Thursday, August 31, 2017

Lessons from the NICU

Our first night was a tough one. Not unbearable, but definitely unlike anything we'd ever known.  I woke up every 3 hours to pump, label it, and send it upstairs to the NICU. Some of the time, I would only get enough milk to fill the tip of a syringe. It was so discouraging, and yet, I was back at it 3 hours later. This wasn't right, the room was too quiet.. I needed my baby.

Early the next morning, my doctor came by to check on us.  We told him about our baby's breathing troubles, but how he was doing well with that extra dose of oxygen upstairs.  I told him this fifth baby was our little curve ball, throwing us for a loop! And the doctor replied, "He's going to be your little feisty, fiery one!" After he left the room, I glanced over at Wade and asked him to look up what Rhett meant.. and neither of us could believe it when we read that Rhett means ardent and fiery.  The very word the doctor had used!!  What amazing confirmation from the Lord!!

And so, it was official.  When the birth certificate people called, we were proud to announce that our feisty fourth son would be Rhett Allen Poole.
During our first morning visit with him, the doctor came by to explain that Rhett had TTN, or Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn, which means 'labored breathing following birth.'  Because of the rapid delivery and the excess fluid in the womb, Rhett's lungs had not fully expelled it all, making it difficult for him to breathe.  Thankfully, most babies make a full recovery in a few days with no lasting effects on their growth or development.  However, the doctor felt like we should plan to stay for the next 3 days until Rhett could breath room air with no extra support.  As hard as that was to hear, we trusted that this was best.

Another way the Lord provided was that with Rhett being born towards the end of the week, and the hospital usually not very busy on the weekends, we were allowed to stay in my large, corner room through Sunday (same room we were in with Grant and Samuel, too!!)  Although I would be discharged, this room would be labeled a 'hospitality room,' permitting us as NICU parents to stay close to our baby.  My heart goes out to the moms who have to go back and forth to the hospital.. I just can't imagine having to leave.  Thank You, Lord.

So that's what the next few days looked like.  Me pumping every three hours, bringing milk up, looking and praying over our baby, and then going back downstairs to do it again.  My family was so great and brought food to us constantly.  We also had some super sweet visitors:

Casey, Alan, and the girls plus Meg, Justin, and their girls all stopped by on Thursday night.. and it was so wonderful to see all these precious babies and hear their silly giggles!!

I love these precious friends!!  Their prayers during this rough time meant everything to me!!

And these huge hugs did so much to lift my spirits!!

Throughout those next few days, the nurses kept us abreast of everything going on.  They explained to us how the monitor worked, how many pounds of oxygen we were working towards, the level of oxygen saturation he needed before he could be taken off the air.. We lived off of those good reports, although they did seem to come slower than what we would have liked.  

The four main goals: To get off of the heat.  To get the feeding tube out.  To get the IV out. To get off of the oxygen. It seemed like so much, and yet, so simple.

This amazing daddy got up every three hours and made the trek on that sketchy elevator to the 4th floor with me.  He sweated under that plastic gown, but it was a small price to pay in order to be with his baby.  How my heart does love them both.
And see Rhett's nurse in the background?? We found out that this was our NEW NEIGHBOR!!!!  She literally lives 5 houses down from us.  While we hated meeting under these conditions, it was AMAZING to get to know her.  She was kind and compassionate, clearly explaining to us everything that had happened while we were away, and we looked forward to visiting with her every time we went upstairs. We knew having this precious new friend and neighbor as Rhett's NICU nurse was no coincidence.  God had arranged this, working long before this day to make this happen.  He was holding it all together, as only He can.

I know this is an awkward picture, ha!! But this was an answer to prayer!! I felt like it was so difficult for my milk to come in since I was not able to physically hold and touch and smell my baby.  On the third day there and after 15 minutes of pumping, I had FINALLY made more than 1 or 2 mls for the first time, and that was huge!!  Thanks, Mom, for praying.. and thanks, Meg and Shan, for your encouragement to keep at it!!  Additionally, my nurse came in to tell me how impressed she was, that I was making more milk than she had seen most women be able to produce this quickly. The Lord knew I needed these words right at this moment.. Do I sound like a broken record??  God's handiwork was evident all around us and it was amazing to sit back and take it all in, watching how He had ordained our every moment there.

