“I felt like my body was failing me.”
Megan Harlan, an active, healthy fitness studio owner and instructor, was wrapping up a typical class at one of her two Tulsa Pure Barre studios when she went into labor. She was 34 weeks pregnant.
“I had gone to the doctor that day,” Megan said. “Everything looked normal. I had not had a single contraction.”
Her first call was to her business partner, Katrina Morgan. They were busy running two studios, teaching classes, managing staff and planning a grand opening for their second studio.
“I called my doctor. I called my husband. I drove home and packed a bag. Everything happened so fast,” Megan said.
At 4:30 p.m. that day, Megan felt like she had plenty of time to complete her nursery, attend an upcoming baby shower in her honor and celebrate with her team at the grand opening. Eight hours later, she was a preemie mom.
Megan graciously shared her story.
Do they know why your son, Landon, was born six weeks early?
They did not. They knew nothing. We knew nothing. We never went to our birthing class. We didn’t get the tour of the hospital. When we got there, we didn’t even know where we were going.
I was progressing so quickly there wasn’t much time to monitor him to learn more. My doctor wasn’t there. I wasn’t in a labor and delivery room or delivery bed because everything happened so fast. He was measuring over five pounds, so they didn’t give me any medication for him. They couldn’t even get an ultrasound machine into the room in time. They offered to give me an epidural, but before it kicked in I was already fully dilated and pushing. I got to the hospital at 6 p.m. and had him before midnight.
What was the most difficult part of having a baby born prematurely?
It was overwhelming at first, but it was probably good that it was my first child because I didn’t know how nervous I should be.
He wasn’t crying. He made some kind of noise, but they rushed him out right away because they didn’t know what was happening or why he was early. I got to see him later that night for the first time and held him the next day. He was hooked up to several monitors.
I was only able to stay at the hospital for two days. Then, I had to go home. I was there every day, and I would stay because I was trying to breast feed and pump. Leaving each day was so hard. At the same time, it was draining to be there. Walking down those halls and seeing other babies that were in such worse situations. I remember a family across the hall that had twins, and I know they had been there for months.
How did you balance your duties co-owning a business and a child in NICU?
My business partner and I had talked a little bit. We own the businesses, which helped, but is also difficult at the same time. We had decided we’d take four weeks of maternity leave, and then we would slowly come back. I was in the NICU with Landon for over three weeks. I would work on our newsletters, social media and other things I could do on a laptop in NICU. At four weeks, I went back to work.
My business partner is also my friend and was flexible and supportive, but we run two studios. I teach classes. We only had a certain amount of employees. I think, as a business owner, you put that on yourself. “I need to be back and do my job.” You can rely on your team, but you feel like you could be letting someone down.
What kinds of things did you do to feel more like a “regular” mom to your preemie?
I changed his diaper, fed him, put clothes on him from home and anything else they would let me do when I was there. I didn’t want the nurses to do those things when I could. I never would have understood that before. I think, until you stay in the NICU, you don’t understand. I now have a special place in my heart for people that have to stay in NICU.
How was it relating to friends and family during your NICU stay?
It was difficult, at times, to relate. People don’t understand how you feel. You feel let down. Like, YOUR body did it. I remember sometimes the worst comments were, “At least you didn’t have to go that whole last month.” People are trying to make you feel better talking about how miserable it is, but it was the only thing I wanted to do, to be able to go that last month. So, occasionally comments that were meant to be “pick-you-ups” were crushing, and I didn’t say anything.
I tried to balance what I shared. I didn’t want to tell everyone the bad stuff. I wanted to say “we’re good”, but it was hard.
There was a specific moment that they told us that if Landon didn’t have any bradycardias, a drop in heart rate, that he could go home. They even suggested we stay the night. So, I stayed the night up there by myself and got up to feed him and weigh him. His alarms never went off. He had passed his car seat test. So, they had told us we were going home. We started filling out discharge paperwork. Then, they came back in and told us they saw a bradycardia on the monitor that they hadn’t caught from the night before. The monitors hadn’t gone off, so they told us he had to stay.
I’m not a crying person. I generally held it together until then. But I think I cried for hours and hours after that. I was just so emotionally drained at that point. I didn’t tell anybody that. Our families knew. Other than that, it’s just not something you could share with people.
What got you through the tough times?
So many people. My husband was my rock, along with our family and friends. Having people come visit me in the NICU or bring a meal so that we didn’t have to worry about it helped so much.
Our clients are amazing. I had so many clients come to my home and bring us meals. We have a lot of clients that are nurses at the hospital where I delivered. They would show up with bags full of stuff to do and snacks.
The mother of a good friend of mine is head of preemie development in the NICU. It was amazing to have someone on staff I felt super comfortable with and who had seen it all, and I could ask her questions.
Also, the lactation specialist at the Saint Francis NICU is an angel sent from heaven! I found out that many people call her “Lactina” (her name is Tina). She helped me get through trying to learn how to breastfeed a preemie.
What would you tell a mom who has a preemie baby in NICU right now?
It seems like you are in the NICU forever, but one day you will hopefully look back and realize it was a short time in the grand scheme of things. Also, take care of yourself. The NICU can be lonely and depressing. Allow yourself time to leave the room to get food, take a shower and get some fresh air.
How is Landon today?
A happy and healthy two-year-old! He is in the 70th percentile in height!
Your daughter, Payton, now eight months old, who was born full-term. How was having a preemie different than having a full-term baby?
Because Landon was early, I was considered high-risk and was assigned a high-risk doctor. I had to take medication by injection. At six months, they felt like my cervix was thinning, suggested I go on modified bedrest and warned me if I didn’t then my daughter could come early, too.
I remember talking to my business partner and telling her I couldn’t teach. She was also pregnant, so the timing was terrible. I felt like my body was failing me again.
I marked every new week, like, “We’re here. Thirty-four…Thirty-five.” They took me off the shots at 36 weeks, and about a week later I went into labor.
Everything was different, from getting to hold Payton after delivery, her staying in our room during the hospital stay and going home all together after only a few days.
I always say preemie moms deserve a merit badge. What merit badges do you think you have earned?
My merit badge would definitely be learning how to navigate the hospital scale. I weighed Landon before he ate and after every feeding. That required me to learn how to unhook cords and do quick math.
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