Heidi Montgomery tried for seven years to get pregnant. Then, just 26 weeks into her pregnancy, an infection caused the need for an emergency C-section to save the life of her miracle baby, Elsie, who would spend 10 weeks in NICU.
During her NICU stay, a professional acquaintance of mine, who was also one of Heidi’s coworkers, sent me a private message on Twitter.
“A woman on my team just had a baby at 26 weeks. We know she’ll be in the NICU for the long haul. What can we do for her?”
I was honored to be asked and gave a few ideas on what I thought might be comforting items. But it was on my heart to meet this woman. And now I’m blessed to call her my friend.
Get to know Heidi and her micropreemie (and Beatles fanatic), Elsie.
What were the circumstances surrounding Elsie’s premature birth?
I had a pelvic infection with high fever that escalated quickly and caused my water to break. They had to deliver her via emergency C-section within an hour of me getting to the hospital.
It took us seven years to get pregnant with her, and then to have her so early was another miracle. Sometimes I feel like I missed out on the whole third trimester and delivery room experience, but then I remember that we got to experience a lot of other really great things with our birth, too.
When did you get to go see Elsie for the first time?
I had to be fever-free for 48 hours before I could see her in person. I think I saw her on her third day. They were able to put a camera in her isolette that they put on the TV in my hospital room so I could see her during those first two days. Sometimes I think that was so good, but then I remember that it made me feel so far away from her, even though she was only one floor down!
When did you get to hold your preemie for the first time?
I got to hold her six days after she was born. My family was in town for what would have been my baby shower, and they got to be in the room the first time I held her. I will never forget what that day felt like. She had cords and monitors all over her, but I didn’t see them. She weighed two pounds and her head was the size of a small apple, but I didn’t realize it. Her diaper was the size of a credit card, but it did not matter to me. She was my real, live baby and I had waited such a long time for that moment.
What kinds of things did you do to feel more like a “regular” mom to Elsie?
I listened to our nurses and did everything they said. Preemie babies have to be touched a certain way, held a certain way, and much of it goes against what your normal instinct is–like not rocking her or stroking her head, for example. It didn’t feel “regular” to only touch the top of Elsie’s head and the bottoms of her feet so deliberately to make that “boundary” feeling for her. It made me feel like “This is what I can do to help her development and growth, so I will do it.” I would have done cartwheels in her room if the nurses told me to!
This might sound crazy, but I think being pooped/peed on for the first time while changing her teeny diaper also made me feel incredibly normal, too. I remember feeling like I was initiated into the Mom Club with that one! Getting to bring our own blankies and onesies once she was able to wear clothes was also great.
What was the most difficult part of having a baby born premature?
I can’t say that there was any one thing that made it difficult. When she was born, trips to the NICU for those ten weeks just became our new normal. We didn’t know any different. It was tough having to be far away from her, but knowing she was in the best care was a saving grace for us.
If I had to say one thing, though? Pumping. I still have bad memories associated with pumping. I think since I delivered so early, my body just never went into that automatic feeding mode like most full-term mothers would, and pumping was so exhausting and frustrating for me.
They tell you “Every drop is valuable! Keep trying!” But nothing in my life has made me feel more inadequate as a human than pumping. Long after I stopped pumping, I gathered up my pump parts and put them in our garage in a paper grocery bag. One of the parts (the horn shaped thing that goes on your breast, specifically) fell out of the bag one day and in the path of my vehicle. Is it bad that I ran over that thing on purpose? Is it bad how amazing that felt? I hope people will pick up on my sarcasm here!
What got you through the tough times?
We are followers of Christ, and without a doubt, it is our faith that got us through. We were lucky in that we had so many people praying for our baby, people we had never met and probably never will were praying for us and for Elsie. I believe it gave us strength that we didn’t know we had. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of prayer and speaking God’s word and attribute it to Elsie’s progress and growth during those NICU weeks.
Every time I’d leave the NICU for the night, I’d say to Elsie, “You’re a strong girl, you’re a brave girl. God has a plan for you.” Now that I look back, I think I was saying this as much to myself as I was to her. I still tell her this every day.
