For me, our story began the day the pregnancy test came back positive. That was the most surreal moment I had ever experienced, filled with an array of emotions that are far beyond anything I could ever describe. Our lives were about to change and in 9 month’s time we would be having a child. It was almost too much to comprehend. The excitement was beyond measureable and I found myself overjoyed while waiting for Warren to get home from work so that I could tell him that he was going to be a daddy. Together we found ourselves faced with the news that offers one of life’s most-greatest and life changing events; we were becoming parents.
The days and weeks that followed contained many visits to the doctor’s office, exams, blood work and genetic testing, while we waited to get through the first trimester. It felt like such a huge relief once we hit the 13th week, as if some sort of “safety net” lifted, to let us know that we were out of a danger zone. At that time we began to share our news with our friends and family, which brought the excitement and anticipation to an entirely new level. Not only were we having a baby, we were creating a grandchild, a niece or a nephew and cousins. I often found myself daydreaming, envisioning the holidays and family rituals on an entirely new level. [back to top]
During the months following, we consumed ourselves with reading anything we could get our hands on. The stages of pregnancy, entering parenthood, babies first year, sleeping habits, etc…Like any other expecting “first time” parents, we registered for childbirth classes, visited baby stores, did lots of research, and found ourselves somehow pre-programmed as if we came with a manual on how to prepare for this next chapter in life. And we loved every minute of it. We purchased the furniture for the baby room, Warren assembled the crib and everything fell into place. Our most treasured gift at Christmas time was our last ultrasound when we learned that we were having a boy. Our name list quickly narrowed down to “the one” and I spent weeks choosing the perfect paint color for the nursery. Hudson’s nursery. It was all coming together. My belly was growing daily and being able to feel him move and kick was such a special reminder of what was developing right before our very eyes. At one point our doctor said to me “you’re my poster child” and those words wrapped around me with comfort and pride in doing everything properly to ensure a healthy pregnancy. We were not only on cloud 9, but I don’t think our feet ever touched the ground . [back to top]
We were in our 25th week and nearing the start of our final and 3rd trimester. The time was flying by, almost too quickly, as our due date fast approached. It was January 27th and I awoke at 5am not feeling well. I suddenly had strange cramping, which seem to come in repetition. I recalled reading about a “fake” kind of contraction called Braxton Hicks but didn’t even know if that’s what it was. What was a contraction anyway I thought, I had never had one before. I decided to call the doctor on-call and his words to me were “you are in active labor, get to the hospital immediately.” I repeated this to Warren, we flew out of bed and started getting dressed. As I tried to clean up and brush my teeth, I found myself doubled over in pain. The panic set in. We left immediately and found ourselves in rush hour traffic. [back to top]
Warren drove as best he could, on the shoulder, weaving in and out of cars, honking and desperately trying to get me to Overlake hospital. I kept trying to reassure myself that I was only having a dream. We finally get there and I was admitted immediately. The pain was severe, the contractions were getting much worse and I was dilating rapidly. I found myself thinking this couldn’t be happening, everything was perfect, we had 3 more months to go. My brain immediately referred back to all of the development books I had read. I knew a baby could live at this gestation and also knew the reality of how premature it was. I was screaming in pain, pain from the contractions and pain from the denial that this was only a nightmare and couldn’t really be happening. I squeezed Warren’s hand and prayed that they would be able to stop the labor. Unfortunately, they couldn’t.
This is the first time we heard the term NICU. Neonatal intensive care unit. The specialists introduced themselves and they rushed us into the delivery room, filled with NICU staff. Hudson David McNeel was born at 1:57 that afternoon. He let out a cry when he came out as if to say, “hey, it’s not time yet, I was comfortable in there, put me back!” They took him away. He was resuscitated. We were told that a premature baby needed to weigh 500 grams at birth, for life to be sustainable. Hudson was 650 grams (1 pound, 7 ounces) His heartbeat and blood pressure were strong. This brought us hope. [back to top]
The Seattle Children’s Hospital transport team was there, preparing to take him to the University of Washington hospital which had a level IV NICU. We knew what a delicate process this would be. Finally, after hours of waiting, they brought Hudson in so that we could see him before he was transported. My heart, filled with so much joy over seeing my son for the very first time, sank. He was so incredibly tiny, surrounded by this huge machine that pumped life into him. Like any new mother, I wanted to put him on my chest, hold him and nurse him. Instead, the tears streamed down my face as the gravity of the situation quickly set in and I knew we needed strength, now more than ever, for the road ahead. We were with immediate family and how thankful we were for that. I tried my best to stay strong as they wheeled him away for transport. I had never felt so helpless.
