While some parents would feel cursed by two early deliveries, preemie mom Heather Horton feels doubly blessed by her two preemies.
However, despite having daughter, Harper, at 29 weeks due to high blood pressure and preeclampsia, she felt no more prepared for when her daughter, Hadley was delivered at 31 weeks for the same reasons.
“All the emotions of holding Harper came flooding back,” Heather said. “I couldn’t believe we were doing this a second time.”
I had the pleasure of meeting Heather and her family when I served on Tulsa March of Dimes board and her family was a local Ambassador family speaking at events on prematurity. I had never met another women with such a similar experience as mine. Her openness was probably the first glimpse I saw into how sharing my story could help others—like Heather did for me and so many others.
Get to know Heather’s preemie mom journey with a 29-weeker and a 31-weeker.
Preemies x 2
What were the circumstances around Harper’s early birth?
I was teaching Pre-K full time when I was pregnant with Harper, my first daughter. I only had a week of school left and my sweet class parents threw me a surprise shower. The next day I was put on bed rest.
I went in for a checkup at 29 weeks and my blood pressure was high 145/90 and I was spilling over nine grams of protein in my urine. My doctor said these were all signs of early preeclampsia and she ordered strict bedrest for the next five days.
I followed the doctors’ orders and only got up to shower and use the restroom. I went back for a follow up and prayed the doctor would release me from bedrest. I felt fine and was pretty confident I was walking out of the appointment. Boy was I wrong!
The doctor said that my blood pressure was higher than five days ago. She had already called the hospital and had a room waiting for me. I called my husband at his work retreat to ask him to come home. Things weren’t good. Later that evening, the doctor told me know I would be in the hospital for the next 10 weeks.
The next morning, she came by for a visit and looked at my blood pressures. My body wasn’t handling this well and the only thing we could do was to take the baby. The next few hours were a blur. We called family and friends, talked to specialists and everyone preparing us for just how small our baby girl was going to be and the risks associated with coming 11 weeks early.
At 3:40 p.m. in the afternoon on May 17 Harper Jane entered the world weighing 2 pounds 1 ounce and 15 inches long. She let out the best noise I’ve ever heard…a cry.
Did you have similar complications with Hadley, your second daughter?
Harper was almost three years old when Hadley was born. I went in for a checkup at 31 weeks. The nurse took my blood pressure and said, “Is your blood pressure normally high?” I joked and said, “Only when I’m pregnant!” She has this look in her eyes and said “ummm…why don’t I take her (Harper) with me and you lay back. Close your eyes and I’ll be back in five mins and we’ll do a re-check.” Needless to say, I knew what was coming.
The doctor walked into my room and said, “Well little lady, looks like you are having a baby tonight. St. Francis has a room ready for you, do not pass go, do not collect $200, go straight to the hospital.” I sat there a little dazed and said “Well it’s been a good run. Two weeks longer than my first pregnancy. See you soon!” I tend to joke and be sarcastic when I’m nervous or don’t know what to say.
Once again, I called my husband at work and told him to take the rest of the day, he was going to be a dad again. He was a little stunned but packed up and met me at the hospital. I called my sweet friend, Kara, to come and get Harper. I wanted to kept with her normal Monday schedule of swim lessons and Chick-fil-A. My sister jumped in her car and drove from Dallas and my mom wrapped up some things at work. I then text our favorite night nurse, Kodi, from when Harper was in NICU and asked if she was working and she replied with “Yes! Wait, why? Are you having a baby tonight?!”
They had given me three doses of a steroid and it wasn’t lowering my blood pressure. We had a plan for a 9 p.m. C-section and let family and friends know. Since we had been through this once before we knew what to expect. They ran through awful scenarios and reminders on how small she would be. Kodi held my hand and stayed by my side until I was prepped and my husband could come back. Having her there, I knew she was in great hands. Hadley Marie entered the world at 2 pounds 8 ounces and 15 ¾ inches long. Once she was out Kodi wrapped her up brought her over for me to get a glimpse, kiss her and tell her I loved her. Then she was whisked off to the NICU.
When did you get to go see your girls for the first time?
I didn’t get to see either Harper or Hadley for about 36 hours after they was born. I was on magnesium to try to lower my blood pressure after both of their births.
When did you get to hold your girls for the first time?
I got to hold Harper when she was 48 hours old. I was so nervous with all the cords, leads and monitors. She was on CPAP and I was terrified but ready to hold her. She cried for the first minute or so I held her and I was crumbling inside, thinking I was hurting her or one of her leads was uncomfortable and her numbers were low, but once she settled in she was Sating 100.
