Friday, July 1, 2011

July Feature Family

 At the beginning of each month Ella's Halo will have a NICU family tell their story about life in the NICU with their baby. Our hope is that by featuring different families others will have a better understanding of the difficult, roller-coaster ride many face when their baby is in the NICU. Ella's Halo created the Feature Family series, if you are interested in sharing your story, please email us at to share your NICU story and to be a future Feature Family.

July's Feature Family had two children in the hospital at two different times.  As preemie parents, our paths have crossed with this family and we enjoy seeing them each time it does.  Julie is on the STEPs group at Children's Hospital in St. Paul and works hard to make the NICU a little better for parents and babies!

Alexander and Isabella Bixby
Written by Julie Bixby
Former NICU Mommy

In 2006, I was pregnant with my first child and had an easy, non-eventful pregnancy. I had read every single pregnancy book out there and received the daily emails from multiple sites explaining what was going on at that particular time in my pregnancy. I had done so much research and felt as prepared as possible. I had plans to deliver at a hospital in Woodbury where my OB/GYN delivered. I had everything perfectly planned out. That was, until my water broke unexpectedly at 33 weeks.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what had happened and decided to call my OB/GYN to see if the feeling I had was normal. They weren’t sure but told me I needed to be seen just to check to see if my water had broken. My OB/GYN called back and told me that they had realized I was earlier than 34 weeks and therefore the hospital I had planned to deliver at wouldn’t see me. They suggested a few different hospitals and told me to call my insurance company to determine which I could go to. Still, I didn’t even think about a NICU--none of my books really even covered least not at the 33 week chapters. We hadn’t even taken our parenting classes.

We randomly chose United Hospital as it was closest to our house. It was a decision that would forever affect our lives. I do believe that everything happens for a reason and that fate actually sent us to United so that we would be next to Children’s Hospital.

We checked in to L&D at the hospital and they confirmed that my water broke but I wasn’t having any other signs of labor. So, they put me on IV medication and the doctor came in to tell me that they were just waiting for a room to open up in the area dedicated to the bed rest mothers. The goal was to keep the baby inside as long as possible, which meant I could be at the hospital on bed rest for 7 more weeks.

Later in the day, while waiting for the room to open up, a nurse came in and asked if I was feeling the contractions. I wasn’t—thankfully! I think my brain/body were in such a whirlwind/haze that I still don’t think anything registered. Everything was definitely out of my control.

Less than a day later, on December 1, 2006, our son Alexander was born. He was a very healthy 5 pound 33 weeker. I don’t remember much from those first few days. I’ve tried to go back mentally but I just can’t. My perfectly planned pregnancy and delivery was anything but and I think I was in a form of shock. It was my first and I didn’t know any different other than what all the books had told me.

What I do remember is that I was able to see my son quickly and then he was taken down to the NICU. My husband accompanied him and the doctors.

Alexander Bixby

It was a few long hours before I was allowed down to meet my little guy. I still remember going into the room and only being able to put my hands in the holes on the isolette. We had to wait a few days before we could hold him whenever we wanted.

In total, he spent 21 days in the NICU and was released just a few days before Christmas. Bringing him home for XMAS was the best gift!

Having a baby in the NICU is not how you envision your birthing experience. Leaving the hospital without your baby is not in your plan. But it was our reality.

Having a baby in the NICU is anything from normal and there really aren’t any books that can prepare you for it. What can prepare you is knowing there are other families out there that have been in your shoes. I still remember receiving an email from a neighbor of mine who I hadn’t even met who had a NICU baby just 6 months prior. Her words meant so much to me… knowing there was someone else out there that understood my situation. She is now a very dear friend of mine and I still have that email she sent me.

No one is better off or worse off in the NICU… each child is different. Some babies are healthy, some are not. Some are big, some are very tiny. But the common thread is that there are families that are all equally as worried, scared and fearing the unknown. I spent as much time as possible in my son’s room trying to bond the best I could with my little boy who was closed in an isolette and not at home where he should have been.

I did feel helpless at times, but I tried to make the best of our situation and surroundings. Children’s NICU in St Paul has amazing private rooms where every detail is thought of to help families and their babies. There wasn’t much I could give my son right away but what I could give was a soothing, quiet environment much like the womb. I would nap on the couch in our NICU room and would lower his isolette almost to eye level with me so I felt like we could nap together even though he was in his isolette and I was on the couch. As ironic as it may seem, in this chaotic time, this room became my time alone with my son.

It definitely was an emotional time....many times coming back from lunch or a quick restroom break and it was all I could do to keep myself from sprinting back to the room where I would come in, close the curtain and door and sit on the couch next to my son and cry. It wouldn’t last comfort seemed to take control again.

Some of the most basic things that one would take for granted actually helped me more than I would have ever expected. Something as simple as a rocking chair in my room allowed me to hold and rock my baby that I wasn’t able to bring home to rock. Kangaroo care became a routine of our days and something my husband and I looked forward to in “our chair.”

When we decided to get pregnant again, we took precautions to help our baby stay in utero as long as possible. However, even after 16 weeks of Progesterone shots (I became a pro at receiving these painful shots), our daughter arrived early, just like her brother, at 33 weeks.

Again… I felt that same haze/bewilderment that I had with my first born. Even as a NICU veteran, it was just as scary and foreign the second time around. Just as each child is different, each NICU stay is different as well. And this time, it was complicated by a needy 2 year old boy at home who was longing for his mom and dad. We only spent 12 days in the NICU with our daughter Isabella.

Isabella Bixby

2 NICU babies and 2+ years later, we have 2 healthy and happy children. Not exactly how we had planned for them to enter the world but that is how their story began. Today, we put Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of MN/St Paul NICU at the very top of our list for our charitable giving. Nothing makes us happier or prouder than to make even a small difference on the unit where both of our babies spent their first few weeks of life.

We will always have a special place in our hearts for Children’s St. Paul was the address/home for both of our kids for the first few weeks of their lives. Would I change our experience? Of course! I would have loved to have had my 2 children home with me when I was discharged from the hospital. But, given that wasn’t an option or our reality, we couldn’t imagine being anyplace else.


Heidi Case said...

Wonderful, Julie!! I love Alexander and Isabella's stories! Thank you for sharing!

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