Day 3 - We were off of the heater!!
It's ironic - I don't love nursing.  It's not something that I look forward to like most other breastfeeding moms I know.  I actually dreaded it more than labor and had already asked people to  start praying that I would survive those first few weeks! Yet seeing Rhett with that feeding tube made me want to fight for it.  I didn't realize how much I wanted to nurse this baby until I couldn't.

And so, it was with great joy that on that same Friday afternoon, I was able to go in for some 'kangaroo care,' or skin-on-skin time!!  It was my first time to go into the NICU and not have to put on the gown and gloves, but was allowed to go right in and hold my baby!!  He was still on the feeding tube, but since our last visit to see him, he had also been taken completely off of the oxygen AND the IV drip!  Praise Jesus, what a wonderful day!!!!

Our feisty one was recovering so well and my heart was so thrilled!!

Getting to hold Rhett for the first time in 2 days!!

We went back to our room, excited and looking forward to going home on Sunday.  We had 4 big prizes in our room when we got back, too!!  And we just sat and snuggled and kissed and cuddled with them!  In 48 hours, we would all be home together as one big happy family!!

But the Lord had other plans. Plans that sent me reeling.

On Sunday morning, day 5, our discharge papers had been drawn up.  We were going in for his first morning feeding, to see the doctor, thank our nurses, and prepare to leave.  Upon arrival, his nurse (our neighbor, Mandy, was off this day!) told us that Rhett had had a 5-second 'brady.'  A bradycardia is a slower-than-normal heart rate.  That, coupled with a drop in his oxygen level, automatically means an extra 3 days of monitoring.  I didn't understand it, not the first or second time she explained what had happened.  When the doctor came by, he said that as much as Rhett had improved, he would feel more comfortable with some extra time to watch him and make sure nothing more serious was going on.

My heart sank.  My eyes filled.  My throat burned.  I made it back to the room before completely falling apart.  I sobbed and sobbed as Wade's calm, but concerned, face told me he was feeling just as overwhelmed. Our Sunday discharge was now postponed to Wednesday.  These first 5 days had been heart-wrenching.. how could I possibly bear 3 more days?! It was physically, emotionally, and mentally too much.

Previously in the week, when we had found out we would be staying through the weekend, my mom had packed up a bag of clothes for me.  Inside of it, she had packed Savannah's Bible.  Never was I more thankful to pick up those words of life.  The Lord led me to Psalm 103.  The whole chapter is amazing, but I clung to verses 13-14..  'As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.  For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.'

Wade had been my steadfast partner through all of this.  He had been unwavering in his dedication to me and our baby, making every effort and sacrifice (did I mention he had been sleeping on a rock-hard hospital couch for 5 days?!) to help in any way he could.  Waking up at 3 am to walk my milk down to the nurses's station, holding me when I was so emotional and struggled to breathe, sitting with Rhett so he wouldn't be alone those first few days while I pumped in the room.  I knew Wade's love in a way I had never experienced before.  His devotion to us was made visible in a dozen ways everyday, his actions ministering and acting as the hands and feet of Jesus. Wade was the reason this verse spoke so clearly to me.. his love for our baby reminded me of our Heavenly Father's love for us.  And if a broken, sinful man could show such tender love and compassion, how much more could a perfect God show His??

I spoke this verse as a prayer constantly.  It became my mantra.  No improvements this round??  The Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.  Another 3 days here??  He remembers that we are dust.  Tiny baby needing his next breath??  He knows our frame. May my heart never forget His mercy and loving-kindness.

We were offered a room on the NICU floor, which meant no more riding Rapides's sketchy elevator up and down all day and all night, ha!  We would be close by and since I was breastfeeding, they would call me whenever Rhett was ready to eat.  Although it was a much smaller room, it was so nice to be so close to our baby!!  We packed up and moved upstairs.

