A year ago today I was admitted to NYU hospital 25 weeks into my first pregnancy. Shocked to say the least, I didn’t really know what was going on. I guess I should start from the beginning…
My husband and I went to my 25 week sonogram one Friday afternoon. I felt terrible. I knew pregnancy came with its set of aches and pains but I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be. I had a chronic stomach condition called gastro paresis which in its simplest definition means my digestion was very slow, but even slower due to my pregnant belly. I had pain, nausea; I was up all night feeling sick and slept through the following day since I was up through the night, every night. My husband was my hero, at my every beck and call, holding a white garbage bag open for me every time I thought I was going to puke, holding my hand reminding me that we’d get through this hard time.
Little did I know things were about to get worse – much worse. The sonogram seemed to be going fine, the technician didn’t seem alarmed, and she had a smile on her face the whole time while measuring my unborn child’s limbs. Minutes later we were sitting in the doctor’s office as he was explaining that the baby wasn’t growing inside my uterus. Then he said “you have to go to the hospital, you’re starting to get sick”. I didn’t understand. Physically I’ve been feeling terrible but I thought that’s what pregnancy was – after all I was growing a human being inside my body. I remembered earlier in the visit the nurse taking my blood pressure asking me if I had history with high blood pressure. Confused I looked at her and said “No, never…why?” She informed me that my blood pressure was high. I then got on the scale and she said that I had gained 26 pounds from my last doctor’s visit which was 3 weeks ago. It all wasn’t making sense. I was hardly eating due to my stomach issues. I asked the doctor for some clarification. He in not so many words stated that I had preeclampsia that I was going to have a premature baby, that I would be delivering within the month, and that I needed to be admitted to the hospital today before I started to get sicker. Dazed and confused for lack of a better term we followed him into another office where he asked if we understood what he was saying. I shook my head no.
I really didn’t understand. I never heard of preeclampsia, I wasn’t familiar with its symptoms or what it could do to me. I called my mother and told her we were on our way to NYU, that my blood pressure was high. She frantically said she was on her way and hung up the phone. During the next few days reality began to sink in. Things were explained further, where the doctors informed me that preeclampsia means I had protein in my urine, it also meant that my body was rejecting the placenta of my child and was fighting against it. The weight I was gaining was almost entirely water that my body was retaining. I got admitted on a Friday and by Saturday night my body blew up. I didn’t recognize my arms, my ankles, and my face. I remember waking up one morning and looking in the mirror and thinking “that’s not my face, who is that”. My hands began to bloat so much that it was hard to open and close them. I remember starring at my ankles wondering how they got to be that huge. Every day that passed it became harder and harder to stay positive. My back was in so much pain from carrying all this extra weight; I got woken up every 4 hours so that they could take my blood pressure as it continued to rise. The silver lining in all this (if you chose to see it) was that they were monitoring the baby as well and she was doing well. There was never an issue, her heart beat was strong baruch Hashem. I couldn’t help but feel responsible. Something I did must have caused this. I felt as though it was my fault that she was going to have to come out of my stomach so early that I wasn’t giving her a chance to grow. At the same time I felt so sick physically. I could hardly manage the physical pain let alone the emotional.
Having said all this, the support system around me was immeasurable. I didn’t know it at the time, but the community was praying for me. People I knew and people I didn’t were saying Tehillim for me. From the time I was young I always knew how lucky I was to be a part of such an amazing community that sincerely cared for its members and always did what they could to help one another in times of crisis. But I’m not sure I ever experienced it first hand, where I was the one in need of such support. My phone was a continuous stream of “I love you” and I’m here for you”, and “let me know if you need anything” texts. My friends came to visit me, I tried to act as normal as possible. I almost tried to be entertaining as I didn’t want anyone to worry about how I was doing (although looking at me physically you didn’t really have to guess something was wrong).