Hadley was also 48 hours old before I got to hold her. I was ready to hold her but all the emotions of holding Harper came flooding back. I couldn’t believe we were doing this a second time. Hadley nestled right in and that has stood true of her personality. She is a snuggler.
What got you through the tough times of being a preemie mom?
Family, friends and faith. Our families dropped everything to help. Our friends mowed our yard, fed and walked the dog, packed our bag–twice, because I didn’t have a hospital bag ready either time! They brought us meals, bought me a breast pump, bought the girls a baby book, visited the girls and kept me company. My personality needs to have people around. I loved the visitors and welcomed them with open arms!
What kinds of things did you do to feel more like a “regular” mom to your girls?
I made sure to have a baby book for all visitors to sign and a place for them to ink their feet. I brought up our blankets, clothes, pacis, books and pictures of family. Since the girls weren’t going to be in our home in their nursery, I wanted their 15 x 15 foot room to feel like home.
How was it relating to friends and family during your NICU stay?
I’ll be honest–there was no relating to friends and family. No one had been through what we were going through. Everyone had text book pregnancies, babies were born full term and healthy. I knew that our family and friends where just waiting to help but I felt so alone in the fact that I couldn’t get another mom’s perspective or advice on their NICU stay.
Was there anything anyone did for you that helped make the NICU stay easier?
I don’t really think there is anything you or anyone else can do to make a NICU stay easier. Whether you stay three days or three months, it’s a roller coaster of an experience.
But if there is one thing that helped it was the nurses. They are angels. They could tell when I was nervous, stayed in the girls’ rooms when the doctors where making rounds and would explain the medical lingo in a way I could understand. They would send us pictures if for some reason we couldn’t be there. They became the girls’ second moms.
I prayed for them. I prayed for wisdom, patience and gentleness. I was putting all my trust in complete strangers. I felt helpless. Each time after I had scrubbed in and rounded the corner to the girls room, I was always met with a smile, a quick update and was asked if I wanted to hold them. These women helped make the day to day rollercoaster of the NICU easy.
How did you balance having Harper at home and a Hadley in NICU?
When Hadley was born, Harper was almost three years old. I was already worried about how I was going to love another baby. Once Hadley was born, we included Harper in everything. Bathing, diaper changes, feedings, etc. We made sure Harper was a part of it.
I do feel like I wasn’t as present in Hadley’s NICU room as I was in Harper’s and that was guilt I carried for a while, even after she was home from the NICU. Harper loved spending time in Hadley’s NICU room. She would ask daily, “When are we going to see my sister?” I’m sure there are things I could’ve done differently but I think we balanced it the best we knew how.
How are Harper and Hadley today?
When people find out about our girls and hear their birth stories they are blown away! If you didn’t know their stories you’d never know. They don’t have some of the signs of being a preemie. They were fully caught up and on track by 24 months.
Harper is six years old and in the first grade. She is so smart, top of her class, loves to read, dance, sing, practice gymnastics, outgoing, never met a stranger and forgets nothing!
Hadley will be four years old in March and she is what I call slow to warm. She is reserved and takes a while to be let in to her circle, but once she lets you in she loves hard. She is so funny, always singing, loves school, a great mom to her babies and loves her sister.
What would you tell a mom who has a preemie baby in NICU right now?
To parents who are facing a NICU stay, I would remind you to continue to ask questions. If you don’t understand–ask for more explanation. You are your baby’s advocate. Don’t be afraid to ask to help. The nurses actually love the parents who are willing to jump in and change, feed, take temps and bathe.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many people in your life that understand what you are going through. They don’t know the sounds of the monitors, that you weigh each diaper after you change it, you take their temperature in Celsius and 5 mL of breast milk is a huge accomplishment. But when they offer to bring you a meal, a drink or just come keep you company that is the only way they know to be helpful. Let them in and lean on them. You will need them on this roller coaster of a journey.
Also, I want to say that you and your husband will both handle this experience very differently. Be patient with each other. Talk to each other, share your worries and frustrations but remember to give grace and love.
I always say preemie moms deserve a merit badge. What merit badges do you think you have earned?
I’ve always joked that I completed medical school in six short weeks. You have to convert pounds to grams, Fahrenheit to Celsius and ounces to milliliters. You become an expert on the four colored numbers on the monitor and which ones to watch for. Being a NICU parent, you deserve a badge for being courageous, continuing to persevere, showing up each day and facing the unknown.
Every time I hear of a friend’s friend who has had a premature baby I ask them to pass my name and number on. If and when they are wanting to talk with someone who has been through what they are going through I am willing to listen, bring a meal or just lend a hug. Not having anyone who had walked my shoes when Harper was born was incredibly difficult. So, if you are a momma who has no one to talk to and you are reading this please contact Leah and she will get you in contact with me. You are not alone. I understand.
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