An Unexpected But Beautiful Beginning
Wednesday, February 5, 2020, was a day of both Deja vu and new experiences. I accompanied Sidney to her latest doctor’s appointment, a visit that was supposed to be one of the final ones before she gave birth to our son, Beau Thomas Reser. It ended up being the final one.
With Sid’s blood pressure rising, her doctor decided it was time to deliver. In a calm and nonchalant voice, Dr. Nancy Collins said, “You’re going to have a baby today.”
It immediately brought me back three years ago to when we were told the same thing a few weeks prior to Sloan’s due date. However, although I still felt shock, the room didn’t close in on me like it did in 2017. That initial experience taught me that preeclampsia is a serious condition and doctors will take action if symptoms reach severe levels. I knew in the back of my mind prior to Wednesday’s visit that an early delivery might be ordered.
We hurried from the OBGYN office to The Birthplace, the labor and delivery wing of Conway Medical Center. Sidney was taken immediately to one of the rooms and I went downstairs to register her. Sloan’s and Beau’s expedited deliveries both caught us off guard but they were very different in their duration. With Sloan, they tried to unsuccessfully induce labor for three days before operating; with Beau, induction wasn’t even an afterthought.
It is recommended that mom’s who have a C-Section continue to have them for subsequent pregnancies. This was the case with Sid. We entered The Birthplace around 11 a.m. and before 2 p.m. we would have the newest addition to our family.
As Sid and I sat in that operating room, the experience was 180 degrees different from 2017. Instead of being loopy from three days of induction drugs and deprived sleep, Sidney was completely dialed in (but of course very numb). With the same doctor behind the screen and an increased knowledge of C-Section protocol, I was less nervous. Sitting right next to my wife on our side of the partition, we prayed together moments before Dr. Collins started the surgery.
I held Sid’s hand and watched the nurses on our side of the screen look over at the other side. Before long, at 1:37 p.m., we heard the voice of Dr. Collins cooing at a brand new little boy followed by those sweet first cries. After Beau was held up so we could see him they took him away for a couple moments. He then re-appeared and was laid right at Sid’s head before being transferred to my arms. It was beautiful.
This time around, I felt so much different. When Sloan was born I simply did not know the depths of love I would develop for her. No new parent can fully comprehend it. But the moment I saw Beau my heart swelled with the same love I have for my daughter. When you are suddenly face-to-face for the first time with someone you have an indescribable affinity for, you can’t prevent the tears of joy.
After those precious moments between the three of us, Dr. Collins started to close Sidney back up. A nurse escorted Beau and I to the nursery area where Sidney’s family was waiting for us. Beau was handed off to another nurse who recorded his measurements and inked up his feet so his footprints could be stamped. With a large panel of soundproof glass separating Beau and the nurse from us, she held up fingers to communicate to us that our little boy was 7 pounds, 3 ounces.
The hospital’s pediatrician came out to tell us that despite being born a little early, we had a healthy baby boy. I took a moment to soak it all in. Just a few hours ago I had no idea that we would be meeting Beau that day. Now we had a son with a clean bill of health minus the delivery complications from Sid’s first birth. It almost seemed too easy.
The smooth sailing would not continue.
Something is Wrong
When the nurse was taking Beau’s measurements behind the glass, we noticed that he was breathing fast. When the pediatrician had given us the initial report, she mentioned that his breathing would most likely stabilize in the next few hours. Because the rest of the report was so good, we had little reason to be concerned, especially since the doctor said it was a temporary issue.
After about an hour, Sidney was wheeled back to her hospital room. She was on Cloud 9––both figuratively and literally––after giving birth and taking some powerful pain medication. With a mile-wide smile spread across her face, we showed her photos and video of Beau, thinking it would help pass the time until the nurse would be walking through the door with our son to hold. Instead, we got the hospital pediatrician again.
The doctor said Beau was still breathing fast and that it was likely a combination of being born a little premature and being delivered via C-Section. She said an X-ray would confirm it. However, she remained confident that his breathing pattern would become more normal soon. Our own pediatrician, Dr. Sangtian, who is a complete rock star at what he does, was out of the country and not returning soon––he was being held in quarantine because of the Coronavirus. Despite the absence of our own pediatrician, the other doctor in his practice came to check on Beau and delivered the same news that the hospital doctor did…his breathing will sort itself out.
Beau was put in the isolation room of the Conway Medical Center nursery. Sidney would not get to see him the rest of the day. I got to see him early that evening and just before midnight. He was so handsome but you could tell he was working hard to breathe. I prayed that he would be breathing easier the next morning.