 Additionally, Sunday is the only day that siblings are allowed a 10-15 minute visit.  They had to be over 5, fever-free, and up to date with all of their shots. Savannah and Andrew were SO EXCITED to get to see Baby Rhett!! Van cried a little when she realized she wouldn't be able to pick him up.. but we promised that as soon as he got home, she would be the first one to hold him.  It was with so much pride and excitement, as well as a little sadness, that we walked our oldest two babies down the hall, buzzed into the NICU and got them checked in.  They then had to scrub in and get all of their sterilized gear on.  Daddy enjoyed getting to show them how to do it!!

They felt so big, important, and grown up!!

Thankfully, we didn't have to wear masks every time we went in, because it wasn't flu season.  The kids had to wear them, though, and I think it just added to their experience. They liked feeling like doctors. :)

"Look, Mom!  I can take a picture and not even have to smile!!"

Hahaa, my serious little people, ready to meet their baby brother!!

They were a little timid at first.. (and please notice that beautiful name tag!!  I just loved it!!)

They moved in closer and got a little more brave.

It did my heart all kinds of good to have these two there with me in this room.  I would hold onto this moment tightly in the days to come!!

We grabbed an extra hospital gown for Sadie who was waiting back in the room!

Boy, were they cute!!!  They left the hospital just like this.. and I laughed and laughed from my window as I watched them cross the street and wade through the parking lot in their adorable blue gowns and gloves!!

Tuesday night (day 7), I went to a middle-of-the-night feeding by myself.  Wade was so exhausted, sleeping at the foot of our tiny hospital bed. I decided not to wake him and went down the hall to nurse alone.  Our amazing night nurse, Katie, was there, and as I walked into Rhett's pod, she quietly said, "Momma.. he did it again."  I immediately knew what she was saying. NO. Please, God, no!!  I have to get out of here, we need to go home, we have 4 other babies to take care of, we are supposed to leave IN THE MORNING!!  So many thoughts.  I was crushed. I felt forgotten.  I was hurt that I was praying, our friends and family were praying, we were on prayer lists in churches near and far, and yet the Lord had still allowed Rhett to brady again.  And of course, it was the one time I had come alone.  So I sat and tried to just keep breathing.  I prayed over Rhett the entire time, begging God to not let this change our discharge in the morning.

But it did.  Three more days.  New discharge date: Friday. TEN DAYS after Rhett's birth.

As I searched the Scriptures for life, hope, anything to hang onto during these endless days and nights, I randomly came across Job 39:1.  I know this probably doesn't even relate to my situation at all, except to remind me that God is sovereign.  But somehow, it helped.  The words give birth leaped off the page at me.

'Do you know the time when the wild mountain goats bear young?  Or can you mark when the deer gives birth?  Can you number the months that they fulfill?  Or do you know the time when they bear young?  They bow down, they bring forth their young, they deliver their offspring.  Their young ones are healthy, they grow strong with grain; they depart and do not return to them.'

If my God knows when the mountain goats and deer give birth, surely He knows where my Rhett and I are.  We are not forgotten.  He knows us and He knows what He is doing.  There is purpose in the suffering. As I dove deeper into that thought, I realized I had been able to have so many conversations with the nurses and those around us about being a stay-at-home mom.  About homeschooling.  About having 5 kids. Counter-cultural ideas that seemed so foreign to most.  This week in the NICU had given me opportunities to share about Jesus and His work in my life with people I would have never seen.  I met my neighbor and we talked about church.  I met a fellow NICU mom and promised to pray for her.  I got to see the receptionist's wide eyes when I said, "No, this isn't my first baby.  He's my fifth! God has been so wonderful to us!!"

Maybe that was the whole point.  Maybe that is why we were there.  If I could take my eyes off of my own hard situation, I would be able to more clearly see the precious souls all around me.  Hurting mommas.  Helpless babies.  Weary workers.  So instead of praying for only my baby, I began to use my nursing time to pray for those around us.  

The baby on the side who was going through drug withdrawals.  The baby in the back who had just been diagnosed with a form of mental retardation.  The baby up front who was having seizures. The family down the hall who was preparing for a funeral. The little girl who was finally 3.8 pounds. So many needs, so many difficult circumstances.  My mom was precious and began praying for each of these little ones as well.  Isn't it amazing what can happen when we broaden our view from our own suffering and lift our eyes to see others and their needs??  'Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.' Ephesians 3:20-21

12 weeks later, as I write this up, I still remember the nurses and those babies and pray that the Lord is doing a mighty work in their lives.  That they would know He is truly a good, good Father.

