TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — As military members we are inundated with training and speeches about resiliency. We hear it so often that it can get dull and become just another checked box on your records, until the message gets personally delivered in a place you’d never expect.
In 2016 my husband and I found out I was pregnant with our second child, and we were ecstatic. We had just bought our first home and the age gap between our first and second child would be three years, our “ideal” age gap. It was another girl, which is exactly what we wanted. We decided to name her Sadie Jean, after my husband’s grandma. We were so excited for her to complete our family. We anxiously awaited her arrival, which was estimated as December 29.
The pregnancy progressed smoothly, she was growing beautifully, and everything was going great — until it wasn’t.
Sadie Jean was born Oct. 21, 2016, a full 10 weeks before her due date. I was diagnosed with a placental abruption. There were no signs or symptoms. From the beginning of labor to birth was a mere three hours. She was 3 pounds, 11 ounces and 17 inches long.
She was a few hours old when I first saw her, with an oxygen mask taped to her face, and wires, tubes, needle pricks, and bruises on seemingly every visible body part. She was 3 days old when I first held her, for 30 minutes, with alarms going off and nurses watching my every move.
It was devastating the first time we sat with her neonatal intensive care unit doctor and learned the prognosis. She was going to have issues with her lungs and eyes. She would be developmentally delayed until preschool age, and need heavy physical therapy; she would never be able to breastfeed. Her hospital stay would be, at the very least, seven to eight weeks. My husband and I went home that night completely defeated.
The first few days of her stay were the hardest. My tiny baby’s progress would make one step forward and then two steps back. We believed the doctors were right when they told us what to expect. We prepared ourselves for months in the NICU, and then Sadie proved everyone wrong.
It started with the removal of her oxygen, which happened at day eight. Next came the removal of her IV lines on day 14. She was tolerating her feeds, and we cheered over every ounce gained. She was taken out of her incubator and moved to a regular crib on day 18. We were able to breastfeed, successfully, on day 20. Her month-long stay began to look shorter and shorter. She was impressing every doctor and nurse, and we were all so proud of her.
She was discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit at 30 days old, the day before her one-month birthday. The doctors assured us we were not in the clear yet. She was still going to need eye exams, have development delays, and have issues putting on weight … and then she didn’t.
Every single issue the doctors told us she would face, she has beaten. Sadie is 10 months old now, and is on par with babies her age. She is chunky, happy, and healthy; and she completed our family just as we knew she would.
It’s important to know that Sadie’s improvements didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow process. We went day by day. We celebrated every milestone, which were as small as ounces gained or as big as IV lines being removed. When something came up that pushed us backward, we reassessed and reattacked. I look at my daughter and all that she was up against — the odds were certainly not in her favor, yet that tiny, 3-pound premature baby tackled every one of them.
Sadie had the help and support of trained doctors, nurses, developmental therapists and more. Being an infant, she wasn’t able to ask for help. Others saw her issues and helped her overcome them. She couldn’t have progressed the way she did without the help of others, and I dread to think of where she would be if she hadn’t received that help.
So why should I expect myself, or anyone else for that matter, to handle life’s challenges and obstacles, whether physical, emotional or mental on their own? When we see someone struggling, why should we leave them to struggle alone? We have resources available to help us, such as family and friends, coworkers and supervisors, Military One Source, and airman and family readiness, to name a few.
No one should ever feel alone when going through a difficult period in his or her life, no matter what it may be. We should never look down on someone who needs help or fear being looked down upon when we ask for help. People should also realize the situation most likely will require more than just a quick fix.
Sadie had many setbacks during her time in the NICU, even with her team of helpers, and she may have more as she gets older – and that’s okay. We will continue to monitor her health as she grows, and if something comes up in the future, we will get her the help she needs.
Although her recovery wasn’t quick, and may still be ongoing, Sadie has shown she is resilient. Her resiliency has taught me more than she will ever know. Thanks to her, I will always strive to be the best I can be — for her, my family and myself. If a 3-pound infant can overcome, then I can overcome, and so can you.