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Our NICU Story: The Harringtons

No matter the differences in medical complications or care between NICU babies, parents feel the same emotions: trauma, sadness, fear, guilt, happiness and most importantly love.

An Unexpected Father’s Day Surprise

My water broke unexpectedly on June 14th (my husband’s birthday), and I was rushed to WakeMed where they hoped I would stay for the next 7 weeks, until our baby was 34 weeks gestation. I was nervous and scared but followed the doctor’s orders. However our son, Shepard, had other plans – and five days later (on Father’s Day), Shepard was born at 27 weeks gestation. He was 2 lbs. 11 oz.

We honestly didn’t have time to process anything because it all happened so quickly.  

Shepard was born at 8:44 pm, and I remember feeling relieved that he was here. However, the next morning, I felt fear unlike anything I had ever felt in my life when the doctor came to my room and said our son was born with a bacteria in his blood and they had begun antibiotics.

Our doctor explained the severity of the issue, and he explained that we needed time to pass to see if the antibiotics were working. At the time, they did not know what the bacteria was.  Days later, they discovered it was E. Coli, and Shepard would have to be on the antibiotics for 21 days.

Shepard Harrington

Dealing with Fear, Isolation

The strand of bacteria was resistant to two of the antibiotics, and Shepard had to be quarantined to prevent other babies in the NICU from contracting what they were then calling Meningitis. And once again I had never felt that much fear – the fear of the unknown, the fear of a phone call, the fear of not getting a phone call, the feeling like you just can’t catch your breath.

We could still visit our son anytime, but we had to wear gloves and a gown each time, as did the nurses. He was hooked up to so many tubes, and monitors were constantly going off.

After time, the monitors became such a familiar sound that they were the “new normal” for us.

Not Quite Ready for Celebrations

Everyone was congratulating us, friends and family wanted to come see the baby, but we didn’t feel much like celebrating. We didn’t want to talk for fear that something bad would happen. Every time the phone rang, I went into panic mode.

One of the worst days was my discharge day. Two days after Shepard was born, I was discharged and had to go home without my son. As you can imagine, this was traumatic and overwhelming.

To have gone through the birthing process as with a full-term baby but to go home empty-handed…

I drove back and forth to Raleigh every day for the next 55 days. There were other scary days, the day he had a blood transfusion, the many days he would stop breathing every time I held him and all the nurses would rush in. But there were also good days, days where we saw how hard he was fighting to survive, his will to live, days where we saw progress and felt incredibly proud.

I also felt guilt…did I do something to cause this?  Could I have prevented this?

After all these months I have worked through the guilt and know everything happens for a reason. He was meant to come into this world early and we were all meant to go through this experience.  Our faith helped us through.

Shepard is now almost 6 months old and is such a happy baby. He is smiling now, and I think before much longer -he will start to laugh.  He is such a joy, and he brings us so much happiness. We are so blessed to be his parents!

Our NICU Care Team

The WakeMed NICU care team made all the difference in our stay. The level of care and compassion shown to our son exceeded all expectations.

They were very concerned with Shepard’s level of comfort and also our comfort as parents. They went above and beyond to include us in his care and were very patient no matter how many times we needed something explained to us. We were alerted instantly of any changes in his care.

When I had to go back to work and he was still in the hospital, the (nurse practitioner) NP made a point to call me each day after meeting with the doctors to update me. This gave me so much peace of mind and helped me in my transition back to work. Shepard’s primary care nurses made such an impact on us that I hope to stay in contact with them forever.

We are forever grateful to everyone that was a part of our stay.

It is not just a job to these people; they really love what they do, and they genuinely care for the babies and the parents.

If anything, the whole experience has restored my faith in humanity. There are so many good people in this world and they do not get honored nearly enough.

Brian, Ashley, and Shepard HarringtonA Message to Other NICU Parents…

If there was one message that we could pass on to other parents of premature babies, it would be to take things one day at a time.

There is light at the end of the tunnel – even on the darkest days.

Give yourself time to heal. Everyone else will just have to understand. It is ok to go through all of these emotions. Talk with other preemie moms; it helps.

Most importantly, acknowledge the trauma you have experienced. It will forever change you – but for the better.

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