We have PVR, since with a baby watching your favourite TV show at its regular air time isn’t always an option. We didn’t get around to watching this past weeks episode of Grey’s Anatomy until Friday and I’ve needed until now to be able to process it and what I wanted to write.
So the episode was Titled ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and in the show one of the interns had to let her preemie baby pass due to complications of the premature birth. Sad for almost anyone to watch, especially someone with a baby or who had recently suffered the same thing. I’m lucky to say I didn’t have to go through that but I have been watching one of my best friends deal with this.
Literally the day I was at Sick Kids in March with Maddie my friend, ‘S’, was at Sunnybrooke giving birth to her preemie. This was ironically the same day that on ‘Grey’s’ the intern gave birth early. Similar right? Wait, there are more co-relations than that. My friend was 8 hrs shy of 23 weeks, the intern was just 23. Early labour due to mothers undiagnosed condition? That too, although different conditions. Both also had little boys.
In the show the baby had many complications and went through several surgeries before finally having to be taken off life support last week, by the time he’d passed in the show around 5-8 weeks had gone by, although you’re never really sure with that show. It was terrible watching the intern, Morgan, have to hold her baby while he slowly stopped fighting to breathe. I bawled and finally had to skip over it, I couldn’t watch that knowing that ‘S’ had to do the same thing only 6 weeks previously.
It all started on a Sunday night when she sent me a text asking what I thought about her ‘plug’ coming out. I wasn’t too worried but since I’d gone through it and ended up on modified bed rest I made her call the hospitals 24 hr line to talk to the OB on-call. They said to not worry, keep an eye on it and come in ASAP if there was any bleeding but since she was coming in on Thursday to just take it easy until then. Over the next bit she kept me updated, until Tuesday night she told me she didn’t feel right but when I suggested she go into Triage she decided not to since the Dr said it wasn’t an emergency.
Then, while at work on the Wednesday, like me she started to bleed. She got up and went to the Maternity Triage immediately. At this point she was 22 weeks 5 1/2 days. When the nurse came in to check on her at one point she asked point blank if it was possible she was having an abruption since she was having the same symptoms I’d had only a few months before. The nurse told her ‘No’ because if it were she would be in much more pain. No doctor had seen her yet and wouldn’t for at least another 2 hours, by then she’d started having contractions and dilating. They admitted her and told her she wasn’t even allowed to stand up because her sack had started to decend through the cervix and they hoped to stop the contractions.
Finally, Thursday morning the Doctors told her she was going to have to deliver but since the baby was on the Edge of Viability he would not survive and there was no real hope, but if she wanted they might try to save him. How devastating, right? They had her fully convinced that her baby would be either still born, due to her heavy bleeding or would die shortly after and that if she told them to try it would be basically useless. I remember her texting me and telling me before they started her on pushing how sad she was and in shock. She wasn’t fully aware anymore, she’d retreated in on herself.
Before I continue let me explain what the Edge of Viability is… It’s the line that Doctors have drawn on when they’ll intervene essentially on premature births. In Canada it’s usually 23 weeks and up or 500+ grams. The doctors will fudge on this sometimes but only at the extreme insistence of the parents barring that the mother is at a hospital with a NICU with extreme preemie capabilities. Sunnybrooke has them. Now this line isn’t the same for every country, it shifts and even then can be pushed to the side. There is right now in Miami a little girl who in 2006 was born at 19 1/2 weeks and from all accounts is actually quite normal developmentally. She’s the youngest surviving preemie in the world. The lightest weighing one was a twin and was 244 grams, both she and her sister are alive now. So, we know that babies under both of Canada’s standard have lived. Yes, there are risks as with anything and the statistics aren’t the best but it’s possible.
Thursday in the late afternoon ‘S’ gave birth to her son at 22 weeks 6 days and 16 hours… so close. He weighed in at 484 grams… Again, so close. The doctors and nurses clipped his cord, put a hat and booties on him wrapped him up and gave him to her so she could be with him while he passed. It took 12 minutes. 12 minutes where the doctors hadn’t given him anything for the pain to make it easier. It might not seem long but imagine fighting to breathe for that lenth of time and then tell me that isn’t too long. That’s a fifth of an hour. That’s longer then even the medical staff thought he’d survive, they’d figured a moment or two.
I cannot say what Sunnybrooke’s practice is on preemie deaths but I know that at Sick Kids when a preemie cannot survive they give the baby a pain medication to stop any pain and put them to sleep so that their passing is easier for both the child and parent. My friends baby got nothing.
The reason the doctors thought he would only live for a moment or two is because when a baby is born premature their lungs are not ready to breathe. A babies lungs are underdeveloped and brittle until about the 8th month, so a premature baby is given surfactan, a liduid medication that help the babie’s lung mature faster and soften to ease the assisted breathing. He managed to go 12 minutes without it, how long he could have survived with it and a ventilator and all the other care a preemie receives we’ll never know.
My friend had her own complications, she wouldn’t stop bleeding and had to while holding her son be treated and the doctors help keep her from bleeding out or anyother risks she faced due to what ended up being anbruption, as she’d feared. Hers was in the most extreme tyre of which 24% are, and yet she’d been told she couldn’t be having one. On top of the abruption she had the early signs of Gestational Diabetes, for which she’d been tested already and told was negative and a clotting problem. At her 6 week postpartum check up they told her all this and that any future pregnancy would be considered ‘high-risk’ and she would have to be monitored closely.
It’s been almost 7 weeks now and since then my friend has been on an uphill battle to right her life, which was completely flipped upside down. She’s blamed herself, the doctors, God. She’s over the blaming and knows that things happen we cannot control, but she’s still devastated emotionally and trying to figure out how to move forward now without the little boy she’d been preparing to bring home in July.
I know TV is not real and some shows are more fanciful than others, but in that moment when I was watching Morgan lose her son, I believe they got it exactly right. I can’t imagine what people who have to face that reality are going through, but having watched ‘S’ I can say I know that it must be absolutely heart-wrenching and something that you never fully get over. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, ever.