On Wednesday, June 14, one week after Rhett's birth, Wade and I celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary.  It looked so different than anything we would have ever planned.. but we were together. We had 5 precious babies. God was still on His throne.  And that was worth celebrating!!

We got steaks and cheesecake from Texas Roadhouse.. and since we had watched more Food Network this week than in the past 9 years, ha!, Wade picked me up the Tricia Yearwood cookbook!! It was the one show that came on that wasn't Chopped or Beat Bobby Flay, haha!!  And it's going to remind me for the rest of my life of the lessons I learned from the NICU.
'Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.' Philippians 4:6-7

This scripture came to mind so many times during those 10 days.  I didn't even realize I had it mostly memorized, but it came to me over and over again.  It showed up in a book I was reading, and again when I opened a devotional app on my phone.  Don't you love when the Lord does that?? Confirms His presence by telling you the same thing repeatedly, yet through different avenues??

He was there, y'all.  God was with us the whole time.  Through the tears and frustration, the long days and dark nights, the tough conversations and doctor's visits, He was there.  Through the prayers of His people and visits from friends, the Scriptures that brought life and the reports that brought hope, through the kind nurses and the new friendships made, He was there.  

I think that's the most memorable of lessons for me.  You can be smack dab in the will of God and things not be peachy keen.  You can be obedient to His calling, and yet still have trials, painful experiences, and prayers that feel unanswered. Babies struggle to breathe.  Mommas get tired and overwhelmed.  Anniversaries are sometimes spent in a hospital room. Life looks daunting and you don't know if you'll ever get home. But just because you're going through a difficult time doesn't mean that's not exactly where God would have you.  Trust Him with it.  Trust Him through it.  He'll never leave you nor forsake you..  this I know for sure.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Rhett Allen Poole

On Wednesday, June 7, 2017, I went to my weekly doctor's appointment.  I was a day shy of being 38 weeks pregnant and Wade and I had joked that maybe we should start considering getting the car seat out of the box (which had arrived only a few days earlier) and maybe pack some overnight bags for the hospital. We had just wrapped up t-ball season and had finally decided that today was the day that we would get organized, prepped, and prepared.  Because I clearly still had 2 weeks before our baby would arrive.

Except we didn't.

At my appointment, my NP said, "Melissa, I think this is going to be a repeat episode..  You're 5 cm dilated. You need to go downstairs and be admitted!!" Remember Grant's birth story?! I said, "But my sister's coming to town.. We were going to clean out closets and pack for baby..??"  Hahaa!!  She left to go get my doctor to get his opinion and in those few minutes, I prayed that the Lord would speak through my doctor.  That if I was supposed to deliver our baby today, the doctor would immediately agree with the nurse practitioner, but if it wasn't time yet, the doctor would want to hold off for another week or two.  Also, during that time, I texted my husband: Umm, Wade.  Wake up.  We might be having a baby today..

As soon as the doctor checked, he said, "Well, young lady, your baby doesn't want to clean closets today.  You're at a 5, your body is trying to labor, and I think you need to go downstairs and get yourself checked in." Thank You, Lord, for such clear confirmation!!

So that's just what I did.  I called Wade and told him to please bring the dry shampoo, my make-up and my pearls for delivery, ha!!  Priorities, you know.  I called Hez and told her never mind, we can't clean today, can you come help me check in at the hospital instead?!  Thankfully, she was super close and stayed with me until Wade could get there.

By 1:00 PM, I was in a room, hooked up to the machines, and got an epidural and Pitocin before I had a single contraction. While this sounds amazing, there is a reason why women contract and labor, usually for hours.  The suffering serves a purpose. More on this later. 

We were simply on Cloud 9.  Ready to meet our newest son, ready to take on life as a family of 7.

