I still remember January 17th 2010 like it was yesterday. I made an appointment because for some strange reason all 7 pregnancy tests were coming up positive. It took the doctor bluntly saying “You’re pregnant” for it to finally sink in. Planned or unplanned, I quickly fell in love with the idea of being a mother. As I walked to my car I had a sudden overwhelming feeling of love for this little life growing inside of me. It’s the kind of love you dream about. My 18 week ultrasound was fast approaching and my excitement level was through the roof. I was about to find out if it would pink or blue! I walked into my 18 week appointment to find my doctor was on vacation and I was scheduled to see another doctor. No worries I thought. Well, to my surprise I ended up arguing with the doctor. He told me I needed to wait 2-3 more weeks for my ultrasound. Something compelled me to fight that day and he ended up compromising for 19 weeks. I’m thankful every day for the beautiful angel that watched over us that day.
I decided to take my mom with to my ultrasound on May 3rd because if anyone was more excited than me it would be “grandma.” We went in and everything seemed routine. I thought it was a little strange that the ultrasound tech seemed to focus on one area, but what do I know about ultrasounds. I shrieked with joy when I found out I was having a girl!! From day one I was secretly hoping for a little girl. The tech said nothing and sent us home with a single picture. I couldn’t have been any happier.
On May 5th 2010 I had a follow-up appointment. I was excited to learn my doctor was back from vacation but as soon as I saw her I knew something was wrong.
I burst into tears as she told me Alaina had excess fluid in her chest cavity and she might not make it. I was sent home and scheduled for an appointment with a maternal-fetal specialist the very next day. I remember walking through the waiting room full of happy pregnant women. I quickly glanced up as I passed through and saw every eye in the room looking at me with sympathy. Hard to believe how fast your whole world crumbles. Just minutes before I was one of those happy pregnant ladies.
I don’t remember the drive home or much of the night but I know it was filled with tears. I made the mistake of searching the internet for answers. I found very little but what I did find was not good. I spent a few hours looking at websites and images that no mother or innocent baby should ever have to endure.
I arrived at the specialist 30 hours after the heart-wrenching news. The longest 30 hours of my entire life! When I was finally called back I was led into this little room with tissues and books about chromosome abnormalities on the table. I could sense that this was some sort of “bad news” room. I wondered to myself how many tears had been shed in this tiny little room. Shelly the genetic counselor said she wanted to discuss my baby’s condition before we went any further. I corrected her in a shaky small voice, “Alaina, Alaina’s condition.”
She told me how severe the situation was and talked about all the chromosome abnormalities that could be causing the fluid. She cried with me and my mom as she told us the news. I asked her what her chance of survival was. Her reply was devastating, “Not good and no one would judge you if you decided to terminate.” I told her that was not an option. No matter the situation she was my little girl and I loved her. After a lot of tears shed by all of us I told her my plan. I wanted to move on with the pregnancy and do anything medically possible until God called on Alaina. I needed a moment so I excused myself and went across the hall to the restroom. I locked the door and fell to the floor in tears. I started begging and pleading with God “Don’t take my little girl, please God don’t take my little girl” I asked Alaina to fight, “I will do anything and everything for you…I love you…I need you…don’t leave me…I will give you the best life…you just have to fight for it.”
We went in for a detailed ultrasound with the doctor. He told us that the fluid was putting so much pressure on her heart and lungs that it was causing the heart to slow. Her heart couldn’t circulate the extra fluid so it was building up in other parts of her body. He finally put a name to her “condition” bilateral pleural effusion and hydrops fetalis. The doctor felt that her life was less than 12 hours from slipping away. It was time to drain the fluid off ASAP. He inserted an amnio needle into Alaina’s chest and drained off 40 ml’s off of her tiny 7 ounce body. She automatically started wiggling all over! He drew out some amniotic fluid for genetic screenings. I was sent home and told to return in four days to recheck for fluid. He said, “If the fluid returns at least we brought her health up for the possibility of a shunt placement.”
I felt confident as I went in on the 10th. She had been kicking up a storm. Sadly, the ultrasound showed the fluid had returned. They decided to drain more fluid off and send me two hours away to get a thoracoamniotic shunt placed in Alaina’s chest. The results from the amniocentesis showed no chromosomal abnormalities and the fluid pulled from her chest was lymphatic fluid which pointed to a possible cause, congenital chylothorax.
The shunt surgery was scheduled for May 13th. I was so scared but also very hopeful that they would tell me “The fluid is gone! She’s going to be just fine!” I did not hear that. I received a very extensive ultrasound that showed the fluid was once again returning. The ultrasound also included a two hour echo cardiogram that thankfully showed no heart abnormalities. I was sent all over the VERY large hospital, meeting with several doctors and specialists. Sadly they were all telling me how grave her situation was and they did not expect her to survive. That was until I met with the fetal surgeon! He explained that he was going to be placing a small shunt into Alaina’s chest in hopes that it will continuously drain the fluid and carry her to 32 weeks. He went on to say that there are many risks involved but it was her only chance. She would need at least two drainings a week to do what one shunt could accomplish. He had a confidence that gave me hope.
As they prepped me for surgery I had nervous shakes and panic attacks. I was not scared of the procedure itself but the safety and health of my sweet Alaina. I would gladly take any pain or discomfort for her well-being. I received a spinal block as I cried in the arms of the nurse who was holding me. She talked to me and calmed me as they were struggling with the needle. I will never forget how kind she was. I was laid flat and strapped to the table. I was having severe shakes from the spinal medicine and I’m sure nerves. My teeth were chattering loud, they kept piling blankets on me thinking I was cold. My sister held my hand and tried to distract me from watching monitors. I had a sheet blocking the doctors and fetal monitors. All I had was the voices of the doctors and the strange pressures on my belly. I felt a large pop sensation…and I screamed out “oh my god! My water broke!” I heard a voice through the sheet reassuring me that it was just the needle going through the layers of skin. I passed time by praying, talking to my sister and clutching my angel pendant in my left hand. Finally, the shunt was in. They checked her heart rate and they all cheered! It was a success. I burst into tears as I heard her heartbeat.
After 24 hours the fluid was gone from her forehead, neck and belly. There was a small pocket of fluid next to the shunt but the surgery was a success! Alaina received nerve-racking weekly scans to monitor the shunt and her health. I was a nervous wreck each week as I entered the tiny ultrasound room. The fear of losing her was so strong I always took a detour to say a little prayer in the restroom. To everyone’s surprise the hydrops never returned! She had a small pocket of fluid next to the shunt until about 28 weeks…than all the fluid miraculously disappeared! The doctors were optimistic that the chylothorax had healed itself!
I became a momma to a beautiful completely HEALTHY little girl on 9/27/10. That’s right: healthy! Alaina came screaming into the world weighing 6lbs 10oz at 4:35pm. The shunt was in place for an astonishing 20 weeks and carried Alaina to her due-date birthday! I couldn’t be any happier. We fought every day to meet each other and I’m eternally grateful for her strength. She is the strongest, bravest person I know. It was one heck of a rollercoaster but I would fight our battle a million times over… anything for my little lamb.