When Kieran Powers’ son, Beckett, was born at 23 weeks and five days, she was faced with the unthinkable: holding her son as he passed away in her arms after a short but fierce fight for life.
She would relive the same fear again when the following year she was put on bed rest at 20 weeks with a shortened cervix and had to deliver her second son, Lincoln, at 22 weeks and five days.
“He was impossibly small and impossibly perfect, just like his brother,” Kieran said. “We didn’t expect him to survive, so when I saw him moving his little legs and arms I was just overwhelmed with joy.”
After 141 days in two different NICUs, Lincoln finally got to go home with Kieran and her husband in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Today, Lincoln is a healthy 14 month old hitting all of his milestones for his corrected age of 10 months.
To moms currently in NICU she recommends, “Celebrate every milestone, no matter how small it might seem.”
Get to know Kieran and her son Lincoln’s incredible story.
Were you considered high-risk after the premature birth of your first son?
I had cervical cancer in 2015 so both pregnancies were high risk because part of my cervix was removed. I was therefore at risk of going into labour prematurely. However, my cervix did not wind up being the issue. For both boys I went into labour early because of an infection. A couple of months after Beckett was born they did some testing including a biopsy of my uterine lining, and when the biopsy came back negative they thought it was an acute infection that had resolved. It turns out it was likely a chronic infection in a part of my uterus that they hadn’t biopsied. Really bad luck, essentially.
Do you remember what it was like to see Lincoln for the first time?
I saw Lincoln a few hours after he was born. He was wrapped in plastic to keep him warm and was covered in tubes and wires. He was impossibly small and impossibly perfect, just like his brother. We didn’t expect him to survive, so when I saw him moving his little legs and arms I was just overwhelmed with joy.
Even though he was so tiny, and so sick, and we knew that all of the odds were stacked against him, seeing him alive and moving was our best case scenario. I was so, so happy and bursting with love for my teeny tiny miracle.
What was it like holding Lincoln for the first time?
It was terrifying and exhilarating. He was 9 days old and his tiny body was riddled with a life threatening infection (it was in his kidneys and lungs and had progressed to sepsis and meningitis). It took one nurse and two respiratory therapists what seemed like ages to get him from his isolette to my chest because he was intubated and the breathing tube was extremely positional (meaning they were scared it was going to come out). But once he was there he settled right in and I held him for an hour and a half. I barely moved the entire time he was on me, but it was magical! I sang to him (I am tone deaf but he seems to like my voice) and I told him all about his brother who is always watching over him. After a really hard few days of what seemed like bad news after bad news, it felt so good to be able to hold and comfort my baby. I felt like his mom!
What got you through the tough times?
My husband and I were each other’s rocks when things got bad. When one of us was feeling hopeless, the other would be really positive. It just naturally happened that we wouldn’t both be in the pits of despair at the same time. We celebrated every milestone and every Friday we would celebrate one more week of Link (his nickname) with a bottle of prosecco or wine. And, of course, spending every day with Lincoln, watching him defy the odds, get stronger, and hit all these milestones that we weren’t sure he would ever hit was such a source of light.
What kinds of things did you do to feel more like a “regular” mom to your preemie during your NICU stay?
I held him as often as I could (once he was stable enough I would hold him for 4+ hours per day), I changed his diaper, took his temperature, changed his sat probe. Basically anything they would let me do. And I sang to him (even though I’m tone deaf) and read to him everyday. We got through four of the Harry Potter books while he was in the hospital!
How was it relating to friends and family during your NICU stay?
I tried to give friends and family as much information as I could (without freaking them out) so that they could try to understand what we were going through.
Every month I sent a long email with all of our updates on Link. I probably downplayed how bad it was at times, but I gave medical info as well as fun updates about things he was doing and milestones he was hitting. Of course, unless you’ve had a baby in the NICU you can’t really understand, but I answered everyone’s questions and tried not to let any well-meaning but hurtful comments bother me. And I made some amazing friends in the NICU who I could vent to about everything going on (and still do).
Was there anything anyone did for you that helped make the NICU stay easier?
My mom cooked for us constantly! Not having to worry about food was a huge load off our shoulders!
How is Lincoln today?
He is amazing! He is 14 months old / 10 months corrected and is hitting all of his milestones for his corrected age. He is such a happy, social and active little boy who never stops moving! He loves eating, going for walks, and his dog brother. He is exceeding everyone’s expectations. Of course, we don’t know what the future holds but he is such a joy, and brings a smile to the faces of everyone he meets!
Does he have any health challenges?
Overall his health is pretty good. He has chronic lung disease so whenever he gets a cold it goes straight to his lungs. But we kept him very isolated during cold and flu season, and he got the RSV shots every month, and we were fortunately able to avoid any serious illness or hospitalization.
He is followed by urology at the local sick kids hospital because he had recurrent UTIs when he was in the NICU and they later discovered he had kidney stones. But at our last appointment all but one of his stones were gone. He has physiotherapy every other week and sees a dietician regularly to make sure his weight gain is on track. But he has been discharged from many specialists already (he came home in September).
What would you tell a mom who has a preemie baby in NICU right now?
Celebrate every milestone, no matter how small it might seem. Participate in rounds and learn as much about your baby’s care as you possibly can, even though it seems overwhelming.
When we first got to the NICU I never thought I would understand all of the medical jargon they were throwing at us, but slowly and surely I began to understand until I was basically fluent in NICU speak. You know your baby best and are in the best position to advocate for them!
I always say preemie moms deserve a merit badge. What merit badges do you think you have earned?
For keeping my cool when the alarms were going off so much that it sounded like the entire fire brigade was in my son’s NICU room. And for being able to hold my bladder for hours on end while I did kangaroo care.