After three frustrating years of fertility issues, Kristina Mulligan of Highland, New York learned she was pregnant with her son Flynn in 2016. Disturbing data from her routine glucose test appointment at 27 weeks showed she had advanced preeclampsia symptoms. She welcomed her preemie, Flynn, 12 weeks early at 28 weeks gestation.
Making Flynn’s NICU room a home-away-from home with decorations and plenty of books to read together helped Kristina through the seven week NICU stay. She wrote about her experience with preeclampsia, NICU life and how she’s dealing with guilt over Flynn’s premature birth on her blog Just Brave Enough and encourages preemie moms on the Instagram account @thegoodvibetribeny.
See why Kristina said she’s earned the “best dressed incubator” Preemie Mom Merit Badge in her Preemie Mom Story.
Preemie Mom Story: Kristina Mulligan
What were the circumstances surrounding Flynn’s premature birth?
I went to my routine glucose test appointment during my 27th week. Two days later, I was at work when I called for my results. The nurse that I was speaking to was reading the report, when she suddenly stopped and said that she wanted to review something with the doctor and give me a call back. She immediately called me back and I was told to head straight to triage at Vassar Hospital; my protein levels were exponentially higher than they should have been and they wanted to do some additional testing.
I was too scared to drive so I called my mom and then my husband to arrange for him to drive me to be the hospital. I expected to get some blood drawn, maybe be hooked up to a monitor, but I was unprepared to get admitted and make arrangements to have a baby sometime that weekend, if not that night.
I was officially diagnosed with preeclampsia. There weren’t any outward symptoms, but my blood pressure upon being admitted was 170/120 and my protein levels were so high that they thought it was originally a lab error. They were able to keep Flynn in past the 28 week point and he was delivered on my third day in the hospital via c-section.
Do you remember what it was like to see Flynn for the first time?
I remember being afraid to see him for the first time. I had been told numerous times that he wasn’t going to look like other babies that I had seen – that he was going to be shockingly tiny, his skin would be translucent, and that he most likely wouldn’t cry when he was born. I knew that because of the situation, I may not be able to see Flynn right away and that he may need to be taken to the NICU quickly. Mentally, I was prepared. However, I was still terrified that I was going to be afraid of him. As soon as he was born, though, I was able to get a quick glimpse before they whisked him away. He was the most beautiful thing that I ever laid my eyes on.
Do you remember what it was like to hold Flynn for the first time?
Two days after he was born and I was more stable, I was able to hold Flynn for the first time. It had to be brief so that his body temperature didn’t drop and he didn’t get overly stimulated, but it was an indescribably amazing few minutes. Before meeting him, I tried to picture what two pounds would look and feel like, but it’s impossible. It’s even smaller than you can ever imagine.
What got you through the tough times?
I am very lucky and have a pretty amazing husband who was my rock. He had to balance time with me, Flynn, and work to support our family. I also have an incredible mom, dad, and sister who made sure that I was never alone. They made sure I could get back and forth from the hospital, kept me company for as long as I wanted, and listened to me whenever I needed it.
What kinds of things did you do to feel more like a “regular” mom to Flynn?
I still don’t feel like a “regular” mom a lot of the time. Back when Flynn was still in the NICU, it was very difficult to fit in with other moms. I was very much made to feel that I was a mother who day after day left their baby behind. I tried to make Flynn’s nursery as perfect as I could. I took a lot of pictures to show him off. Most of our time spent together, I read to him because I had been building his library for years before I even found out that I was pregnant.
How was it relating to friends and family during your NICU stay?
I felt very lonely and like no one wanted to be around me because I was a burden. Very few people asked about Flynn in a non-medical way and that made me sad, mostly for him. I felt guilty that he didn’t get a real “welcome” into the world. His whole life he was just a “patient” and not a baby.
How is Flynn today?
Overall, Flynn is very healthy and we are extremely lucky. He just turned one year old and is starting to sit up on his own and pull himself to kneel. He has also mastered the army crawl! I love watching him explore and learn new things. It’s my all-time favorite thing! It’s like I can see the gears turning in his head.
He does have benign external hydracephaly, which basically means that he has excess fluid on his brain. Right now, he is just being watched closely. His eyes are also being monitored because they drift outwardly, so he may need glasses. It’s likely a condition called intermittent exotropia.
Flynn attends physical therapy once a week and we are waiting for his speech and occupational therapies to begin. We are being referred to a specialist to get him fitted for leg braces to fix some hypermobility before he learns how to stand.
These are things that, of course, I carry guilt over. I feel badly that I couldn’t protect him longer and maybe prevent these things from happening. On the other hand, he is alive. He is breathing and thriving and these things don’t get in the way of that. He is here and perfect regardless.
What would you tell a mom who has a preemie baby in NICU right now?
You are a mom. You are an amazing mom doing everything that you can for your baby. Don’t let anyone make you feel like any less.
Take advantage of all the support you can. Talk to other moms who are there in the NICU with you because they will have insight into what you’re going through. I would be lost now if I didn’t have the support from my other NICU moms.
Do not be afraid to pull away from those who don’t support you or provide you with the positive and understanding environment that you and your family need. There will be people that won’t respect your wishes or that will give you a difficult time and it’s not worth wasting your energy. Focus on your baby and those that rally around you.
This experience is going to change you. You are going to be a different person than you were before you entered those doors and that’s okay. You are in control and you can spin these changes into positives because you are a survivor. You are a warrior. You are a preemie mom.
I always say preemie moms deserve a merit badge. What merit badges do you think you have earned?
The “best dressed incubator” badge. I always made Flynn signs to decorate his space. Or maybe the “most Irish baby” badge. Flynn Reilly Mulligan in a leprechaun outfit. Doesn’t get luckier than that, ha!