were 45 seconds apart. The paramedic in the back with me was absolutely petrified he was going to have to deliver a 4 month premature baby. He was on the phone with the ER and as they wheeled me into the hospital, it was like an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, everyone was waiting on me, doctors and nurses–all rushed over and took charge. They had me hooked up to an IV within seconds pumping me full of something to stop my labor. A few minutes later, the contractions had stopped. We had a chance!
Over the next 2 days, my parents and Eric came and left a few times. I was still in labor, but the meds were holding it off. I was barely 24 weeks pregnant. The NICU doctors came in and told me there was less than a 10% chance for her to survive if she was born at 24 weeks, but I had contracted a major infection from being dilated so long. They did amniocentesis and she was infected too. I was on four IV antibiotics, but we weren’t getting better. I had 105 fever. We were septic; we were dying.
They stopped the meds around 4:30 pm. My mom and my friends Jenny, Ali and Alicia were there with me. Eric was called. They said she would be born in about 4 hours, but it wasn’t even two. The NICU doctor, Dr. Zeb, came in and explained her chances to me again. 10% chance she would live—she was very sick, she was very small, she was very early. If she did live, there was a 40% chance she would be blind. There were lots and lots of problems she could have and it would be painful for her and painful for me to watch. I asked him what I should do. I couldn’t be the one to make the decision to let her die, but it seemed that is what everyone was saying. He said, when she is born, if she is crying and moving, it means she is ready to fight. If she isn’t, we can decide then. Then, I will give her to you to hold until she dies or take her down to the NICU.
At 6:15 pm it was time. I pushed once—she was that small. She was covered in little black hairs and was so tiny she looked like a kitten…more importantly; she was meowing like a kitten too. From across the room I could hear her crying. Dr. Zeb looked at me and said, “your little girl is a fighter.” I begged him to try to save her. They rushed her past me to the NICU downstairs. I didn’t even get to touch her.
I was too sick to stand up and couldn’t see her for two days. When I did go down, she was the smallest baby out of 30 babies in the NICU. I stood beside her and watched the machines breathe for her— she was in an incubator, she was on a ventilator, she had IV’s going into her feet and a feeding tube going into her belly button. She was tied to a small board to keep her from pulling away from the ventilator. She had a knit hat on her head and patches over her eyes. She was 13 inches long and weighed 1 pound and 6 oz. They had taken her handprint and it was on a card taped to her bed—it was smaller than my thumb. I asked if I could touch her and I laid my finger against that tiny hand, by instinct she wrapped her fingers around it. We sat that way for hours.
I talked to her doctor again that afternoon and again he explained all the risks. I asked him what I could do to help her. He said for me to pump because breast milk was the best food for her. He said to drink beer or wine because it would help me relax and help me make more milk. He said to come see her as often as I could and to touch her as often as they would let me—to be a part of her care.
Lastly, he said, you have to have faith and pray. Don’t pray that she will live, but pray that you will have the strength to get through this, no matter what happens. Have faith that God is with you and he will be with her. Know that if she doesn’t live, it was because God saved her from a life of pain and be happy with the time you have her. I was a 30 year old Christian, and the most important spiritual lesson in my life I learned from a Muslim Pediatrician.
I could write another two hours about the next 109 days. They call it the Preemie Two Step – back and forth we would go, getting better, than worse. It was a slow process. There were very good days and very very bad ones. I walked in on my birthday, 2 weeks later and her incubator was gone. I panicked and screamed before they told me she had been rushed out to have heart surgery. Two weeks later, for Christmas that year, they let me change her diaper. Two weeks after that she got pneumonia and had to be put back on the ventilator. Another month after that and she had contracted a staph infection and nearly died. On Valentine ’s Day, the baby in the incubator next to her died from the same infection.
The week before her due date it was almost time for her to come home. By that time she was breathing on her on, I could hold her, rock her, bathe her, feed her. We were waiting on her to figure out how to nurse and then we could go, so I was there all day, every day, practicing. One day, a specialist came in to do a routine test. They asked me to hold her while they put a tube down her throat to test her stomach acid. As he began inserting the tube, she began having difficulties. The deeper it went in, the more she struggled—she finally stopped struggling and wasn’t moving. Within 10 seconds her heart rate monitor was flat; she was turning blue. She stopped breathing. Somehow, by accident, the tube had gone into her lungs. She was dead in my arms. After everything we had been through—that quickly, she was taken.
But, I watched in slow motion as the nurse took over. Sirens blared, doctors rushed over, they pumped her little chest and shocked her. Slowly, she came back. They hooked her back up to the oxygen mask. She was going to be okay.
Today, my little girl Kati turns ten years old. I call her SLIK, sweet, little, innocent, Kati. I call her perfect. I call her a miracle. I call her the most incredible thing that has ever happened to me. For some amazing reason I will never understand, God chose to save her. I tell her that he has a huge purpose for her—that it might be to be a good mommy or to be a teacher or a doctor, but that it might just be to make others smile. Whatever the reason he has for saving her, I cannot believe he trusts me to be her mom.
In the years since, I did some volunteer work at the NICU, telling other parents about my experience. Once, while I was there, I ran into Dr. Zeb and he told me there were 30 babies born at that hospital that were as premature as Kati that year. 10 of them lived. 8 of those have major complications. 2 of those are perfect. Kati is one of those perfect, healthy, joyful, amazing kids. When he tells other parents about miracles, hers is one of the stories he tells. THAT is the biggest gift I will ever be given.