Tommy's Early Start - A Premature Birth

The traumatic story of a premature baby's birth.

By Darlene Almer

After 14 years of marriage, at age 37, suddenly I was pregnant. I didn’t believe my own eyes when I checked the pregnancy test - it just couldn’t be positive. I called a good friend to have a reliable witness to the definite pink circle showing positive results. A baby was coming! Truly a miracle had been bestowed on us and my joy overwhelmed my soon-to-be expanding body.

At 25 weeks, I had an ultrasound. The technician and I were playing and truly enjoying ourselves, watching the baby move and recording a tape so my husband, Jim, could share in the sneak peek viewing of our son. (Amniocentesis at 16 weeks showed that we were expecting a son.) At the end of the ultrasound, the technician asked me to wait while she talked to a doctor.

After she returned, I was sent to the hospital. Fluid was found where fluid should not be. My OB-GYN, Dr. Duncan, checked me but could find nothing wrong. Just to be on the safe side, he kept me in the hospital overnight for monitoring.

The next morning, with no contractions in sight, he sent me home on bed rest, and told me to see him the following day. That evening, I noticed things happening that seemed a little strange, so I called Dr. Duncan, and was sent once again to the hospital - the ominous diagnosis - premature labor. I asked, "How can this be labor? I am having no pain or discomfort, only some tightening around my stomach, and it gets hard." With the physical exam, I had another of the "contractions" and Dr. Duncan said, "Oh, no. I think you’re going to be delivering tonight." Labor was progressing. I was hooked up to three different medications, a monitor for myself and a monitor for the impatient little one inside me. Then they stood me on my head, or so it felt, with the bed tipped up at the end by my feet. I felt the hot flashes and racing heart as the magnesium sulfate entered my blood stream. Though it sounds silly, a cool rag helped me keep myself under control. It didn’t take long for the doctor to realize labor was not being stopped, but was progressing steadily and quickly. I kept silently asking my son why he was in such a hurry to come into this world, begging him to just be patient, he still had three months before he was due. I have learned since he was born....he had a mind of his own and it was made up.

To allow the best chance of survival for what we knew was going to be a very small baby, Dr. Duncan told me I needed an emergency C-Section. Because we needed to do it quickly, I would be totally asleep for the procedure. Since the nearest neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) was 50 miles away from Longview, WA, where we lived, the team was called and told to come up to get my son right away. Jim was told he could be with me for the procedure if he wanted; but, bless his heart, he doesn’t handle things like that very well. He has a hard time just being in a hospital, much less in the actual operating room. So he kissed me and held my hand to the OR and stood vigil outside the door while the procedure was performed.

Dr. Duncan was more than just my doctor. I had worked in the bookkeeping office of his medical practice for five years and he knew how important this child was to us, how wanted this child was. He was personally involved in this one. That he was so personally involved and cared so much about my son’s survival was very comforting to me.

Everything had gone so quickly, it was mind boggling. I remember feeling a strange sense of calm as I surrendered to the anesthetic, somehow feeling that God had given us this child and He would not take him away from us.

Thomas James Almer, as we named him the day after his birth, arrived on Wednesday, June 10, 1992 at 1:44 a.m. He weighed a mere one pound, eleven and a half ounces and was only thirteen inches long. He was extremely active and strong, breathing on his own, but was put on a ventilator to aid his very small, premature lungs so as not to tire him. He was doing so well, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) team from Portland, Oregon patiently waited for me to dig my way out of the depths of anesthesia so I could see him before they transported him in the specially equipped ambulance to Emanuel Hospital to be cared for until he was big enough and strong enough to come home. Everyone forgot one thing - I wear contacts or glasses to see any further than to read a book - and with fighting to come out of anesthesia on top of my nearsightedness, all I could see was a small pink shape in the portable incubator. Then, he was gone and the anesthesia once again claimed my consciousness.

The next morning, I awoke in the maternity ward - feeling as if it had all been a dream. There was no little Almer baby in the nursery, and my hand kept straying to my still swollen tummy, expecting the movement and kicks I had grown to love so much. The wonderful doctors at Emanuel provided me with almost immediate and very frequent reports . Even so, from the private room on the surgical floor I had been moved to, I passed many hours imagining what must be happening to my tiny son so far away from his Mommy.

After two days, I was released to go be with my son. As Jim and I drove the longest 50 miles of my life, we kept running into accidents, traffic jams, and construction delays. I began to feel very anxious and felt like everything was conspiring to keep me from my son. I felt like I could walk faster than the car was moving. Jim held my hand and tried to comfort me but I was too jumpy and nervous, my heart beating so fast, tears threatened to find the familiar path (built the last few days) down my face.

We finally made it to the hospital but, because of the distance to the NICU and my recent bout in the operating room, Jim pushed me in a wheelchair. We went down a long hallway, turned and went down another long hallway, into an elevator, then down a long curving hallway to the double swinging doors of the NICU. We had to scrub and put on gowns as if we were going into surgery before entering the actual unit.

Finally, we were there, about to walk into another world. It was a world which would seem commonplace and normal to us after 77 days of visiting our son. The moment I saw my son, his incredibly small body with wires everywhere and a huge looking ventilator tube taped to his little face, tears filled my eyes and ran down my cheeks. I was truly in the presence of a miracle child and it was more than overwhelming. I said something and at the sound of my voice, Tommy raised his eyebrows and tried to lift his precious little head, held down by the weight of the ventilator tubes. The nurse said "Look! He recognizes Mommy’s voice!", and my tears came even stronger than before.

After 11 weeks ( 77 days), and 4 weeks before his due date of September 20, we brought our son home to Longview on Tuesday, August 25, 1992. During his hospital stay and after he came home, Tommy endured many challenges and setbacks, one of which turned out to be visual impairment - but that’s another story, one of many, and this child has provided me with enough material to keep me busy for years!