Later that evening Hudson was admitted to the University of Washington NICU. Warren was able to follow the transport team and spend time with him upon his arrival. I was required to stay at Overlake overnight, and they were gracious enough to let us check out early the following morning. Together, we drove straight to the University of Washington Medical Center. Entering the NICU for the first time felt as if I were entering another world. Nothing was familiar. It took me three times to scrub my hands and arms and then not accidently touch the towel holder or myself in the process. Clean…sterile…purel….wait, can’t I just hold my baby, I thought?! There he was, inside this glass casing, as if he were a fish in a tank. Wires poked his body everywhere, a breathing tube taped to his face, eye shades around his head, monitors everywhere, the machine vibrating and omitting warm, moist air. There his body lay amongst all these foreign pieces, poking and prodding his tiny, fragile body. I didn’t even try to wipe my tears. I simply sat next to him, talked to him and held his hand. He squeezed my finger. I will never forget his touch.
The nurses and our doctor allowed us as much time as we needed as we asked every question imaginable. The information was overwhelming. My brain felt like it was operating in slow motion, trying to absorb everything we were told and process it into something that made sense. Nothing about this situation we were in made any sense. It was all mind-boggling. Time and time again I had to repeat the same question, making sure I was understanding everything that was happening. We were informed that Hudson had a 50/50 chance of survival and that the next 72 hours would be the most crucial. We were faced with a multitude of potential complications; blindness, brain bleed, intestinal infections, pneumonia, cerebral palsy, the list went on and on. This is when we began to mentally move in, imagining ourselves there every day, rotating shifts, locating the room where I could pump, the cafeteria, a wi-fi spot for work. This would become our new home. We were prepared and were quickly putting a plan in place for the long road ahead.
From there I took a step back and asked myself if I was still in a dream. The events and emotions over the last 24 hours were what one would typically endure in a lifetime. How one’s world could so suddenly and drastically change in a split second was absolutely numbing. WHY? I could not stop asking myself WHY….The shock of going into premature labor, the horror of not being able to stop it, the elation of delivering our first child, and now the pain and helplessness of watching our baby boy struggle for his life was absolutely surreal. There were often moments when I simply could not comprehend the situation.
Hudson knew we were there. He responded to our voices, our touch. As his mother, that was the most precious gift I could have ever received.
It was that afternoon when I had an epiphany. Everything that felt so isolating and foreign about the NICU suddenly transpired into a warm wave of comfort. This was his lifeline. These people were responsible for maintaining his life. The equipment and the technology made it possible for our son to live, to breathe. I felt as if I were experiencing a miracle right before my very eyes. Every bed with every premature baby inside, all with a different story, all being cared for by these angels. I sat there listening to the constant repetition and humming noises made from the machines, and it wrapped around me like an invisible hug and brought me hope. At that point I was thankful to know he had the best care possible. Heroic care. And how fortunate we were to have this resource nearby.
Hudson was a fighter. After he was born, we asked him to hang on and fight, and he did. He endured multiple tests, a blood transfusion and more wires and poking than I care to count. Seeing his fragile body as if it were decorated like a Christmas tree was not a sight any parent should see of their newborn child. I knew it was all necessary but every time I saw him, it tore me apart inside. My heart ached.
When we knew it was Hudson’s time to leave this earth, they wrapped him in a soft baby blanket and allowed us to finally hold him, and hold him close. No machines, no monitors, no wires. Together we sat as a family with our son in our arms. This was the most profound moment of my life. We thanked him for fighting and told him it was okay to let go. He was now in a better place. He would always be with us, just in a much different way. [back to top]
On February 9th, we laid our son to rest.
Setting up this foundation has given us hope. It’s a celebration in honor of our son and his life. Being able to give back and help the NICU at the University of Washington Medical Center provides us joy and comfort, knowing that future premature babies and their families will continually be cared for. The research and development, the technology, the medical training and expansion of the NICU are all areas that need continual funding. It warms our heart to be a part of giving back to the most incredible and unique people, who dedicate their careers to helping the most fragile lives on earth. The NICU and the people working there represent a greater good and provide a deeper meaning to life than humanly imaginable. [back to top]