A few days went by and the goal remained the same. Keeps the baby inside of me for as long as possible without something critical happening to me? The concern with preeclampsia is that if my body continues to fight the placenta you could have a seizure, a heart attack, and multiple other things I’m choosing not to name. The only way to cure me was to deliver the baby. The doctors would check me every day, check the protein in my urine, check my rising blood pressure, and how much water my body was retaining. My ankles continued to swell, as did my hands, arms and legs. My vision started to blur. The doctor came in on Wednesday morning and felt my calf muscles and my ankles. He put me on a scale and I had gained more weight. I remember his words exactly, “I guess the writings on the wall, today’s the day”. I called my family and told them I was having a baby today, the 6th day of my 25thweek of pregnancy. Jamie and I hugged each other and cried. We opened Tehillim and began to pray. I almost remember thinking ‘this is what Hashem wants to happen; it’s going to be ok’. The rest of that day was such a blur. I remember just sitting in that hospital bed waiting for them to come get me. Finally, it was time. They came and pushed my bed out of my room, passed the waiting room of my family, all sitting and praying. The ‘funny’ thing is I wasn’t scared. Might have been all the drugs I was on, the exhaustion of the last few days, the surreal ness of what was happening but I almost wanted to tell everyone it was going to be ok. Jamie held my hand, his voice in my ear was such a comfort, knowing I wasn’t alone and that I had my best friend by my side. He doesn’t know it but he’s the reason I survived. He’s the reason I made it through those days. Without him I would’ve crumbled over and over again.
I had a c-section and delivered a baby girl. She measured at 1 pound 5 ounces. She was sent to the NYU NICU where we spent the next 4 months of our lives. It’s such a mix of emotions – the blessing and miracle to have a child, being a mother for the first time, but at the same time worried about what was going to happen from here. I wasn’t allowed to see her after she was born as I was still recovering from surgery and not able to get up or do much on my own. Jamie sent me pictures, and as I looked at them I still don’t think I fully understood what had happened.
I got discharged from the hospital a few days later – mostly because I demanded to go home. My blood pressure was still high, and my body was sweating out all the water weight I had accumulated over the last few weeks. I would wake up in puddles of sweat as the weight began to shed. Regardless, I needed to go home. I needed to get myself together, get some rest without an IV in my arm, and being woken up for a blood pressure check every hour. The doctor gave us strict instruction – Jamie was to take my pressure 3-4 times a day and if I ever hit above or below a certain number I had to come back to the hospital. The next few days I rested as Jamie went back and forth from the hospital to see our little 1.5 pound baby. After a few days I firmly said ‘I want to go see her”. During the first week we were there the doctors had what they call a family meeting. We sat in a small room with several doctors as they informed us of how small Gracie was, and what it was going to take for her to survive. They asked us how aggressive we wanted them to be with her treatment. Those words echoed in my head for months. How aggressive we wanted them to be? What did that mean? She’s my daughter be (bleeping) aggressive! It was obvious that they were preparing us for the worst possible outcome, one that I internally wasn’t able to fathom. The days passed slowly, we sat by her incubator and watched her monitors. I watched the lines that showed her heart rate, her breathing, and her oxygen level. I watched as her oxygen went so low that doctors had to manually pump some into her body to make the numbers go back up. I watched them prick the heels of her tiny feet multiple times a day so that they could check her blood levels. The first 2 weeks or so I wasn’t even allowed to hold her because she was so small and fragile and hooked up to several different machines. We would stay by her side as long as we could, but I was still recovering from a c-section and not back to my full strength yet so we would hold her little hand and let her hear our voice, and tell her we’d be back tomorrow.
Calling the hospital at night was one of the hardest parts for me. If they didn’t answer right away I’d think something was terribly wrong (mind you there were a whole room of babies that doctors and nurses were attending to yet I couldn’t understand why they weren’t picking up the phone). As they put me on hold to get Gracie’s nurse my heart began to race. What I learned is that being in the nicu is a rollercoaster. Similar to life – some days are good, and some are bad, and sometimes you have to take 2 steps backward in order to take 1 step forward. An example of this was after about a month and a half they were rumors of taking Gracie’s breathing tube out. I was jumping up and down. We watched as they extabated her and put on a c-pap (a breathing aid) on her face, which meant she was actually breathing on her own. I was so proud of her. But then the following week her numbers began to drop and they had to put the tube back in. Needless to say I was so upset – but the nicu team didn’t want her to work so hard to breathe – after all she was only 2-3 pounds at that point. The following week I called the hospital in the morning before I went there. The nurse got on the phone and told me how my daughter extabated herself the night before. She pulled her breathing tube out. Knowing Gracie today I’m not surprised, but then our thoughts were “Seriously? My little 2 pound baby pull out her tube?”. She decided she was done with it and was ready to breathe on her own. Just a glimpse into her personality and her strength.
