I’ve told this story so many times since last week – to family, friends, doctors, nurses. It was hard at first to talk about this without crying, it is getting a little easier each time. But, I also feel very spent after retelling the details. So I decided to write out what happened, so that I can point people to this post if they want to read about what happened. I sat down and started writing this in hospital on Thursday once I’d finally had a little bit of sleep. The story is longer than I can handle writing in one go, so that is why it is split – not for dramatic effect. I hope to write the rest today as it is proving to be a great help for me emotionally.
Please know that even though the story does not finish at the end of this post, Isla is 100% okay. She is home safe and sound with us and thriving from day to day. It’s as if this all never happened.
It’s Tuesday, November 15, 9:38 PM. I remember the time, because I always look at the clock if Isla cries out, though she is till quite young, she is establishing a rhythm to her feeding schedule. Sometimes she cries out bang on the hour, it’s so interesting to see these primal instincts kicking in. She was a little ahead of schedule, but I was thinking she was due a feed at around 10PM, so I was happy to pick her up and enjoy some cuddles before we sat down for her late evening breast feed.
I picked her up and as I was bringing her down the hall towards the kitchen, I noticed that she had frothy milk all around her mouth, her face was deep red and she appeared to be very still, too still…not moving. Normally she would be wriggling and rooting around for the source of her milk or emitting those cute little kitten like sounds all newborns make. I called out to Chris who was reading Preston a bedtime story – a very late and unusual bedtime turn in for Preston who had had a big nap that day and wanted to wait up for his daddy to come home. He came running and I told him what I was looking at before he reached us. I was frozen, looking at her and forcing her mouth open at the same time. I hear Chris yell, ‘scoop, scoop it out with your finger’. I started to, but was so shaken by how lifeless she looked. He took her from me and yelled for me to call an ambulance. I rushed around looking for the phone and called 911. Meanwhile Preston was staring in shock at his dad holding his sister over his leg in the kitchen. I screamed at him to go to his room while trying to talk to the 911 operator at the same time. He was on his bed rocking, obviously scared I called him back to me, but still I didn’t want him to watch what was going on. The thought ran through my mind, “What if she’s dying, what if she’s dying.”
Her eyes were bulging out from her face and she was so red and limp, I remember looking at her and seeing her neck straining for air and her head shaking struggling for air. The operator is asking if she is breathing. She is so little, I really can’t tell. I’m running from Preston, to Chris and Isla, to the front door, everything is a blur. At this point I want to scream out the front door of our house into the apartment hallway, “someone help”. I’m looking up the stairs as if by magic a doctor will come running down. The 911 operator asks if she is blue at all, which she isn’t. Chris can’t see her chest moving and is trying to breathe for her and make sure her airway is clear. He’s yelling, ‘you need to hurry, she’s not breathing’.
I hear sirens, lots of sirens and run to the apartment building door where I’m greeted by an NYPD officer who says to bring the baby out. There are 2 ambulances, 2 NYPD cars and a fire truck all on the scene. Later on the way to the hospital, the EMT tells me when they hear “baby” and especially “newborn” over the wire they all rush to the scene as they are all trained in first response. Thankfully, our location right off Central Park means that all of these emergency workers were less than 5 minutes away. She also tells me she has had to drive to the hospital with families crying for the worst possible reason and she is happy that we are crying from relief. She also tells us you can never be too safe with babies.
Chris rushes to the door with Isla and tells the officer he has seen her tummy move, she is breathing. The police officer hands her off to the EMT and they take her into the ambulance. I run out behind and follow them into the truck. She is still very still but definitely breathing. I have to recount the details of what feels like a lifetime of fright and worry for my baby girl. In reality, when we have to retell the story again for the Emergency department doctor, we check Chris’ phone to see how long the phone call was – it was only 5 minutes. I was also on the line after the ambulance arrived, so it probably took them 4 minutes to arrive. The magnitude of what could have been is so colossal that the call felt like 5 hours.
