Building Dreams Together: Victoria's story
This is the third story in an ongoing series about some of the children we are helping through Building Dreams Together: The MultiCare Campaign for Healthy Children.
Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital provides outstanding care of fragile newborns and compassion for their families. This is the story of one family’s journey in the NICU after their daughter was born three months early.
Hospitalized at Tacoma General when she was 27 weeks pregnant with her first child, Elizabeth Nelson cheered each time someone brought her a meal.
She knew that being allowed to eat meant she wouldn’t be having emergency surgery to deliver her baby.
She’d stay pregnant for at least one more day.
“I was trying to stay positive. I really wanted to keep her in until the first of the year,” Elizabeth recalls.
The 34-year-old mom-to-be had an uneventful pregnancy until she was hospitalized with high blood pressure in early December 2012. Her baby wasn’t due until March 3. But with Elizabeth’s high blood pressure threatening her unborn child’s health, doctors decided to deliver her baby nearly three months early.
Victoria Hattie Nelson was born Dec. 13, weighing 1 pound 10 ounces. Her 10-week stay in the Tacoma General NICU wasn’t the start her parents envisioned, but the comprehensive care and support they received helped them through a harrowing time.
Tiny and just perfect
The NICU neonatologists — doctors who specialize in caring for premature infants — visited Elizabeth while she was in the hospital on bed rest. They wanted to prepare her for what to expect once her daughter was born.
“They explained the delivery process and what would happen in the NICU,” Elizabeth says. “It was really helpful.”
Elizabeth first met her daughter a few hours after her birth. Nurses rolled her hospital bed into the NICU, jockeying it to fit in the small space next to Victoria’s isolette. Elizabeth reached in to touch her baby’s foot, and Victoria wrapped her tiny toes around her mother’s finger.
“Everyone was asking me how she was and to me she was perfect,” she says. “She had every part of her, it was just really small.”
Life in the NICU
Four days later, the nurses encouraged Elizabeth to hold her baby, snuggling Victoria onto her mother’s bare chest. Called "kangarooing," the skin-to-skin contact provides many benefits for the mother and infant, including steadying the baby’s heart rate and body temperature and helping with weight gain.
“As I was putting her back in, the nurse said, â€˜Now why don’t you give her a kiss,’” Elizabeth says. “I didn’t know that I could. It was the first time that I kissed her.”
Elizabeth and her husband, Chance, moved into Tree House, MultiCare’s housing for families with children in the hospital. Staying within walking distance of the NICU saved the new mom from commuting from her Gig Harbor home. It also meant her husband could visit their daughter after finishing his 12-hour work days.
Elizabeth was with her precious baby from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. nearly every day, changing her diapers, taking her temperature and holding her as much as possible. She developed close relationships with the nurses, as well as her case manager and social worker.
“They would explain everything to me and let me know it was okay to ask questions. It was never a burden,” she says.
The NICU doctors and nurses planned for Elizabeth and Chance to “room in” with their daughter as the time neared for Victoria to head home. NICU parents spend a night in a hospital room with their baby, learning to manage without monitors and trusting their own parenting instincts after being buoyed by so much medical support.
“It was so scary when they took all the monitors away,” Elizabeth says. “I didn’t sleep at all that night.”
The nurses took note of the new mom’s anxiety and removed Victoria from monitoring during the day to help everyone transition back to normal life.
The day they took their baby home was “joyfully scary,” Elizabeth says.
Now nearly two years old, Victoria is thriving. She is on track developmentally and has no apparent long-term health problems.
NICU support continues. Victoria is part of the Mary Bridge Neonatal Follow-up Clinic, which provides development and growth assessment at regular intervals for former NICU babies.
“I feel like it’s a little extra gift from the time we spent in the NICU,” Elizabeth says. “I appreciate the extra set of eyes to ensure that we don’t miss anything.”