I woke up in Sid’s hospital room and before I left to take Sloan to daycare (she spent the night at my in-law’s) I saw Beau again. There had been little improvement. After dropping Sloan off I returned to the hospital in time to hear from both the hospital pediatrician and the pediatrician pinch-hitting for Dr. Sangtian. Despite his breathing not stabilizing, they said, he still just needed more time, perhaps 48-72 hours.
With it nearing 24 hours since Beau was born, Sidney’s nurse wheeled her into the isolation room so she could see Beau. Although therapeutic to see him, it was hard to look past his fast breathing pattern. A couple hours later, my mother-in-law and I watched as this sweet brand new baby continued to struggle.
While we looked on at Beau, the hospital pediatrician was meeting with Sidney in her hospital room. My wife asked the doctor some pointed questions that made the pediatrician concede that a children’s hospital with a regionally renowned neonatal intensive care unit might be best for Beau. The pediatrician then came to the isolation room where the two of us agreed with what Sidney suggested. From that point, all we needed was the thumbs up from the pediatrician who was filling in for Dr. Sangtian. He had no objections and within minutes a team from McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence, South Carolina, was in route to Myrtle Beach.
With Beau’s transport on the way, the Conway Medical Center nurses allowed Sidney to hold him, something she had not done up until that point. My wife and I got to spend some quality time with our son as we prayed with him and told him that a proud big sister was waiting at home.
Nurses from McLeod arrived and placed him in a transportable incubator. We said our goodbyes and off went Beau in the McLeod neonatal emergency vehicle. We felt relief in the sense that he was in good hands but also sadness that 75 miles would now separate us. Throughout the whole saga, this was the toughest day for me. I woke up with such high hopes only to send him to the NICU. The emotion would boil over that night. Shortly after Beau left for Florence, I went to Sloan’s daycare to pick her up. The owner of Oxford Children’s Academy walked out from her office to congratulate me. When she asked to see photos, I broke down.
After dropping Sloan off with my father-in-law, I returned to the hospital to spend the night with Sid. My mother-in-law had traveled to Florence to make sure Beau was taken care of. The doctor on duty at the NICU called us and said Beau needed more surfactant in his lungs, something McLeod was well-equipped to do. The seemingly simple prognosis provided us some comfort at the end of an otherwise very challenging day. But while my personal toughest day was ending, my wife’s was about to begin.
A Mother’s Heartbreak
On Friday morning, we received a couple pieces of news. First, it turned out that Beau needed more intense treatment than just some surfactant pumped into his lungs. Doctors discovered that he was also battling pulmonary hypertension, a condition that McLeod could treat but that would require more time to do so. The other development was that Sidney would be discharged from Conway Medical Center by the end of the morning.
There was no denying that Sid being discharged was a good thing. No one wants to be in the hospital, especially the labor and delivery wing when your baby is no longer there. Although we were always treated so well by The Birthplace nurses and staff (just like last time), it was a tough place to be. I felt so bad for Sidney because the joyous moments associated with the postpartum hospital stay––baby being wheeled into the room, peeking at him through the nursery glass at night, visitors coming by to see him, etc.––were denied to her this time around. True to her humble nature, Sidney would smile as new mommys and ecstatic daddys walked past her door in the hallway with their babies, but I knew it was painful for her.
Even though exiting that environment was a positive step, it couldn’t erase the sadness of leaving the hospital without a baby. Conway Medical Center hires elderly volunteers to provide a wheelchair escort for moms and their newborns at the conclusion of their stay. In 2017, it was such a triumphant moment when I pulled our vehicle in front of the hospital doors as Sidney and Sloan rolled out into the fresh air to go home. Last week, it was just Sidney being pushed in the wheelchair and I know that was extremely tough for her.
As you can imagine, arriving home baby-less was another dagger to the heart for Sid. Even though Beau came early, the house was still ready for him. Adding to the emotional pain was the sharp physical pain from surgery combined with unforgiving postpartum hormones. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to go and it was a definite low point. But even as Sid struggled through the day, she started to set her sights on getting Beau better so he could soon receive the proper homecoming he deserved.
Our NICU Journey
With Sidney safe and secure at home, her sister came over to stay with her. This allowed me to travel to McLeod Regional Medical Center for the first time. I went on this maiden voyage with my in-laws and I was glad I did because my mother-in-law was able to teach me the ropes of entering a neonatal intensive care unit. She showed me how to store my personal items, the proper way to scrub, and how to wear the yellow garment that all visitors must don while in the NICU.