To be honest while we were going through this time I was partially numb. I had to be or I wouldn’t have been able to live it. The point of this article isn’t to necessarily explain each and every painful moment, or describe every day of our 4 month stay at the nicu. The point is to illustrate the truest example of the strength and compassion of Hashem, and what I believe to be human nature at its finest. The lengths that we as a community went to keep my baby alive were above and beyond. I knew for myself as her mother, I would do anything I had to to persuade Hashem to let us bring her home healthy and happy. I began to pray every day. I cried, I begged. I stood in my apartment day after day and cried and pleaded with Hashem during Amdahl. I told him that I needed him, I needed him to stay with us, and I needed him to stay with her. I needed him to give me the strength to push through and get through this. Obviously Jamie’s prayers were of the same context. They say that Hashem only gives you trials and tribulations because He wants you to be close to him, to strengthen your relationship with Him. I’m almost embarrassed to say that we needed such a wake up call but we did. They say the more you look for Hashem the more He looks for you – so I began to look for him everywhere. Rabbi Haber’s quote stayed in my mind all the time – “the goal is prayer, the situation is the means – every time you pray, you grow”.
I’m not sure our prayers weren’t enough, but what I am sure of is that the prayers and mitzvoth that countless people were doing around us “made” Hashem listen. We had berachot parties, we had hafrasha challah classes, and Ricky Cohen gave a class on emuna in Gracie’s zechut. Everyone came, everyone participated, everyone prayed. Rabbi Azancot put me in touch with Rabbi Lifshitz in Israel and I asked him to please pray for my daughter as hard as he could. While speaking to him he told me she was going to be ok – I was scared to believe him. I got a text from someone that Rabbi Attiye was in from Israel and seeing people for berachot, advice etc. He gave us his cell phone number and told me to call him weekly to let him know how she was doing. I went to visit Rabbi Leiberman A”H who at the time was in the same hospital – he gave her a beracha from his hospital bed. I began wearing skirts, we turned the TV off on Shabbat, and we began saying berachot before we ate or drank anything. We went to shul on Shabbat. We said Keryat Shema every night.
Hashem blessed us with so many Shaliachs along the way. He put people in the nicu that kept us strong on a daily basis. He blessed us with amazing nurses that became our family after a while. One in particular cared for Gracie as her own – she would try and show us Gracie’s personality in the little things she did. She would constantly say how she was such a fighter. The word ‘feisty’ was constantly used to describe her as she wouldn’t let the nurses put her c-pap on (there was a mask that had to be strapped to her nose and my little 3 pound needed people to hold her down in order to get it on her). Hashem blessed us with an amazing nurse practitioner named Michelle who sat and ran us through each machine, and what each number meant as many times as we needed her to.
He also made sure to give me a source of Chizuk when I needed it. On a day that I was feeling sad and overwhelmed, I went into a Judaica on Kings Highway to get a little Tehillim book to put in her incubator. As I paid the women behind the counter mentioned to me that this size Tehillim book goes under the mattress in a crib, I asked her ‘what about an incubator?’ I told her a little about Gracie and she asked for her name and promised to pray for her daily. Someone else in the store – a complete stranger over heard me talking and began telling me about her daughter who almost died in the hospital from pneumonia and how the doctors told her terrible things but Baruch Hashem she was standing in the store right next to me. Whenever I was getting down Hashem made sure to remind me how blessed we were.
Gracie came home after 4 long months in the NYU nicu. She came home without any breathing aids; she came home without a feeding tube. These 4 months were by far and away the hardest of my life, and to this day I wonder how I got through it. And then I remember: Hashem guided me through it. Hashem stayed with us, Hashem stayed with Gracie when I couldn’t. Hashem blessed us with countless friends and strangers who continuously and consistently prayed for our daughter on a daily basis. Hashem blessed me with an amazing husband who kept me on the ground on my worst days, who held me when I cried, who reminded me how strong our little girl was.
Gracie just turned a year old Baruch Hashem on April 25th, 2013. She’s a beautiful, amazing, strong little girl. She is the reason I get up in the morning – to see her beautiful smile, to look into her crystal blue eyes. To remember that nothing is stronger than Hashem’s love, and the power of prayer. To remember that people are good, not evil (contrary to every news story out there). That when we as a family were at our absolute lowest, our community pulled us back to life with their warmth, generosity, and sincere love and care.