Olivia Katharine Lancaster was born May 9, 2012 at Vanderbilt. She came into the world at 9:14 a.m. after 30 long hours of labor. She weighed 7lbs 3 oz and was 19 inches long. Sounds pretty normal doesn’t it?!?! Well, it wasn’t.
My water broke at 3:30 a.m. on May 8th at 37 ½ weeks pregnant. We were so excited when we called the doctor and he said “head to the hospital.” I wasn’t having any labor pains yet so it was a little surreal. We got checked in and moved into our labor and delivery room. My doctor was going to give me until noon to dilate on my own. When noon rolled around I was only at 2 centimeters so we started the pitocin. I still hadn’t felt my contractions, but that was about to change. When I finally started to feel them I was surprised at my tolerance level. I was 18 hours into labor before I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I was terrified to get an epidural so I waited as long as I possibly could. Even though the epidural made the pain go away, I hated the way it made me feel. I panicked at one point because I couldn’t move my legs. I made John wiggle my toes so I would know they were still there. I was not the happy numbed up pregnant woman. I cried more with the epidural than without. Finally, I fell asleep for a couple of hours and dilated to 10 centimeters. It was time to push. I pushed for 3 long hours. The doctor even tried to use the vacuum to get Olivia to move but finally the decision was made to have a c-section. I never thought that would sound good to me, but I was so tired I was almost begging for it. John was amazing through it all. We were ready to have our baby no matter how she had to come into the world. Neither of us could have predicted what would happen next.
As I was wheeled into operating room I was so nauseated that I threw up. I think it was a combination of the antibiotics they had given me and the sheer terror of being cut open for the first time in my life, but I knew it would all be worth it. I remember hearing Olivia cry off in the distance and John saying, “she’s here baby.” I knew going into the delivery that I wouldn’t get to hold her. I was told they would give us a quick peek and then she would be rushed away to the NICU because of her heart defect. When I saw her little face I felt something I had never felt before. I was so in love already. They took her away… I was so out of it that I was unaware that she was barely breathing and in very critical condition.
The doctor’s began to sew me back up when I was stricken with the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my chest. I truly thought I was having a heart attack but I was reassured that it was just referred pain from the c-section. Finally, they took me back to my labor and delivery room where I would rest until I could go to the NICU to see Olivia. Everything seemed okay and John decided while I was asleep he would run home and get a change of clothes and check on the dogs. We had no idea what was about to happen.
My nurse came in to check on me about an hour later. I remember seeing a really strange look on her face. The next thing I knew there was a room full of doctor’s and nurses. I had suffered a post-partum hemorrhage. They were frantically trying to stop the bleeding. At one point I heard the nurse say my blood pressure had dropped to 60 over 40. I knew that wasn’t good. They were giving me epinephrine to speed up my heart rate and calling John to come back to the hospital. I heard the word “emergency.” I was in and out of consciousness, but I remember thinking at one point that I was probably dying. When John walked in I could see on his face that things were really bad. He later said he had never seen so much blood in his life. It was everywhere. I don’t know how long it took for them to stop the bleeding but eventually they did. By then I had lost ¼ of the blood in my body. I literally almost died.
While I was fighting for my life so was my baby girl. She was not doing very well and the cardiologist decided she needed to have surgery. She would need a shunt placed in her tiny little heart. The surgeon called me and told me if I wanted to see her I should probably come that night. However, that was impossible due to my own critical condition. I cried so hard thinking I may never meet my daughter. What if she died during surgery? The fear and anxiety was crippling, but I knew it was completely out of my control. I had to surrender it all to God. He was in complete control.
The surgery seemed to take a lifetime. They had to make two separate incisions to get the shunt placed properly. One of the incisions would be made on her side and the other right down the middle of her chest. She survived the surgery but it was not going to be an easy road to recovery.