The NICU at McLeod has almost a warehouse-type feel to it. The spacious area is divided into a few different “aisles” with babies on either side of each aisle. As I walked to Beau’s station at the end of the middle aisle and passed other babies, I realized that the gravity of my son’s situation wasn’t as critical as others. As I caught glimpses of the smallest babies I have ever seen in my life, many ranging in the 24-30 week range, I realized that we had it pretty good, all things considering.
It was emotional to see Beau. I was overjoyed to see him but also sad to see his tubes and wires. The NICU staff limited most stimulation. On this day, the general theme was that he needed time to rest and for his lungs to develop. I spent most of that initial visit just at his bedside praying.
The next day, Saturday, Feb. 8, I made the journey to Florence on my own. Sid was still recovering from surgery and was in no condition to travel, a reality that put her in low spirits. When I arrived at the NICU, a nurse asked about Sid and I told her about the tough time she was going through. In a true display of compassion the nurse allowed me to Facetime Sidney, something that is usually a no-no in a NICU. This meant the world to my wife! When the call went through her face lit up and she started blowing kisses to Beau. After spending quiet time with Beau I attended mass at St. Anne’s, a tiny Catholic church just minutes from the hospital. While there I reflected on how lucky we were to have our son receiving the proper care he needed.
Between our physical visits to McLeod, we would call in the early morning and at night to receive updates from the nurses on Beau’s condition. Sidney made the call on Sunday morning and spoke to a nurse named Jordan. Even though she was still recovering from surgery and was trying to save her strength for a trip to Florence on Monday, Jordan suggested to Sid that a visit that day would do wonders for her psyche. The gentle challenge from this nurse motivated Sid to travel to the NICU that day. I stayed at home with Sloan and my in-laws took Sidney to Florence. If the Facetime call on Saturday boosted her spirits, Sunday’s visit shot them through the roof.
When the new week arrived, we would drop Sloan off at daycare and make the trips to Florence together. Most of the days, Sidney’s mom would also come along and drive so we could rest. The whole week was filled with daily triumphs. On Monday they took him off his ventilator, on Tuesday they ceased sedation and IV fluids, on Wednesday they introduced bottle feeding, on Thursday they removed his CPAP support, and on Friday they took off all electrical leads. These milestones corresponded with Beau looking more and more handsome each day. His color improved and his swelling went down.
Wednesday was especially joyous for a reason beyond bottle feeding…we got to hold him! It had been almost a week since the last time we held him––in the isolation room at Conway Medical Center minutes before he was transferred to Florence––so we couldn’t wait to cuddle our little man. That morning Sidney woke up literally singing…
This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad!
Sidney, to put it mildly, isn’t much of a morning person so the fact that she was belting out a hymn at 6 a.m. says a lot about her excitement and gratitude toward God. Ah yes, God. Throughout the first couple challenging weeks of Beau’s life, we turned to God and our Blessed Mother a lot. The trips back and forth to Florence gave us a lot of time to pray, as did other idle moments during the journey. While in the NICU, Sid and I would pray the Rosary together at Beau’s bedside, using each Hail Mary to ask for his healing.
But it wasn’t just our prayers at work for Beau. Both our families were praying non-stop for his recovery. Our church was absolutely incredible––multiple prayer groups at St. Andrew, including the clergy members themselves, were praying to the Lord and asking for intercessions on Beau’s behalf. My Knights of Columbus brothers were especially comforting as they sent out update emails on my son’s condition and prayed fervently. Additionally, we had the prayers of our friends, co-workers, and daycare staff.
With talented doctors, dedicated nurses, and faithful prayer, how couldn’t Beau get better?
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Doctors and nurses in the NICU are notorious for being tight-lipped about identifying a specific discharge date too far ahead. It is common to get word a mere 24 hours prior to dismissal. But by the end of Friday, we knew Beau’s stay in the NICU was coming to an end. We had intelligence that Beau would see light outside of the McLeod Regional Medical Center after the weekend. Saturday he would get circumcised, Sunday we would “room-in” with him, and Monday he would be released. To know that we would soon have our baby home was an exhilarating feeling.
On Saturday morning, we were getting ready to depart for Florence when I received a call from the hospital. The woman on the other end of the line asked to speak with Sidney. She informed my wife that Beau would be discharged on Sunday and that we could room-in tonight. We were no longer going on a day trip! Sid and I excitedly started packing our bags for an evening with our little man in lovely Florence, South Carolina.
The room-in program is designed to lessen the anxiety that parents might feel after bringing home a baby who spent time in the NICU. Moms and dads are usually elated to get their child out of the hospital but might also feel a little scared about taking care of a baby who was recently critically sick and dependent on so many machines. With the room-in opportunity, parents can stay in a hospital room with their baby and take care of him just like they would at home but with the safety net of the NICU staff being right down the hall. Although not obligated to do so, Sidney and I decided to take advantage of the program.