How was it relating to friends and family during your NICU stay?
We are pretty lucky in that we have a pretty extensive group of family and friends that were incredibly supportive of us during our NICU days. Most of our family members live all over the United States, so we kept everyone informed via text and social media.
Some aspects of NICU life are hard to explain, but for the most part we kept everyone in the loop well informed of her progress. I think they all knew how much we had been through even trying to get pregnant, so it always felt good to know they were right alongside us in the trenches, encouraging us.
What kinds of things did people do for you that helped make the NICU stay easier?
We had a lot of generous people bring us meals, we received gas cards and Starbucks cards. Our next door neighbor paid her lawn service to mow our lawn when they came to do hers, which was huge at the time. You just don’t have a lot of spare time for those types of household chores and it was nice to not have to think about it.
You went back to work during Elsie’s 10 week NICU stay. How did you balance work and a child in NICU?
I had a very unique situation in that I work I work in the Marketing and Communications department of St. John Health System in Tulsa where Elsie was in the NICU. I was able to go down to the NICU floor on my breaks to pump, change diapers, do feedings and talk to the doctors, nurses and therapists. I am so thankful for a boss who was so supportive and encouraging to me during that time. To work on a team that always emphasizes the importance of family was crucial. To know that they understood what I was going through and how supportive they were was so helpful to me. The whole team that I work with was a huge blessing to me and I will always be grateful for their compassion. It is truly the mark of a great employer.
We finally connected over coffee. Were you able to connect to other preemie moms during your NICU stay?
Man, I was so glad to have met you! It felt so good to talk and bond with someone that knew the lingo like “Bradys” and “Sats” and the significance of simple milestones.
Every now and again, I’ll see a preemie parent in our hospital cafeteria where I work- you know them because they’re wearing the sticker with the room number on it. I say hello and tell them that my baby was up there too, that they are in great hands. We usually chat for a few minutes and exchange stories, and then I pay for their meal as my way of paying forward all the times I was cared for by others.
What would you tell a mom who has a preemie baby in NICU right now?
If you live close enough to your hospital, go home. Get rest. Your baby is in the best possible hands. I believe NICU nurses are angels walking on this earth, and they know your baby’s needs. Our nurses became like family to us. Trust your nurses and be nice to them. They understand that it’s frustrating not to get to take your baby home right away like a full-term baby. They want what is best for your baby to get them home as quickly and as healthy as possible.
Don’t ever feel like you’re asking too many questions, you are your baby’s best advocate. But, stay away from Google. It will only terrify you and make you feel doubtful. Your baby’s experience is unique, and comparing to others in your situation will only make you feel worse.
And take as many diapers home as possible towards the end! In most hospitals, I think once a package is open, it’s yours. Our nurses would wink and nudge us and say, “Oh this package is open, you need to take it home with you.”
How is your preemie today?
She is doing great, she is such a joy! She just turned four a few weeks ago, is starting pre-k this fall and loves anything sparkly and glittery. Before, the milestones were how many ounces she gained and holding her own temperature, and now it’s getting to pick out her first lunch box and meeting her teacher. It’s all still exciting!
She’s pretty tall for her age, we think she inherited a little height from her Grandpa. She is talkative and inquisitive, asks a million questions a day. (The “why?” phase is tons of fun.) She is playful and loves being a helper. She also loves music and dancing. She is a Beatles fan!
I always say preemie moms deserve a merit badge. What merit badges do you think you have earned?
Oh, I love this question. I think changing a diaper sideways through two isolette holes with T-Rex arms is a merit badge, for sure. If you’ve ever cheered after weighing a dirty diaper, that’s a badge. When you only get enough milk on that first pumping attempt to fill up a Q-tip swab that they will rub on your baby’s teeny lips because it’s basically liquid gold? Badge. If you’ve ever had to cluster pump or “power pump” that’s a badge, hands down. That should actually be a crown, now that I think about it.