Our 2020 NICU Birth Story – Brooks Koester
Written by Erin Koester
“When can he go home?” The question everyone was asking and the last thing I wanted to hear from people reaching out. No one wanted my baby to go home more than I did.
Saturday, February 1, 2020 started off like any other Saturday morning. Rudy, my husband, and I went to the gym, ran some errands and then headed home to get some things done around the house. I had been in a slight panic all week to get the nursery put together and did not really know why. Looking back, it’s like I had known Brooks was going to make an early arrival. I scurried around the house all day washing all of the bedding and clothes and getting things set up in the nursery.
As you do when you’re pregnant, I started getting ready for bed around 8 p.m. or so. I felt a slight gush while I was getting ready for bed and thought it was weird but didn’t think entirely too much of it. I continued to get ready for bed and then joined Rudy on the couch to watch some Netflix before calling it a night. I remember laying down and feeling a large gush this time. I laid there for a second in a panic before saying anything to Rudy; then, I sat up and said I think my water just broke. He looked at me in disbelief and told me to call First Nurse and see if they thought I should come in to be evaluated. I called First Nurse and they said to get to the ER as quickly as we could; I was 32 weeks pregnant. I remember gathering some things together in a complete fog and panic and Rudy saying it’s okay, we’ll get you checked out and we’ll come back home; I had a gut feeling that wouldn’t be the case.
We drove to Mary Greeley Medical Center (MGMC) in Ames because that is where we had planned to deliver. They ran some tests including checking the fluid to see if it was amniotic fluid to determine whether or not my water had broken; the test came back confirming that it was my water that had broken. MGMC doesn’t deliver babies prior to 34 weeks gestation which meant I would need to take an ambulance ride to Mercy in Des Moines. Rudy drove separately so that we would have a vehicle at the hospital which meant I was alone in the ambulance from Ames to Des Moines. I don’t remember much about the ride except for the crippling fear I felt for my baby and what it would mean for my baby to be born at 32 weeks.
I arrived at Mercy and was taken up to a room where the sweetest nurse looked at me and said, “It sounds like you’re going to be hanging out with us for a couple of weeks.” This was the first time I had been told that I wasn’t going to have to deliver my baby that evening; I have never felt so relieved in my entire life. Mercy has a wing in their hospital dedicated to helping women stay pregnant; I had no idea such a wing existed! I didn’t have any other signs of labor other than premature fluid leaking so the plan was to keep me pregnant, if possible, until 34 weeks.
At 34 weeks, they would have to induce me because the fluid could become infected at that point and harm the baby. Anyone who knows me knows that I am an avid exerciser and am always on the move. However, when the doctor told me my goal and job for the next two weeks was to stay pregnant, I took that very seriously. I wanted to do anything and everything I could to help my baby stay safe and grow while in the womb. We were told that every day the baby could stay in the womb would save us 2-3 days in the NICU. I was extremely cautious and for the next two weeks, with bated breath, I only moved around my hospital room to get things I absolutely needed, to get water, or to use the restroom and shower; I have never moved so little in my entire life and I would do it again in a second to protect and help my baby.
I made it through the next two weeks without any further signs of labor, hurray! The plan was to induce me the morning of February 15, 2020 at 34 weeks pregnant. They started to induce me around 9 a.m.; by 6 p.m. I was still only dilated 5 centimeters. A new doctor had just come on shift and decided to check me (I hadn’t had a doctor check me all day). She noticed there was a bag of fluid that needed to be broken; she figured this was why things were taking so long to progress. She broke the bag of fluid and things started progressing quickly; thank goodness for that doctor! The contractions started hitting harder and more quickly. I remember telling Rudy around 8 centimeters that I couldn’t do it and needed the epidural. Rudy was so calm and steadfast and knew that, ultimately, that wasn’t what I wanted even though I wanted it pretty bad in that moment, ha! He talked me off the ledge and told me it was too late and that I could do it; he gave me so much strength, courage and determination in that moment – I’ll never forget it.
Eventually, they moved us into the operating room to deliver, as they do with premature babies. I had a wonderful nurse coaching me through my contractions and pushes and was able to get baby out in six pushes. Brooks Cain Koester was born at 8 p.m. at 5 lbs 8 oz – only two hours after the bag of fluid was broken. We didn’t find out the gender ahead of time so it was very exciting to hear Rudy proclaim, “It’s a BOY!”
I remember Brooks came out screaming which was THE best sound, because it meant he was breathing on his own, and then he was whisked away. A few minutes later they came back with him in a little incubator so that I could see him for a moment before they took him to the NICU. Although delivery went great, especially considering Brooks was six weeks early, I had envisioned holding my baby on my chest right after delivery for that special bonding experience I had dreamt about and I felt robbed, and extremely sad about missing out on that experience. I was put in a hospital room for two hours before I was allowed to go up to the NICU to visit Brooks. Thank goodness for our sweet birth photographer who kept me company in my room while Rudy was up in the NICU with Brooks; I would’ve hated being alone right after delivery. Rudy joined me in my hospital room and shortly after, we went up to meet Brooks together.
I have never felt so overcome with love and emotion; he was perfect and he was ours – our world was forever changed. I knew we would be spending time in the NICU but to be completely honest, I thought we would be in the NICU two weeks or so but Brooks had other plans. We spent 27 days in the NICU at Mercy One Medical Center. Brooks didn’t need any sort of assistance breathing throughout our duration in the NICU. Brooks struggled with jaundice; the poor guy came out face first during delivery causing a lot of bruising which made it difficult for his liver to keep up while also fully developing at the same time. Brooks was in and out of the blue lights most of his time in the NICU. The problem with Brooks needing to be under the lights for his jaundice was that it made it very difficult for us to hold, cuddle and bond with him as much as we would have liked. The lights also made him very tired which, unfortunately, slowed down his motivation and ability to nurse or drink bottles on his own; therefore, extending our time in the NICU. Brooks was mostly fed via feeding tube the first three weeks of his little life.
Each day we arrived in Brooks’ room around 6:45 a.m. and left around 6 p.m. to head home; they were long days. I dreaded leaving him alone in his hospital room every night and cried either leaving him or on the ride home most nights. It was really traumatic and sad to have to spend so much time away from my newborn when all I wanted to do was cuddle and love on him but I knew he was where he needed to be and that I needed to go home at night to try to rest and get a little break before doing it all over again the next day.
On Wednesday, March 11 we walked into Brooks’ room and the night nurse told us that Brooks had done bottle feedings for every feeding through the night. We were floored and couldn’t believe it! To get out of the NICU, Brooks needed to be able to eat on his own for 48 continuous hours without assistance from the feeding tube. We had been working with him for weeks on breastfeeding and learning how to drink from a bottle to see which eating method worked best for him. Brooks continued to do well with bottles over the next two days and we were discharged from the NICU on Friday, March 13. We got out of the NICU literally the day before the world shut down and was quarantined for COVID-19. Rudy and I joke that Brooks knew what was coming and didn’t want any part of it!
I am still healing from our NICU experience but am so proud of Brooks and how much he has learned and developed these last 12 months. We are so happy and thankful he’s healthy and we love him more than words can express! We didn’t expect the NICU to be a part of our birth story but it was and we’re thankful for the journey that got us where we are today with our sweet Brooks.
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