Olan Suddeth

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Would-be crafty guy.

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A Preemie Baby at Christmas Time

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Gideon, age two
Gideon, ready to open birthday presents.

This past weekend, my little man, Gideon, turned two years old. Those of you who know me personally may recall what a trying time his birth was; for those who don't (or don't know the details), I'll share it here.

My wife had undergone a very difficult pregnancy with liver issues, a tremendous amount of abdominal pain (she literally could not sleep in the bed for the last several months of the pregnancy), and an absolutely traumatic birth experience. Donna's regular doctor had been hospitalized with his own health issues, and was sidelined for several months. She had been passed from doctor to doctor, as they basically just worked her original doctor's appointments in; as a result, the standard of care that we had been accustomed to was just not there. I suspect that they didn't know how tough she was, how little she complained in a typical pregnancy... they just saw "pregnant lady is uncomfortable" and went on.

One doctor did end up listening. She ran all sorts of tests, and while nothing proved definitively wrong, she just had a bad feeling about all of the issues, and kept Donna overnight for observation on a pretty flimsy justification of "blood pressure monitoring", with the plan to deliver the baby early for the sake of the health of both mother and baby. I had intended to stay the night, but Donna argued with me that the kids needed me at home, she would be discharged in the morning, and basically insisted that I go home.

The doc who took over that night actually tried to discharge my wife a couple of times, due to seeing no medically compelling reason to keep her. Fate, however, had other ideas; the first time she tried to start the discharge paperwork, an emergency C-section came in. The second time, another mom's labor progressed quicker than they expected, and she had to go run the delivery.

Sometime after that, my wife began heavily bleeding out of the blue - she had suffered a placental abruption.

This is a life threatening condition for both mother and baby, as the mother can rapidly bleed to death. We live roughly forty-five minutes from the hospital; had my wife been discharged, it is quite possible - even probable - that she and the baby would have died. As it was, they worked to stabilize her, Donna called me to tell me to come back to the hospital RIGHT THEN, so at some point after midnight, I was flying at ninety to ninety five miles per hour to make it for the operation with them on the phone demanding to know how far out I was, checking to see if they could wait for me, etc. I did make it - at which point I barely had time to kiss her before they whisked her off to the operating room.

As it turned out, everything went about as well as we could have hoped for, all things considering... though Gideon was early (34 weeks gestational) and hadn't had time for any steroids to help his lungs develop. As a result, he went to the NICU and ended up on a ventilator.

The doctor that had tried to send Donna home was physically shaking after the ordeal was over; it turns out that the abdominal pain was related to multiple small abruptions that my wife had suffered and clotted off. At any time, she could have had one of those really tear... and of course, that particular one had done just that. The doctor was quite convinced that both of them would have died had they not been in that hospital at the time, and she was beating herself up over nearly sending Donna home. That said, this doctor was recognized by her peers as an excellent surgeon, perhaps the best qualified at the hospital to have handled that sort of emergency delivery.

From a distance, all of these coincidences and factors certainly do resemble some sort of plan, don't they?

At any rate, here we were in the middle of December, with a baby in the NICU.

Gideon in the NICU
It was great to know that he had such good care, but terrifying to witness as a parent.

Gideon himself had serious challenges facing him. He had the lung issues; his lungs were not mature enough for him to survive without a ventilator. He had an IV blow in his leg, filling the tissue with fluid until the leg swelled up and turned purple... there was serious concern that it might be damaged, that he might even lose the limb altogether.

But the little man was a fighter, and bit by bit, he improved.

There is no doubt in my mind that a lot of that improvement came because his mother refused to leave his side. Donna was up and having me roll her to the NICU as soon as anyone humanly could have done so; she wore the flooring out on the surprisingly long walk from the women's unit to the NICU and back. When they discharged her, she moved to the NICU, sleeping in the uncomfortable chair there, staying by her baby's side.

As a former NICU nurse from that very hospital, Donna took an active role in his care; a lot of the tasks were left to her by the staff (who knew her and her skills). She was able to keep an eye on his monitors, help make sure that he didn't forget to breathe, made sure that he ate like he needed to (above and beyond the level of concern that any normal nurse would have shown there). She didn't sleep, she barely ate, she just cared for him.

The thing is - again, this was right at Christmas. Gideon wasn't due until February; we hadn't planned on dealing with a preemie during the holiday season. So while this was tough on us, you can imagine how difficult it had to be for the rest of the kids at home. Gideon had been both on December 15th; I was hoping that he would make it home by Christmas, though Donna felt that was a very long shot.

How were we going to celebrate Christmas with him and Donna in the hospital?

The Suddeth kids visiting their baby brother in the hospital
Visiting their baby brother in the hospital.

So I sat down and explained it to the kids - Noah (age 10), Jonah (age 8), Silas (age 6), Wynter (age 3), Elowyn (age 2). We talked about how it didn't look like Gideon would be able to be home for Christmas - and even if he did, mommy wouldn't be able to enjoy it like she usually did, as she wouldn't be physically capable of cooking, baking, wrapping presents like normal. How she had missed the Christmas movies with her family, the special moments, etc.

Noah came up with the idea first, all on his own - what if we just waited to celebrate Christmas until mom and Gideon were home, and we could enjoy it together as a family? After all, what did the actual date really matter?

The question of how Santa fit into that was raised, and Jonah suggested that he understood if it was too much to ask for Santa to make an extra trip, that he probably needed vacation time after all of the preparation and work that Christmas was... so we could just save our presents from Santa until whenever we could do Christmas.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, became the plan. We wrote a letter to Santa to explain the situation, and then the kids just started casually telling other people that "yeah, we're going to do Christmas later on this year so that our mother and baby brother can enjoy it with us." There was zero selfishness. There was zero concern that they might miss something, zero grumbling about waiting. To this day, I cannot relate the story without getting teary eyed.

Why relate this story now? Because I think that it's a story that needs to be shared; the birth story needs to be told, people need to know how great those kids are. Because I legitimately cannot tell it without tearing up a little bit, and nobody needs to see that.

Suddeth kids with Santa
What you do need to see are these amazing kids.

Tags for this post: Family Life


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