Low amniotic fluid and severe Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR) forced Stephanie Tillman to deliver her daughter early at 34 weeks weighing 2 pounds 12 ounces.
She fought depression while she balanced her preemie in NICU, home and work life but found comfort in her faith and the kindness of friends and family. Get to know Stephanie’s story.
What were the circumstances surrounding Kinsley’s premature birth?
I was considered high-risk from the beginning because of my advanced maternal age (I’m 38) but had no prior complications. I had gone in for my weekly visit at 34 weeks. At this appointment my doctor discovered that she had not grown since her previous ultrasound at 28 weeks. She also had barely any fluid around her. I was diagnosed with severe Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR). I was sent to the hospital to be given steroid shots and to be monitored. Early the next morning, her heart rate decelerated four times in 45 minutes and it was decided that they would do and emergency c-section.
Do you remember what it was like to see Kinsley for the first time? How old was she?
I was told I couldn’t see her until I felt my legs which were numb from the epidural. She was delivered at 5:01 p.m. and at 11 p.m. I asked to be wheeled to NICU. I HAD to see my baby. She was so tiny. I had never seen a baby so small in my life.
When did you get to hold Kinsley for the first time?
Holding her for the first time was the most amazing feeling ever. She was two days old when I first got to hold her.
What got you through the tough times?
What pulled me through was God’s grace and Christian music. We’re a Christian family and when I was sent to the hospital, I knew I had to put it ALL in God’s hands. Leaving the hospital without my baby was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. When I would leave the hospital from visiting her, I would turn on the radio (K-LOVE) and just sit and cry. I knew God was listening.
What kinds of things did you do to feel more like a “regular” mom to Kinsley?
Once discharged, I was at the hospital every chance I got—three to four times a day and anywhere from one hour to three hours each visit. I brought her clothes, blankets and things to decorate her isolette.
How was it relating to friends and family during your NICU stay?
My family and friends were very supportive but it was also difficult at times. It’s hard explaining the unknown to people. The first week, I was diagnosed with severe separation anxiety and I would sometimes isolate myself.
My doctor told me that it was normal to cry and be angry and to feel all the emotions I was feeling. I chose not to take medication because I didn’t want to feel “different” or have something affect me with the baby or at home. I cried A LOT but also turned to prayer, which helped me through it. I spent as much time with my daughter in NICU, which also helped.
Was there anything anyone did for you that helped make the NICU stay easier?
My family and coworkers went out and purchased preemie clothes. We were expecting to bring home a full-term baby. Preemie clothes had never crossed my mind. They made sure that she had clothes when she went home.
The nurses in the NICU were also incredible. They were there to explain the things I didn’t know or understand and answer all my questions.
Did you have other children at home at the time of this preemie’s birth?
I had a nine-year-old son at home. It was incredibly hard for him because he was not allowed to go into the NICU. He was only able to see his baby sister through pictures and videos. There were many times when I felt so guilty because I had to split my time. I wanted to be with both of them but my son was so strong and understanding.
How was having a preemie different than having a full-term baby?
There’s nothing, no books, no training, no classes, that can prepare you for having a preemie baby. Having to leave your child in the NICU while you go home or seeing other NICU babies being discharged before yours…I’ve never felt such pain in my life. From the many medical terms, diagnoses, many doctor visits to the feeding and caring–I’ve learned so much.
How did you balance having a child at home and a preemie in NICU?
I would visit Kinsley in the hospital while my son was at school. I would get him off the bus, then a sitter would come over so I could visit for the last hour before shift change. I would spend the evening with my son at home. My family would watch him on the weekends. This became my daily routine for almost a month.
You were working full-time when you had Kinsley. How did you balance work and a child in NICU?
I was not allowed in the NICU when the doctors were making their rounds and had to leave. My husband worked out of state and my son was at school. I did not want to be home alone and needed something to occupy my mind. So, I asked my employer if I could work while the doctor was doing rounds. I would go in for a couple of hours at my job as an accounting clerk and head back to the hospital once the doctor was done. I took a week off once she was discharged.
How is your preemie today?
Every now and then we hit a few bumps in the road but overall she’s doing great. She has an Occupational Therapist and Special Instructor that works with her on a weekly basis.
How is your preemie’s health today?
Today, we’re just dealing with larygomalacia and reflux. To me, these are minor compared to the beginning when she was diagnosed with bilateral grade I intraventricular hemorrhage (one on each side of the brain) and other diagnoses that we had no clue what they were.
What would you tell a mom who has a preemie baby in NICU right now?
I would tell them to surround themselves with lots of support, loving and caring family and friends, not to be afraid to ask for help because you will need help–from cooking meals, watching other children to cleaning up the house. It is not easy and sometimes it gets harder before it gets better but it does get better.
I always say preemie moms deserve a merit badge. What merit badges do you think you have earned?
For overcoming anxiety and depression and becoming stronger than I was before going into this.
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