As parents, we’ve all had those moments when your heart skips a beat (or several) and your stomach twists because you think something is wrong with your baby. One of our preemie twins gave us that kind of scare today.
We took our little girl to the pediatrician at 35 weeks old. She had been doing great with breastfeeding and filling diapers so we knew we were on an upswing and building momentum. We arrived at the clinic, were taken to our room and started to get her out of her snuggly clothes for her checkup. Sure enough, she weighed more than when we left the NICU – success! The doctor checked everything else and we were given a thumbs up for her progress. Throughout the checkup she was, of course, awake and somewhat unhappy. This is to be expected.
On the high of knowing she and our other preemie were doing well, we put them back into their carseats and headed home. Both of them promptly fell asleep, completely exhausted from the ordeal. When we got home it was time for another feeding but she was simply too tired to suck. We were warned about this during our NICU stay and had seen it happen while we were there – babies this little only have enough energy to wake up, eat and go back asleep, so it is critical that they are fed when they are awake. We let her sleep a bit longer to try again a little later.
We started to wake her up for another shot at feeding her but she was still so exhausted that she barely responded to touching and moving her hands. I’m sure she was slightly dehydrated and still exhausted from the doctor visit. I just wanted to know she was ok. We changed her diaper, put her to breast and got her to start eating (thank God!!!!). I grabbed one of our prototype tulip pulse oximeter units and got some good readings. The world looked brighter once again.
Later That Night
Finally, she had some solid feedings under her belt and at around 11pm I gave her some fortified breast milk in a bottle. She guzzled it down – it was great! I burped her and held her for another 15-20 minutes before putting her back in the crib to sleep. My wife and I were super tired and happy to get a few hours of rest so we promptly got under the covers. Falling back to sleep after laying a baby to rest takes at least 5 minutes. I just lay there listening to their noises because I am paranoid of them spitting up and choking. About 1 minute later, our little daughter developed some cute hiccups, which is pretty common for her. Another few minutes passed and we heard a strange noise. I hesitated for a half second, listening intently for a follow up noise, but none came. I ran to her crib-side and saw that she had spit up a significant amount of milk and was choking. I will never, ever forget the look of sheer terror on her face, not being able to breathe. It was horrifying.
Saving Her Life
Of course, I immediately swept her into my arms, grabbed the bulb syringe and started to remove the milk. After several fast sucks, she let out a cry but was still struggling to breathe. As she would work more out, we would suction it. This seemed to take an hour although only a few minutes had passed. She was beside herself and with every cry she would pause to breathe, but it was labored. I handed her off to my wife to calm her down as we worked together to remove more milk from her nose and mouth. Finally, after we had removed most of the milk, I took her back and laid with her against my chest breathing as calmly as I could to help her breathe properly. It had all worked and she was breathing well enough again. We took another pulse ox reading and confirmed that her heart rate and blood oxygen levels were normal and stable. Because my wife and I worked quickly and with focus, she had not once exhibited signs of hypoxia. Nonetheless, it was a terrifying ordeal.
Writing this out and sharing this story with you is difficult – I cried typing Saving Her Life – but I think it is important to share stories like this with parents so we can all learn something from it and keep our own loved ones safe. I am thankful that I was awake, knew to get up and check, had the bulb syringe and could check her pulse ox. Our first daughter was full term and we still worried constantly about how she was doing. Now with these preemie twins it is even more nerve-racking. I love what we are doing with the tulip because I know it can help families like ours.