Chris is outside the ambulance telling his story to the NYPD and holding a visibly shaken Preston, who is calming down at the site of all the cars and trucks – every boy’s favorite with flashing lights to boot. The Ambulance tech holding Isla tells me we have to go into the hospital for observation. I suddenly realize tears are streaming down my face, I hadn’t really felt them until the chill from my cold feet shakes me back to reality. I had ran outside to the ambulance in my socks through wet leaves and puddles. She tells me to go get a few things. I’m not sure what will happen at the hospital, so I don’t really grab much except for my phone, some money and nappies for Isla. We decide that Chris and Preston will come as well. Separating our little family at this time, not a good idea.
We are all strapped in the back of the ambulance, in a daze. I’m thinking how ironic, we are going to the emergency department in the same building as my OB/GYN.
I see Chris cry for the first time for the evening, it breaks my heart. I am still astounded at how quickly he moved to clear her airway and get her breathing again and how I myself froze and had to be told to call for an ambulance. We look at each other and agree just through our eyes that we need to keep it together for Preston. We can see him trying to peer in between us and read the expressions on our faces. The ambulance tech is trying to cheer our spirits, she too must realize we need to be strong for Preston. She mentions how this will make such a great story when Isla is older, and how we have to tell her how calm she was on the way to the hospital. Thankfully we get fast tracked through triage as we have a newborn, less than 2 weeks old with us. It does not mean we get seen any faster by an actual doctor, it just means we get a bed with horrible fluorescent lights overhead. I am holding Isla in my arms for 2 hours, there is nowhere else to put her, plus I don’t want to let her go. She stirs and is visably hungry, I breastfeed and she takes to it with as much energy as normal, if not more. I turn to Chris for him to take her so that i can go to the bathroom. Hesitantly he takes her, then he cries. The last time he held her he thought she was going to die.
Both Isla and Preston seem reasonably unawares of everything that is going on, Chris has explained to Preston that Isla was sick the way he was with his tummy bug before he left Auckland. But because she was so small, she could not spit/vomit it out the way he did. with this explanation he was able to sympathize and not be too scared.
While we are waiting, Chris and I try to figure out what happened, how did we get here? Preston had horrible reflux for the better part of his first year of life, and never had he stopped breathing. Isla took to breastfeeding very quickly, burped pretty well and never even spilled over. The only change was that the pediatrician we’d seen the day before was not happy with her weight gain, or lack of it. She’d dropped one ounce from her well check the week before. Though my milk was now fully in, he was advising that I top up with formula at every feed. I started Tuesday by doing the top ups at every feed, but by the end of the day was going to tell Chris that I was not happy and would no longer do that. Our happily breastfeeding, never ever spilling baby was now completely stuffed after the top ups at each feed and was irritated, fussy and spilling over – obviously too full. The curse of my babies born at 36 weeks is that doctors are always concerned with fattening them up quickly, I went through similar issues with Preston as suggestions were made to introduce food earlier than usual as a possible way of keeping the milk down and questioning my breastfeeding (did I have enough milk) as well as suggesting formula. He was a happy healthy baby – still has never had an ear infection and only had his first cold when he was just over a year old, all this growing at his own pace – first on breast milk til 6 months, then with the introduction of food along with breastmilk til he turned one. It’s a series of unfortunate events, can’t blame it on anyone.
Newborns do hold their breath for 10-15 seconds at a time, it is just that usually we adults never know when they do. Nowadays, people do have the Sense and Sound monitors that will alert you if they stop breathing. But in reality apnea in babies is ‘normal’ and common as well as not harmful. It happens more often in premature babies born before 36 weeks as they have yet to develop proper breathing habits – I had researched all of this with Preston. Isla was considered a preterm baby – born exactly on the 36 weeks mark, any earlier and she would have been considered premature. Their are subtle differences in possible complications with each. I count myself lucky that she came out screaming, lungs working perfectly and never had to spend any time in NICU.
By the time the doctor saw us around 2AM, I had convinced myself that the incident was a freak accident of apnea (she stopped breathing momentarily) while excess milk was trying to make its way back up nearly 2 hours after a feed, resulting in her choking and not being able to breathe. Maybe under different circumstances we would not have found her like that and she would have cleared it herself. After retelling our story in great detail, the doctor has a different idea. He does not think it was necessarily an accident, but may have been the result of something else like a virus or infection – the stopping breathing concerns him. He is not altogether sure that their may not be further consequences.
The following days are emotionally and physically taxing for us all as I spend the next 48 hours in hospital with my baby. Story to be continued…