When Tessa Bryant’s daughter Raven was born at 28 weeks she wasn’t breathing and was told she would not survive. Despite numerous medical complications, the feisty girl proved the professionals wrong and was finally discharged after 15 months in NICU with the skills to manage several critical health issues plus a tracheostomy and gtube placed.
Tessa and Raven are the epitome of the catchphrases “Fight Like a Preemie” and “Preemie Power.” Get to know their incredible story.
What were the circumstances of Raven’s premature birth?
There were several issues that led up to Raven’s early birth. IUGR, No/low fluid, dying placenta (it was hard, grey, and the size of a golf ball at delivery), Pre E, and Two vessel cord were the main issues. I was at the doctors several times a week for monitoring, and one day I realized that I had not felt Raven move. I tried to think nothing of it, but I just had a bad gut feeling. The next day I went to my weekly appointment, and Raven failed her BPP ultrasound despite the tech trying everything to get her to move.
She was born by emergency C-section on Feb. 4, 2014 but she was not breathing. Doctors were able to resuscitate and transferred her to a higher level NICU two hours away during a horrible snow storm. I will never forget being so terrified that something would happen to her before I even got to see her for the first time. It would be four days before my husband and I could see her.
When did you get to hold Raven for the first time?
Our nurse was amazing and allowed us to hold her the first day we got to visit her. We each were allowed to hold Raven for five minutes that day and it meant the world to us. She was so critical we weren’t sure if she would survive long enough for us to get the chance to hold her.
Raven had many health complications. What all was she dealing with?
Ultimately, she stayed in NICU for 15 months. During that time, Raven had many medical procedures due to her critical lung disease, bronco-pulmonary dysplasia (BPD). She was also diagnosed with congenital lobar emphysema, pulmonary hypertension, bicuspid aortic valve, mild aortic root dilation, agenesis of the corpus callosum (ACC), absent septum pellucidum, aortopulmonary collateral vessels, and hydronephrosis in her kidneys. She has undergone laser eye surgery for ROP (Retinopathy of prematurity). At eight months old, Raven had a tracheostomy and gtube placed.
What got you through the tough times?
Communicating with my husband and being there for one another. Updating her Facebook page, Prayers for Raven, for followers and seeing how many people were following and praying for our family. Having a strong relationship with her primary nurse, and taking this journey day by day. It was a miracle we were able to even conceive Raven, and we used her strength to inspire our strength.
What kinds of things did you do to feel more like a “regular” mom to Raven?
We took tons of pictures, bought clothing and dressed her daily. Buying her a new outfit and dressing her up really helped me. It made me feel like a “normal mom.” Bringing in toys that she could play with, doing hands-on care as soon as possible so that I could take care of my baby in any way I was allowed, and we decorated her NICU room for her first birthday, cake, party, and outfit included.
How was it relating to friends and family during your NICU stay with Raven?
It was very difficult, especially due to our extended stay. I didn’t know anyone who had had a stay that long at the time. There are certain things any person that has been through the NICU can relate to, but there are also a lot of things that friends who also had a NICU stay could not relate to. It was hard seeing friends and family having babies and bringing their babies home with them while we were still in the hospital not knowing if our child was going to even tolerate the sound of our voice that day.
Was there anything anyone did for you that helped make the NICU stay easier?
Everyone who showed us they cared and supported us was a huge help. Not being afraid to ask about Raven was a huge help, especially emotionally. Even though your baby isn’t home, you still want to talk about them and have them included. Talking to other moms who had been on the NICU journey also made the stay easier.
Did you have other children at home when Raven was born?
Yes, a two and a half year old son, Damien. He was a preemie as well, born at 35 weeks, 14 day NICU stay.
How did you balance a young son at home and a preemie in NICU?
This was extremely hard. Both children need you in different ways, and no matter what we did, I always felt like we were “choosing” one over the other. When you decide to stay home for a day and focus on your child at home, we always felt guilty for not being at the NICU, but the same was true when we had to leave our son. Finding childcare was difficult. Explaining to your two year old about why we had to drop him off with family every weekend, trying to explain to your two year old that they have a sibling, but that they can’t have or form a relationship with them yet. The kids didn’t get to meet until Raven was five months old due to hospital policy, and then they only got to spend time together a handful of times due to cold and flu season and various reasons. Having a child in the NICU, especially for an extended stay, is very, very hard on a family.
How is Raven today?
Raven is doing well these days. She is now almost four years old. She still has a tracheostomy and is feeding tube dependent. She had surgery this past February to remove over 80 percent of her left lung, and recovered like a champ. She loves dogs and loves her big brother. She definitely does not let anything slow her down, especially her diagnoses.
What would you tell a mom who has a preemie baby in NICU right now?
Stay strong. Take lots of pictures, and keep a journal of each and every day. The days are long and tiresome, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Ask any and all questions that you have, and if you don’t understand something, or want more information, ask again. Be as hands on as possible, as soon as possible, I feel this helps create that bond that us NICU mom’s feel like we miss out on.
I always say preemie moms deserve a merit badge. What merit badges do you think you have earned?
Medical warrior Momma for knowing Raven’s diagnoses and care in and out. This is something I take great pride in. It is an honor to fight this battle beside you, my precious warrior.