One of my most favorite pictures, maybe ever.  Though thick and thin, 8th grade dates to delivering our 5th baby, Wadie's been out in front to lead me, beside me to hold my hand, and behind me to encourage and support me.  He is always there, with a smile on his cute face and a kiss on the ready.  I love you, my Wade Austin.  Thanks for making me yours.

Right at 2 hours later, Baby #5 arrived!!

Just like Samuel, we didn't have a definite name.  We wanted to wait until we saw him and pray over him and ask the Lord to reveal his name to us.  Immediately after he was born, Wade and I both sensed that this was our little Rhett.  Just like last time, we waited until we were alone to confirm it, but I love that in our hearts, we both knew as soon as we saw him. 

6 pounds 11 ounces and 19.5 inches of tiny baby goodness!!

Hahaa, this nurse was the sweetest cheerleader the whole time!!  Yaaayyy, we did it!!

That's one proud dad!!
At the very end of my labor, I remember being confused when the doctor told me NOT to push.  I could feel that I was ready, but he repeated it twice, calmly, but seriously.. Don't push.  It was over before I knew it, Rhett joined us, and I forgot all about it.

It was around this time, though, as the baby was getting cleaned and wrapped up, that I asked Wade what all that was about.  I learned Rhett's umbilical cord had tightened around his neck as he passed through the birth canal.  The doctor not only saw it, acting quickly to clamp it and cut it correctly, but he never let on to me the seriousness of the situation.  I had no idea. There was no panic, no hysteria, no traumatic ending.  

God, I can't hold back the tears even now.  You were there, in that very moment, protecting me and protecting this baby.  You used that morning appointment, You used my trained doctor, You orchestrated this entire labor and delivery to protect us.  To save us.  To provide us with our very next breath.  Oh, merciful God, thank You.  Thank you for holding us in Your strong and powerful hand.  May we use all of our breaths, from our first ones to our final ones, to tell the world about You.

According to the nurses, we were hit with a "double whammy."  There had been excessive fluid in my womb AND Rhett had had a delayed intake of air due to the cord around his neck.  Add to that a rapid labor and delivery.. In the womb, the baby's lungs are filled with fluid and it is labor that dries them out.  There is a reason for those painful contractions - they flush out the fluid, preparing baby's lungs to expand and fill with air upon birth.  Because of these three things, Rhett had to be put on a monitoring device to watch his breathing and his oxygen levels.

I had no idea that this would be our only time to hold Rhett that day.  I had no idea that the days ahead would be filled with monitors, machines, wires, and tubes.  All I knew in this moment was that I was holding a miracle.  A fresh, beautiful, blonde-haired miracle.

With tears, I checked him out all over, including those tiny, perfect, little feet.

And then baby boy got to meet the family!!

I loved it when he opened his eyes!!  Look how cute that little face!!

Welcome to the world, Rhett Allen Poole.  Your mommy and daddy love you so much and are so thankful God sent you to us!!
It was right after this that the nurses took him to the nursery to be checked over.  They came back later to tell us that they were going to move him to the NICU for further monitoring.  His breathing and oxygen levels would drop to right below what they were comfortable with and wanted some extra time to watch him.

I was simply not prepared for this.  My heart seized and my eyes filled with tears as I tried to keep it together until the nurses left.  We had never had issues before with any of our other babies, things always just went naturally and normally.  What had just happened?!  Wade reassured me that this would be what was best for Rhett, that we would make sure he was definitely okay before taking him home.  This helped some.. but I didn't know how in the world I was going to face our other four children without our newest one to show them.  They had waited and longed for this day as much as we had.  They had talked about and prayed for Rhett since the beginning!  How was I now going to tell them that he was upstairs and they couldn't see him??  It was too much!  I couldn't do it!!

YET.  When they arrived, McDonalds in hand, ha!, they were the sweetest, most caring children I've ever known.  They didn't fuss about not seeing Rhett, they were simply thrilled with seeing me.  There was no griping or complaining, only soft words and gentle hugs for Mom and Dad.  I couldn't have been more proud, more thankful for my precious family.  They held it together for me when I could not. They were the perfect balm for my aching soul.. and I would spend the rest of my time at the hospital telling the nurses how all of my children are the greatest gifts, my life's finest work.