We spent weeks in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. Olivia had her very own nurse around the clock. She had a breathing tube and what seemed like a million wires coming out of her body. Her little bed looked like a space ship with all of the equipment on each side. The constant beeping was enough to drive a person insane. Something was always getting unhooked. IV’s were always running out of medicine. At one point, they had Olivia on a paralytic drug because she kept getting so mad and trying to pull out her breathing tube. It was so sad to see her lying there unable to move or make a sound.
Shortly after her surgery we found out that Olivia also has Digeorge Syndrome. Digeorge Syndrome is a chromosomal disorder that can cause over 180 symptoms with the most common being heart defects, calcium deficiencies, and immune system problems. In the days after the diagnosis there must have been 10 different specialists that came in to examine her to determine which parts of Digeorge she may have. She definitely had a calcium deficiency along with her heart defect. They were also concerned about her immune system since she had developed a severe infection that kept her incisions from healing properly. They placed a wound vac on the incisions and started a 28-day run of two antibiotics. At that point, I knew we were not going home anytime soon.
During those few weeks in the PCCU, Olivia had some good days and some very bad days. We would leave her at night in stable condition and come back the next morning to find her critical again. Her breathing tube came out and went right back in. Her oxygen levels were constantly dipping. Her blood pressure would be too high one minute and too low the next. It was a constant roller coaster ride. There were moments when we wondered if we would ever take her home, but Olivia was a fighter. She had quite the temper from the very start, which the nurses loved. They said it meant she was strong willed!!! We would all laugh at how determined she was to pull her feeding tube out. I think she pulled it out a total of 6 times.
It took weeks to stabilize Olivia enough to move her out of the PCCU and up to the 7th floor. The 7th floor is what they call the “transition floor.” I had to learn how to administer her medicine and insert her feeding tube. I barely knew how to change a diaper, which was a feat in itself with all of her tubes and wires. As the weeks went by those tubes and wires were removed one by one and her oxygen levels started to level out in the high 80’s and low 90’s. She completed her antibiotics and the wound vac finally came off. Olivia got to come home on June 23, 2012 at 6 weeks old. John was on the road so his mom and sister came to Nashville to help me get my baby home. We had a feeding tube and an apnea monitor to deal with along with about 3-4 different medicines. I also had to change her dressings on her incision twice a day. It was so overwhelming at first. John would be working a lot because it was June… prime touring season. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to do it all. I am thankful everyday for our friends and families. Without them I would’ve gone crazy.
Olivia was trying to learn to eat from a bottle. I would have to squeeze her cheeks while she ate so she could latch on to the nipple. She would only take about 15-20 ml’s a feeding by mouth and the rest would go into the tube. The tube was the most frustrating part of my day. Olivia would gag on it and projectile vomit her whole feeding every single time. It was so traumatic on her that she would scream and cry. I tried every kind of bottle to get her to eat better. I held her upright so she wouldn’t spit up but that didn’t help at all. I cried every day because I felt so helpless. The only person who hated the tube more than me was Olivia. She pulled it out twice. I accidentally pulled it out once and then finally Olivia vomited so hard it flew out of her nose. We never put it back in. John and I decided to go against everything we had been told and take a chance that Olivia would learn to take her whole feeding from her bottle. The first few days were really tough and I almost caved in and put the tube back in, but all of the sudden something clicked. She started eating more and more. The spitting up slowing went from every feeding to once a day to not at all. The doctors said as long as she continued to gain weight we could leave the tube out. Now she is eating 4 ounces a feeding every 3 hours which is amazing for her. Her weight gain is right where it’s supposed to be as you can see in this adorable picture.
I can’t believe my baby girl is 4 1/2 months old. Time really does fly when they are this little. Every day she is learning something new. She loves Bubble Guppies and Barney. She is a really happy baby and a complete joy to live with. She sleeps through the night and wakes up smiling, but she also knows how to throw one heck of a fit!!! She has finally discovered the dogs AND how to laugh at them It’s the cutest thing ever!!!! They love her. Shadow now has a purpose… to protect his “sister.”
We are currently awaiting Olivia’s full repair surgery. The doctors are saying it will be in late October. Please keep us in your prayers. We still have a long journey ahead.