No Place Like Home for the Holidays: Cathy’s Story

Amelia-731x1024Today Cathy Koehler and her husband Matt are preparing for a joyous first Christmas with their beautiful baby girl. But just a few short months ago, their infant daughter Amelia was born at only 27 weeks.

Weighing less than two pounds, Amelia fought for her survival at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at University Hospital’s Center for Women and Infants. Now, Amelia is almost nine months old and is happy and healthy. Cathy reflects on this past year’s “emotional roller coaster” and her daughter’s coming home.

There is only one word to describe our lives now – AWESOME. We just love that we now live a normal, happy, healthy family life and that Amelia does not have any continuing challenges.

I’ll never forget the moment when I was told “you are going to have a baby today” on my 37th birthday when I was only 27 weeks pregnant.

She held off for a week after that but, even at 28 weeks, it was so overwhelming. Life is so good today that each and every night after she goes asleep, my husband and I stand over her and admire her and remind each other that not so long ago she was smaller than our hands and had to battle for her life every single day.

Cathy-1I remember everyday getting calls about her hemoglobins and weight in grams and need for blood transfusions and each little increase of feeding at .05 ml of breast milk through a tube.

Having to take maternity leave (8 weeks because of my C section) without a baby at home was the single most difficult challenge I have ever faced in my life. My husband had to go back to work. I couldn’t drive from the physical restrictions from my surgery, and all I had were the hospitals calls to connect me to my baby girl.

I interpreted those daily calls into text updates to family and friends each day. I even still have the hospital on my caller ID as AMELIA with one of her smaller pictures that I don’t share too often (I never wanted others to gape at her or feel sorry for her/us).

Not being able to work or drive to spend time with her or family and friends, I’ll admit will make you a little crazy. Luckily, my husband was very strong through all of this.

I was under a lot of medication and the entire event was very surreal for me. But he had to see, feel and experience every moment of it. This includes when they delivered our tiny Amelia. Did I say tiny? I can’t imagine having seen her at 800 grams with the aftermath of the procedure all over her.

This was my daughter who was supposed to be safe and sound until 3 months later when she should have been delivered amongst completed planning and preparedness of both my husband, myself and the rest of our family!

I will never ever be able to communicate the admiration and appreciation I developed for him during this time. My father was always the “rock” for both my immediate family and for our extended family. I am so, so lucky that I have a husband with the same admirable qualities.

Although I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, being newly married, I can’t tell you how much this event strengthened my marriage and our faith in each other. I’ve always been pretty independent to a fault, but I now couldn’t imagine facing any of my life without my husband.

No one can understand what we went through as Amelia’s parents except each other. We have our own special bond. We also are able to look at life and remember how important it is to laugh and to celebrate each of the precious moments we are given. This we share and will always share and no one can ever take it away.

Matt and I are very lucky, too, to have family and friends who have been there for us through everything, and continue to be there.

We have been advised that Amelia’s immune system is not as strong as other babies and we have to be especially cautious with her exposure to other babies and the general public.

We are very lucky that Matt’s mom, who is a retired teacher, drives to our home every morning to keep Amelia home and safe while Matt and I work. Not only is she not exposed to the normal high levels of germs other kids are in a day care type environment, we also know that she gets very special love and attention all day every day.

We also have a very good friend who is a nurse practitioner at Amelia’s pediatrician office. Laura is extremely sweet, very reassuring to an overly cautious mom and doesn’t mind an occasional house call. She likes the love and hugs that come with seeing Amelia outside of the office.

Here again is more evidence of why Matt and I have developed so much faith through our experience. More of God’s angels helping to take care of our little girl.

I have to say, too, that meeting my NICU nurse Mary Poole was such an unexpected gift from this past year. What an awesome person she is. And have you seen her web interview? She really does go on all the time about the families that she has supported and all of the children that are now grown and doing AWESOME. She has pictures and texts from them.

It takes a truly special person for families to WANT to go back to the hospital and to WANT to take clothes to the NICU and to WANT to talk to the nurse that poked and prodded your tiny little girl when she was so defenseless.

I hope and actually I am certain that Mary will always be a part of our lives and I can’t wait until Amelia is big enough to understand everything Mary did for her and to develop her own relationship with Mary. Ever heard the “Something about Mary” song from Mary Poppins? For some reason I find myself singing it as I type this. You can’t stop yourself from smiling when you think of such a special lady.

Because of the advertising campaign, my face is everywhere and people tell me “you’re famous” or “how does it feel to be a star?” all the time. My response is always that Amelia is the star. I am just lucky enough to be her Mom. That little girl has exhibited more strength and resilience in just 9 months than what most people are able to do in a lifetime.

And if the visibility helps someone else, well, that is great. In fact, I had a friend from high school reach out to me on Facebook about her sister in law that was going into labor at 19 weeks.

I was able to help her with identifying who the best doctors in the area are for her situation. It was also nice to share my experience and provide someone else with hope. This is what I hope to give others from the ad campaign experience.

I would love the opportunity to talk with new scared moms who are facing or are in a situation similar to my own. It’s all very overwhelming but sometimes things really do work out.

It’s honestly made me wish I could go back and do my life over again. I worked with kids as a young adult and after my experience with University Hospital’s NICU, I wish I had stayed that path and could do the wonderful things (miracles) like that which Mary Poole does every day. It’s sufficient to say, she is my hero!

I am so excited now for my daughter’s future. This girl can do anything! She already has. Defy all the odds. Kick butt and take names. Miss Amelia has a big, full, life and future ahead of her and I am so honored that I get to be a very up close spectator to all the wonderful things she is going to do.

We have learned that Amelia has a small PFO (heart valve that should have closed at birth but to date still has not). The cardiologist assures us that millions have this condition and it does not present any limitations in life whatsoever.

I will always have the concerns that every mother has for her child but mine may be even less so. I’ve seen how strong little girls are and have faith that as a family we can get through anything.

I have an uncle who passed a couple of years ago and after I brought Amelia home, she often looked at his picture on the mantel and smiled (still does). I believe he has been with her all along…

I have developed a lot of faith. I know there were people in heaven taking care of my little girl when she was so small that I couldn’t. The doctors and nurses at University Hospital …well, they were sent to us by those angels as well.

We will be happy to give back in any way we can to University Hospital. They gave us life i.e. Amelia’s.

And my life now? Again, I have to say awesome. My life has changed. The small things are worth stopping to enjoy (each and every moment). I now take a few moments everyday just to stop and think about this.

I have learned some other life lessons as well. God provides. The small aren’t necessarily weak. The “things” in life truly aren’t important and when push comes to shove, you need your family and friends close by. Be there for them. It will be even more rewarding than when they are there for you.

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