We arrived at the hospital early in the afternoon on Saturday. We spent a couple hours with Beau in the NICU and then the nurses showed us to our room. After we brought our bags up, we told Beau he had spent his last night away from us and wheeled him into our digs for the night. It was a satisfying moment. It was just the three of us––no nurses, no doctors, no machines, no cords, no yellow gowns.
The evening went well. Our nurse, Joshua, was helpful but hands off. He introduced himself by saying “this is your show.” It was a night of bonding and relief. The NICU did a great job of placing Beau on a schedule as he waited out his three-hour eating intervals like clockwork. His 5 p.m., 8 p.m., 11 p.m., 2 a.m., 5 a.m., and 8 a.m. changings/feedings went off without a hitch. After the 8 p.m. feeding I snuck out of the hospital and picked up Chinese food to bring back to the room. We were eating takeout in a cramped hospital room but it was a celebratory dinner and it couldn’t have been more perfect. Even though we had the night ahead of us, we knew things were going to be okay.
Come Sunday morning, we were on the fast track to discharge. The NICU staff administered the “Car Seat Challenge” by placing Beau in a car seat for 90 minutes to make sure he could keep his oxygen levels at a healthy rate. His circumcision was next, a procedure that is provided free of charge to McLeod NICU patients. He then aced his hearing test. Finally, Dr. Doug Moeckel came into our room to issue his discharge orders. After some last words of wisdom from the nurse assigned to us that morning, we were free to go!
After 10 days in the NICU, a nurse escorted Sidney and Beau out the front doors of McLeod Regional Medical Center. I had pulled our vehicle up to the main entrance to greet my wife and son, holding back a tear or two. The special moment that was denied to Sid a week and a half ago was playing itself out now. As we left the premises of the hospital, we felt strong appreciation for the medical care Beau received but Sid vocalized that she never wanted to return.
A Sweet Homecoming
Only 75 miles separated us from a meeting that we had waited nine months for. Sid and I had literally dreamed about how Sloan would react when she met her baby brother for the first time. Sunday was Big Sister Day and all I needed to do was get us home safely so we could properly celebrate.
As we entered Myrtle Beach, my white knuckles started to return to normal color. I lessened my grip on the steering wheel as my nerves of crashing the car decreased and my anticipation of our children meeting for the first time increased.
Pulling into our driveway was a little surreal. After agonizing for almost two weeks about “just wanting to get him home,” the front door was within view and Sloan was right behind it. I detached Beau’s car seat from the base and we walked up. Sid opened the door and Sloan was there to greet us. She was over the moon to simply see mom and dad but Sloan is a bright girl and immediately realized that we had Beau too.
“Oh, what a nice surprise,” were the literal first words out of Sloan’s mouth when she realized the precious cargo in the car seat. She then proceeded to help us unbuckle her new sibling.
We helped Sloan climb up on the couch and we placed Beau across her lap. After a moment of dreamy gazing, she broke out into sweet and unprompted song. It is just something you kind of have to watch for yourself. To say that this sister-brother relationship got off on the right foot is an understatement.
For Sidney and I, to have the four of us under one roof was a relief. No longer did we have to divide our time between Sloan in Myrtle Beach and Beau in Florence. No longer did we have an empty bassinet in our bedroom. No longer did we have to keep our “Beau Meets World” marquee illuminated, something we did since Feb. 5 to keep vigil for our son until we brought him home.
Finally, everything felt right.
Beau’s birth was both beautiful and traumatic. I will never forget the special moments that I spent in the delivery room with Sid as Beau was brought into the world or the pride I felt when I walked him up to the nursery. It was euphoria.
But the next 10 days, especially the first few, were really tough. Observing the emotional and physical pain that Sid went through was just as difficult as watching Beau struggle. Our faith in God and ability to put the situation into perspective helped us stay sane. As I mentioned earlier, Beau was born at 36 weeks, weighed 7 pounds, and spent 10 days in the NICU; other babies that shared time with Beau in his wing were born at 24 weeks, barely weighed 3 pounds, and had already spent weeks at McLeod. We were the lucky ones.
We will forever be indebted to the doctors and nurses of the neonatal intensive care unit at McLeod Regional Medical Center. We are grateful to the support of both our families. We are fortunate to belong to a church dedicated to helping its parishioners in times of need. We appreciate the care and concern of friends. Most of all, we are blown away by the grace of God and the protection of our Blessed Mother.
Welcome to the world, Beau. We love you so much. Don’t Blink.