After kissing our babies goodbye and promising to see them tomorrow, Wade and I headed upstairs. There are two huge blessings I want to remember here.  First, a simple delivery made for a very easy recovery.  Because I was not in pain, I was able to walk and ride the elevators between floors, using my energy to take care of my baby instead of being confined to a room, trying to hurry up and heal. This is no small thing and I am grateful.  The second is that our neighbor two houses down from us is a NICU nurse at Rapides and was ending her last shift before being off the next several days.  She brought the baby to our room to let us get a few minutes with him before he transitioned from the floor nursery to the NICU.  Getting to see him and look at his beautiful face did more for me than I can say.  It was so simple, this kind gesture, but it assured me that everything was going to be okay and gave peace to my anxious heart like nothing else could have. Thank you, Kelli.  Thank You, Lord.

Again, I was not prepared for what was coming.  We buzzed into the NICU for our first time and had to sign in.  Seeing the tab labeled "Poole" in the sign-in book was like a jolt.  Scrubbing in was foreign and putting on the sterilized gown, gloves, and mask just about did me in.  There was a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes as the nurses showed us the way to Rhett's pod.  

Seeing the tiny oxygen cannula in his nose, the feeding tube in his mouth, and the IV in his hand was surreal.. after 4 normal deliveries and not a single problem, this was life-changing for us.  I sat. I wept.  I couldn't pick up my baby to hold him, I couldn't nurse, I couldn't act amused as I passed him off to Wade to change that first dirty diaper.  I sat and with just one finger, I simply rubbed his little arm, the only place I felt comfortable, the only section of his little body that wasn't covered in strange hospital devices. 

The name tag on his crib just said Poole. Twice, we were asked what his name was so that they could make him a pretty name card.  We told them that's why we were there.. to see our boy, pray over him, and let the Lord show us what his name was to be.  We sat in silence for close to 20 minutes, Wade on one side of the crib, myself on the other, and just stroked our littlest baby.  Finally, Wade looked up at me and said, "He looks like a Rhett."  And in my heart, I rejoiced, for I had known it the second I laid eyes on him. 
As we gazed at our baby, I couldn't stop the tears.  Maybe it was hormones on top of a day like none we had ever known, but I just couldn't get myself together.  The tears just flowed.  As my shoulders shook and my heart ached, a lady's voice behind me said, "Everything's going to be okay.  He's going to be alright, Momma."  I turned around and saw a couple, tenderly loving on their baby just as we were with ours.  Except their baby was in a covered crib with two holes on the side for the mom to reach her hands in.  Except their baby had been there for 3 weeks already, having been born at 30 weeks and put on life support.  

As this momma shared their story, I knew the Lord had sent her to me for just this moment.  To remind me that He was near and working and not to lose hope. This compassionate woman ended with, "So don't you worry.  Your baby is in good hands with the nurses here. We've been coming everyday for 3 weeks.  And we can't wait for our baby to be in a crib like yours!  We are just so happy she's finally over 3 pounds!  God is good."  I just shook my head and cried.  I quietly thanked her and I hope she knew how much I appreciated her kindness in seeing my broken heart and speaking up.  She didn't turn away from my suffering, she initiated healing with her words of comfort and encouragement.  May this be a lesson I always remember: to be aware of the hurting and offer kind, life-giving words.  I don't even know her name, but her words to me will never be forgotten.

As we got ready to leave our baby for his first night in the NICU, my heart at one of its heaviest moments I've ever known, I faintly heard the radio.  It was on K-LOVE.  And the song King of the World by Natalie Grant was playing.  Do you know the lyrics??  I held onto that chorus as I kissed my baby goodnight and headed back to our room -

"When did I forget that You've always been the King of the world?
I try to take life back right out of the hand of the King of the world.
How could I make You so small when You're the One who holds it all..
When did I forget that You've always been the King of the world?"

He is.  He does.  He holds us all, faithfully and securely.  And the longer we were there, the more I knew it to be true.

About Me

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From childhood friends to high school sweethearts, and now newlyweds and brand-new parents, Wade and I can only thank Jesus for His incredible blessings. Our three children are the ULTIMATE gifts from God and we pray that our lives glorify Him. He is our everything.