2018, The Year that Forever Changed My Life...

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Happy New Year!!! You toast your friends and family, you hug, you kiss, you call, you text all at midnight of a new year. 2018 was no different from any other year other than my toast was with sparkling grape juice because I was pregnant. 2018 was a promise of a new adventure since my husband and I were becoming parents in April, but little did we know that adventure was going to start much sooner than expected.

This year started like any other. I had to go through the pain of refocusing my students after their Holiday Break so we could finish the semester on a high note. This is no simple feat with snow days extending the break and dealing with students that have senioritis, but I made it through. The plans for baby showers were being put into motion, we registered for our hospital tour and Lamaze classes, filled out the preregistration paperwork for the hospital, and we even went on a long weekend trip to Florida towards the end of January. We were in month one of the New Year and things were trucking along just fine.

January 30th started my 3rd trimester. Things were becoming real. We ordered the baby’s furniture the day before and we were starting to really plan out her room. We had her name picked out and we were driving our families crazy because we wouldn’t tell anyone the name. For my husband and I though, using her name in conversation made us realize she was coming and that she would add so much to our family.

By the end of the week, I really didn’t feel well. I thought it was just gas and constipation because those are issues you could have during pregnancy and seemed normal for where I was in the What to Expect book based on how far along I was. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until Friday when I wasn’t feeling good at work, couldn’t keep anything down once I got home because I had left early, and then had spotting that night. When we made it to triage of labor and delivery I told them my symptoms, we had a treatment plan, but all of that changed when someone decided to check me. I went from being able to leave the hospital to you are 3-4cm dilated and we are taking you to the delivery room in case the medication can’t stop labor. My husband and I were in a state of shock and panic all at the same time. I remember saying “this can’t be happening, I don’t have a sub yet at work.”

Labor was quick and Poppy Rae came into our lives at 1:55am on February 3rd 11weeks and 3days early. That is 11weeks and 3days that we thought we still had to get ready, to have the showers and figure out what we still need to be able to bring her home. You are supposed to have time to make a delivery plan, but my plan was made for me. I thought I would be the first to hold my baby after she was delivered, to have that skin to skin contact right away, but instead the holding went to the amazing NICU team that saved her in that moment. Instead of bonding, I was left in the delivery room alone while everyone went with Poppy to the NICU to find out that it was my body’s fault that she came early. In a sense I felt that I had failed in that moment. My placenta grew on one of the uterine fibroids I had, the fibroid grew and ruptured my placenta. I knew the fibroids were there, the ultrasounds showed us, but the only thing that was said to me while I was pregnant was that because of the fibroids I might have a c-section or that she might come a couple of weeks early. Nothing prepared me for this. It is crazy how quickly your life can change.

51 days in the NICU. 51 days of feeling isolated from a world that keeps moving. 51 days of watching the most amazing miracle unfold right in front of my eyes. Poppy is a fighter. Poppy wanted to survive. In my 51 days I met my new village. Doctors, nurses, therapists, other staff members, and the families of NICU babies. They were and still are the support I needed to get me through our time in the NICU and when we got home. They are the only ones that truly understood what I was going through and still are even though every NICU journey is different. Saying the NICU changes you is an understatement. You become stronger, the love you give and feel will overwhelm you when it comes to your baby, you become medically versed, you witness a miracle, you might pray more than you have ever prayed before, you might become more compassionate, more level headed by not sweating the small stuff anymore, you become thankful and grateful for this gift, your priorities shift. You become a parent to what you think is the most amazing baby you have ever laid eyes on. You become a parent.

Becoming a parent is literally one of the best things that have ever happened to me. Poppy amazes me each and every day. She started out too small, but how she has grown, changed, hit her milestones for her corrected age and well surpassed any and all expectations for her birth age has just been the neatest thing to watch. Poppy acts like the 10 and a half month old that she is rather than the 7 month old she should be. Poppy has filled a part of me that I didn’t realize was missing and she brings so much love and joy to everyone she has come in contact with.

I have realized this experience will not deter me from wanting to have another baby. I had to have surgery in May to have my fibroids removed if I wanted to make that dream a reality. It was the most painful surgery I have ever been through and it killed me that there was a period of time that I could not take care of Poppy how I wanted to because of the limitations that were put on me, but it was necessary if I wanted to have another baby. Yes I am nervous that if I become pregnant again I could have another preemie. I know that having a preemie is not a bad thing. I know my village will be there, I know that baby would receive the best care in the world, I know this baby will be loved, but it still makes me nervous. We are trying though.

My NICU journey and motherhood in general have made me a better person. I am not saying I was a bad person before, but now I have the itch to always give back to my new village because they gave so much to me. We have visited the NICU several times and brought snacks for the staff. I have gotten this amazing opportunity to blog for Project Preemie that has been not only therapeutic in my journey with a preemie, but if I can help one person with my words and experience, I feel that is a success. My husband and I have gone back to speak with the current families at Hillcrest during their support group and I hope I get the opportunity to do that again. We put a team together for the March of Dimes walk and for the 2018 walk, we raised over $7,000 and we hope to beat that in 2019. I am fortunate enough that the school system where I work is allowing me to lead a district-wide service project to benefit the Cleveland Clinic NICUs because they see how passionate I am about it and because it is a beyond worthy cause. I hope to continue to do good things for the NICU community.

No, 2018 didn’t go as planned and I am sure past NICU parents no matter what year your child was born can understand where I am coming from and think that is the year that forever changed them. However, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I became a mommy to a happy and healthy little girl. I have become wiser with experience. I appreciate so much more in life. Poppy coming early is not a bad thing, instead it gave us more time to enjoy her in 2018 than what we were supposed to have. 2018 is the year that changed me, and it changed me for the better.

Taylor Voelker