830 grams. Considerably smaller than the “smallish” 933 grams of the ultrasound. In the world of the NICU, where weight is incredibly important, and each gram matters, the difference was huge.
Many months later, we found out that my placenta was in bad shape. It was half the size that it should have been and an odd shape. The umbilical cord was in the wrong place and there were large areas of dead tissue (probably from clots).
So, it wasn’t really surprising that our baby had Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR), and was weeks behind in growth. While many babies with restricted growth had regularly sized heads (“head sparing”), she had “symmetrical” restriction that affected her head (and her brain). This was an indication that she had been under pressure in the womb for a long time.
After the birth, Geoff followed the baby into the resuscitation room. But I was unable to see her until many hours later, when she was already installed in the NICU. Geoff (with assistance from my mom) finally convinced a nurse to take me down on a stretcher.
When we would visit the NICU, we first had to wash our hands very thoroughly with strong antibacterial soap at the door. Because of her early birth, our baby had missed out on almost all the antibodies that she would have received in the last weeks of pregnancy. Bacteria or viruses that would usually have very little or no impact could prove deadly to a preemie with virtually no immune system. We also had to call in using an internal phone before entering in case she or another baby nearby was having some sort of procedure.
The unit itself was a huge room, with rows of isolettes (incubators). Each isolette was next to a desk as well a numerous poles holding IV’s, monitors, oxygen tanks. The isolettes had covers or blankets on top to help shield the babies from the bright lights. And it was noisy, with loud and unpredictable bells going off somewhere in the room at pretty much all times. This happened every time a baby’s oxygen or heartrate dropped.
My baby was right at the front of the room. She was very thin, almost skeletal. And so tiny. She had wires everywhere: monitors for her oxygen and heartrate, an IV for feeding into her cord. When that fell out a few days later, she would get a PICC line. And her face was partially obscured by her ventilator.
It was shocking and upsetting. My most constant feeling in those early days was guilt. Guilt that my body had not been able to nourish her properly. Guilt that my life had been saved, possibly at her expense. Guilt that I had not recognized the symptoms earlier. Guilt that I had briefly wished, before her birth, that I had never gotten pregnant. Guilt that she was so sick and going through so much pain, and I, her mother, could do nothing.
After that first visit, we agreed that one of the names we had previously considered was appropriate. We named our daughter Audrey. It means “noble strength”.